Netflix to Expand Audio Descriptions for Blind Subscribers

Company to enhance access for visually impaired people under settlement with advocacy groups

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Courtesy of Netflix

Netflix reached a wide-ranging three-year deal with advocacy groups for the blind, under which it has pledged to add audio-description tracks for many titles in its streaming and DVD libraries.

Also under the agreement, Netflix has agreed to make its website and mobile apps accessible to visually impaired people who use screen-reading software.

Last year, Netflix voluntarily launched an initiative to add audio descriptions to select titles, starting with “Marvel’s Daredevil.” 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 “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.

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.

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 center Disability Rights Advocates.

The groups said they hope the Netflix agreement — billed as the first of its kind in the online-video space — will serve as a model for other digital entertainment providers.

“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.”

The agreement specifies that by Dec. 31, 2016, Netflix will have updated all apps for all applicable devices to provide blind individuals using screen-reading technology with access to the same features available to sighted users. Screen-reading software creates an audio version of text and images that appear on a screen that it reads aloud to a user.

In addition, Netflix has 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.