Netflix Agrees To Offer Audio Description Tracks For The Blind On More Titles

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Many folks might take Netflix for granted: you fire up the site or the app, or grab a disc from your mailbox (yes, people still do that) and boom, you’re enjoying a movie. It’s not always so easy for blind people, however, as many popular movies and TV shows don’t come with audio description tracks. That’s about to change under the terms of a new settlement between advocacy groups for the blind and Netflix.

In a settlement between Netflix and the American Council of the Blind (ACB), as well as the Massachusetts-based Bay State Council of the Blind (BSCB) and a blind individual, the company has agreed to make many more movies and videos offered through Netflix’s streaming and DVD rental subscriptions accessible to people who are blind by adding audio description tracks.

Audio description tracks are exactly what they sound like — explanations of what is appearing on screen, from physical actions to facial expressions, whether someone is wearing a chicken suit or a pin-striped suit, changes in the setting or scene and anything else that needs describing.

Going forward, Netflix will request audio description assets in all its new contracts with streaming content providers. For third-party content that’s already in the Netflix streaming library, the company “shall make reasonable efforts to obtain existing audio description assets” for those videos.

As for its original content, Netflix will provide audio description for scripted streaming content for TV and movies branded as “Netflix Original,” and for which it has the necessary rights for creating audio descriptions. If Netflix doesn’t control the audio description rights, it will “make commercially reasonable efforts to secure and offer audio description.”

If there’s an original title that offers audio description already, Netflix will have within 30 days of the launch date of that title to offer audio description, though it will “strive” to offer those tracks at the launch of the title.

Netflix will make these changes across the Netflix streaming website for browsers that use HTML5 video, applications for all Applicable Devices, and “any other Netflix platform that supports audio description.”

For DVD subscribers, Netflix “shall make commercially reasonable efforts” to offer discs that are equipped with audio descriptions on videos from third-parties, “whenever such videos are available.”

It’s not just the titles themselves that will be more convenient for blind customers, either: Netflix has agreed to add audio description search, and will also make its website and mobile applications accessible to individuals who are blind and use screen-reading software to navigate websites and apps.

“We applaud Netflix for working with us to enhance access to its services for people who are blind,” Kim Charlson, President of the American Council of the Blind, said in a statement.”Movies and television are a central pillar of American culture. 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.”

Last year, Netflix agreed to include audio description tracks on one of its most popular original shows, Daredevil — which features a blind main character — after customers complained. At that time, Netflix said it would work with “studios and other content owners to increase the amount of audio description across a range of devices including smart TVs, tablets and smartphones.”