In the July 2015 issue of AccessWorld, we took a look at an enhancement to the Netflix movie and television streaming service that allowed blind people to access audio-described content. Implementation of audio description by Netflix was not without its flaws, and many blind people struggled to get the service up and running. After a few days and a couple podcast demos, most were able to begin listening to content on their 3rd generation Apple TVs and iOS devices with relative ease, although access to this content via the Web proved to be quite a bit more difficult. That said, it appeared that Netflix was committed to adding audio-described content on a regular basis, and at a fairly rapid rate. At the time the aforementioned AccessWorld article was published, there were at least 87 pieces of audio-described content available on Netflix.

For this article, we thought we would take a look at the implementation of audio description on Netflix one year later, and see where things stand. Did Netflix make good on its promise to add new audio-described programs regularly? And what about the less-than-stellar screen reader support on their apps and website? After all, it wasn't going to do the blind community much good to have audio-described content available if it was difficult or impossible to access.

The State of Audio-Described Content on Netflix

At the time of this writing, there are currently 152 programs listed with audio description. Netflix constantly adds new material to its service, and also removes content from time to time, so that number will naturally change frequently. Considering that some material has been removed in the past year, and more will be added by the time this article is published, it is safe to say that the amount of audio-described content on Netflix has more or less doubled over the past year.

If you browse through the list of audio-described content on the website, you will find Netflix original material including new seasons of "House of Cards," and "Marvel's Daredevil." You will find documentaries such as "My Beautiful Broken Brain," and "Keith Richards: Under the Influence." TV series, movies, and children's programming are also included.

Improved Access to Netflix Content

At the same time that Netflix has been steadily increasing its audio-described offerings, it has also been improving access to that content across all apps and its website regardless of the browser in use. When the 4th generation Apple TV was released, it was not possible to enable audio description on the Netflix app without calling technical support for assistance. This has been resolved, and owners of the 4th generation Apple TV are now able to enjoy audio-described content with little or no hassle.

Those who use iOS devices will now find it much easier to locate content using the Netflix app. The focus issues that plagued VoiceOver have been fixed, and it is easier to obtain descriptions of programs such as the title and synopsis. It is easy to move forward and backward through a program while it is playing, and turning on audio description is easy as well.

While there is more work to be done, Netflix is steadily improving access to its website regardless of the screen reader, operating system, or browser in use.

In a recent agreement reached between Netflix and the American Council of the Blind, among others, Netflix continues its commitment to enhancing its service to the blind community. They will continue to provide audio description for all of their original content, and will make every effort to obtain audio-described content from third-party sources; DVDs they rent to their customers will contain audio-described tracks as well. Finally, Netflix has committed to ensuring that blind people will be able to accessibly use their service regardless of what device is being used.

The Audio Description Project: One Way to Obtain Help with Using Netflix

The American Council of the Blind maintains a resource called the Audio Description Project, a place where the blind community can find information about audio-described programming whenever and wherever it is available. The project has a page exclusively devoted to Netflix. There, it is possible to view an alphabetized listing of all audio-described programs on Netflix, read more about the agreement reached between the ACB and Netflix, and learn how to enable audio description on all devices that you want to use to watch Netflix.

The Audio Description Project is a great resource for all things related to the subject of available audio-described content, and is updated regularly.

The Bottom Line

A year ago, the blind community was almost giddy with excitement over the fact that a mainstream service such as Netflix would actually follow through on a promise to include audio description as part of its content. Today, there isn't a lot of discussion on social media regarding audio-described content on Netflix, not because the blind community has lost interest, but because Netflix has kept its commitment. Any tech-savvy blind person who uses a variety of platforms and devices to obtain content online is aware that audio-described movies and television programs are not only available on Netflix, but accessible as well. While there is always room for growth and improvement, Netflix continues to demonstrate its willingness to provide services to its blind and sighted customers alike.

Will Netflix be a springboard for other services to begin offering audio-described content as well? As of this writing, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and others do not yet provide audio description for their content, but perhaps this will change soon.

Zagga Entertainment, a Canadian-based startup, hopes to provide audio-described content complete with video so that blind individuals can watch movies and television shows with their sighted friends and family. The service is still in beta, and does not yet offer well-known movies and television programs. Kevin Shaw, the company's founder and president says that this content will be available when the service is officially launched later this year. A premium membership to the service will allow you to access all available content, and will cost $9.99 per month. It is currently possible to try the service free for 30 days. Zagga Entertainment promises to release fully accessible iOS and Android apps for its service, as well as providing a fully accessible web experience.

Imagine a time when finding a movie or television program that contains audio description will not be difficult. If you go to a theater, you will be able to either use a device provided by the venue, or access content from a variety of apps on your smartphone, syncing the audio description track with the movie that is playing. As companies like Netflix continue to provide services to the blind community, perhaps other companies will work with organizations such as the American Council of the Blind to make their services available to the blind as well. In the meantime, companies such as Zagga Entertainment will be able to help make audio-described content available to as many blind people as possible.

These are exciting times for the blind, and AccessWorld will certainly be there to keep everyone informed about what is happening now, and what is soon to come.

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Jamie Pauls
Article Topic
Access to Entertainment and Gaming