Netflix to Enhance Access for Customers Who Are Blind
For Immediate Release
April 14, 2016
Rebecca Williford, Disability Rights Advocates
Kim Charlson, American Council of the Blind
Carl Richardson, Bay State Council of the Blind
Netflix to Enhance Access for Customers Who Are Blind
In a first-of-its-kind settlement, advocates for people who are blind have reached an agreement with Netflix to make accessible the movies and videos offered through the Netflix video streaming and DVD rental subscriptions. The settlement provides that Netflix will make its video content accessible by adding a new technology called “audio description” as a feature that blind customers can activate so they can more fully understand and enjoy the movie and video experience.
The settlement was reached between Netflix and the American Council of the Blind (ACB). The Massachusetts-based Bay State Council of the Blind (BSCB) and Robert Baran, an individual who is blind, were also parties to the settlement. These blind advocacy organizations and Mr. Baran were represented by Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), a national non-profit legal center.
Netflix provides one of the nation’s most popular online streaming and DVD rental services, offering convenient and affordable video entertainment, including original content, to millions of Americans.
Under the agreement, Netflix will provide audio description for many popular titles in its streaming and disc rental libraries. Audio description technology lets blind people know what is happening in scenes without dialogue or scenes with significant visual elements via an audio description track that contains narration of the visual elements that is synchronized with the show or movie. Television and movie studios will create the audio description tracks and provide them to Netflix. Without audio description, blind individuals do not know what is happening in scenes without dialogue and can misinterpret the meaning of other scenes. Under the settlement, Netflix will also provide audio description for the “Netflix Original” shows that Netflix has begun distributing such as House of Cards and Orange is the New Black.
Under the agreement, Netflix will also make its website and mobile applications accessible to individuals who are blind and use screen-reading software to navigate websites and apps. Screen-reading software is an interface between people who are blind or low vision and computers and/or mobile applications. The software creates an audio version of text and images that appear on a screen that it reads aloud to a user. The user then controls the computer or mobile device by pressing keys or tapping on a mobile application. With the changes Netflix is making, users who are blind or low vision will be able to independently use the Netflix website and mobile applications.
This agreement is the first-of-its-kind to provide screen-reader and audio access to users who are blind or low vision. These improvements will provide people who are blind or low vision with unparalleled access to online video entertainment services currently enjoyed by millions of Americans. Millions of Americans identify as having a visual disability.
Kim Charlson, President of the American Council of the Blind, commented, “We applaud Netflix for working with us to enhance access to its services for people who are blind. Our goal is to expand the availability of Netflix’s services to the blind community and to increase the availability of audio described film and television programming. 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.”
Attorney Rebecca Williford of Disability Rights Advocates explains, “This is a great example of technology promoting greater accessibility and inclusiveness for people with disabilities. We hope that the outcome of our collaboration with Netflix will serve as a model for others in the online video entertainment industry.”
A copy of the settlement agreement is available at www.dralegal.org.
About the American Council of the Blind
ACB works to increase the independence, security, equality of opportunity, and quality of life, for all people who are blind or visually-impaired. ACB advocates for policies that provide services, opportunities, infrastructure, and equipment that are necessary for an inclusive society, in federal, state, and local governments, and among service providers and industry. For more information, visit www.acb.org.
About the Bay State Council of the Blind
The BSCB is a membership organization of blind, visually impaired, and sighted individuals committed to an enhanced quality of life for Massachusetts’ residents who are blind or have visual impairments. BSCB convenes meetings and conferences, organizes recreation activities, provides publications, radio programs, and information, and advocates for services and legislation that improve access for people who are blind. For more information, visit www.acbofma.org.
About Disability Rights Advocates
DRA is one of the leading non-profit disability rights legal centers in the nation. With offices in Berkeley and New York City, DRA’s mission is to advance equal rights and opportunities for people with all types of disabilities nationwide. To advance that mission, DRA regularly advocates for greater access to modern technology. DRA has negotiated access improvements to several types of popular technologies including Redbox self-service video rental kiosks. For more information, visit www.dralegal.org.