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Netflix introduces audio description for blind subscribers

Thursday, April 16th 2015 by Dean Reilly

Streaming TV service Netflix has begun adding audio description to selected programming and has reached record subscriber numbers, the company has announced.

The accessibility service, which provides audio commentary describing what is happening on screen, enables TV viewers who are blind or have a visual impairment to engage with broadcasted content.

The company added the service shortly after the launch of the new Netflix original series Marvel’s Daredevil, whose lead character Matt Murdock (pictured) is blind.

The company has said that it will add audio description to both new and previously screened content, including political drama House of Cards and women’s prison series Orange is the New Black.

Netflix’s director of content operations, Tracy Wright said: "Over time, we expect audio description to be available for major Netflix original series, as well as select other shows and movies.

"We are working with studios and other content owners to increase the amount of audio description across a range of devices including smart TVs, tablets and smartphones."

Netflix added a record breaking 4.9 million subscribers in the first quarter of 2015, taking the total number of global subscribers to over 60 million.

Making content accessible

Cable.co.uk previously reported that domestic broadcasters in the UK had all met or exceeded their targets with regards to making content accessible.

Ofcom confirmed that the 72 domestic channels in the UK had met the requirements of the 2003 Communications Act, which states that TV broadcasters must deliver an agreed proportion of their programmes with subtitles, signing and audio description (AD).

London-based musician Andre Louis, who is blind, told Cable.co.uk that had Netflix moved quicker with audio description, they could have had a "monopoly on blind and visually impaired users".

He said: "I can only hope that Netflix now stick to their promise that old and new titles will have the AD track available where possible.

"Living in the UK, I'd like nothing better to be able to watch Friday Night Dinner, Little Britain and Outnumbered with description, it's hard enough locating the DVDs to only find that they don't have AD either.

"We buy them knowing that the TV productions had AD, so why wouldn't the DVDs, only to be disappointed when there's no track for them, so if Netflix can step into the breach here, they'll have a fantastic thing going."

'Unacceptable'

Mr Louis admitted that audio description isn’t a service that can be added overnight and said the delay between accessibility provision being made for deaf viewers and those who are blind is unacceptable.

"It's taken this long for people to push and push Netflix into giving in, and I find that unacceptable.

"If they'd refused to add captioning to however many programs they have, there would have been the biggest outcry imaginable, so why the insultingly long time for audio description?"

"Are we as blind and visually impaired customers that much less important than deaf customers?"

Writing on the company blog, Netflix's Tracy Wright said: "Netflix is actively committed to increasing the number of audio-visual translations for movies and shows in our English-language catalogues.

"We are also exploring adding audio description into other languages in the future."

Of the 62.3 million subscribers currently signed up with Netflix, approximately 66% of viewers are in the United States.

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