by Kim Charlson
In a first-of-its-kind settlement agreement, the American Council of the Blind and Netflix have collectively worked to make accessible the movies and videos offered through the Netflix video streaming and DVD rental subscription program. In these times when more and more people are “cutting the cord” and turning away from more traditional cable providers, Netflix and ACB realize that this is just the beginning of a new era in accessible entertainment. Streaming video content and having it be accessible with description makes all the difference for people who are blind.
The settlement with ACB provides that Netflix will make its video content accessible by adding audio description, and that it will be a feature that blind customers can activate independently to enjoy the movie and video experience.
The settlement was reached between Netflix and ACB, our Massachusetts affiliate, the Bay State Council of the Blind, and Robert Baran, an individual who is blind in Massachusetts. ACB, BSCB and the individuals involved in the case were represented by Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), a national non-profit law firm.
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 its customers. Under the ACB agreement, Netflix will provide audio description for many titles in its streaming and disk rental libraries. The audio description 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. In addition, under the settlement, Netflix will also provide audio description for its original shows that it has begun distributing such as “Daredevil,” “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black.” 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. 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.
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. ACB applauds 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 making certain that people who are blind are integrated into modern society.
Attorney Rebecca Williford of Disability Rights Advocates stated, “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 ACB and 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.