Last year, streaming subscription channel Netflix ran into trouble when Marvel’s Daredevil, its series about blind superhero Matt Murdock, debuted without audio descriptions for blind viewers. Netflix quickly responded to the criticism and added audio description tracks for Daredevil – and other select titles.
Now, Netflix has reached a three-year agreement with US advocacy groups for the blind, pledging to add audio-description tracks for numerous other titles in both its streaming and DVD libraries.
The audio description provides additional narration to let blind people know what’s happening in scenes that don’t have dialogue or have significant visual elements, and the groups who have agreed the deal say they hope the Netflix agreement, apparently the first of its kind in the online-video space, will serve as a model for other digital entertainment providers.
Netflix has also announced it will also make its website and mobile apps accessible to blind and visually impaired users who rely on screen-reading software by the end of this year.
The new agreement obligates Netflix to request audio-description assets from studios and other third-party suppliers for new licensing contracts, and “make reasonable efforts” to obtain those for existing content. For originals such as Daredevil, House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black, Netflix agreed to provide audio description within 30 days of the launch date of the title and “will strive” to do so when a show premieres.
Netflix reached the settlement with the American Council of the Blind, along with Massachusetts-based Bay State Council of the Blind and Robert Baran, an individual who is blind. The groups and Baran were represented by nonprofit legal centre Disability Rights Advocates.
“We applaud Netflix for working with us to enhance access to its services for people who are blind,” American Council of the Blind president Kim Charlson said in a statement. “As television and movies are increasingly delivered through streaming and home delivery services, ensuring that the blind community receives access to this content is critical to ensure that people who are blind are integrated into modern society.”
“This is a great example of technology promoting greater accessibility and inclusiveness for people with disabilities,” said attorney Rebecca Williford of Disability Rights Advocates. “We hope that the outcome of our collaboration with Netflix will serve as a model for others in the online video entertainment industry.”
Netflix has also agreed to let users access a list of all streaming content that includes audio description and browse streaming and DVD titles with audio-description tracks in major genre categories.
• Seasons One and Two of Daredevil are available now on Netflix, along with Jessica Jones – with more Marvel-inspired shows to come
• The Disability Rights Advocates service has published the full agreement agreed with Netflix here