Netflix is an online streaming service with a huge amount of content, much of it with audio description. Netflix produces its own content, such as "The Queen's Gambit,""Stranger Things," and "Bridgerton." They have their own movies, stand-up comedy specials, and documentaries. Netflix also streams TV shows and movies from other sources.
Netflix was the 2017 recipient of the prestigious Helen Keller Achievement award from the American Foundation for the Blind, which is given to those who have made extraordinary contributions to improving the quality of life of people with vision loss.
Netflix offers phone support at 844-505-2993. Live chat is available through their Help Center. Help can be accessed through Account Settings on whichever device you are using to stream content.
Finding Audio Described TV Shows and Movies
Netflix does not have a dedicated page for audio-described content. Tech support suggested putting the words "audio description" in the search form, but that still did not give me a complete list. The American Council of the Blind has an extensive list of audio-described Netflix content at their Audio Description Project.
On the iOS app and Apple TV app, there is a setting to have Netflix display audio-described content. Enabling Audio Description will be discussed below.
Netflix requires a subscription and an Internet connection. Many devices can play Netflix, , including Apple, Android and Windows phones and tablets, Mac and Windows computers, and portable players like Roku, Apple TV and Fire TV.
You can also connect your device to your TV via Bluetooth or cable. For example, I can play Netflix on my TV by connecting my iOS device with a Lightning to HDMI cable. Netflix tech support can help you with this. Some carriers, such as Verizon, offer Netflix directly on your TV. You still must have a Netflix subscription and an Internet connection. You may need to activate text-to-speech on your TV to hear menus and controls.
The sign-up process for Netflix is not complicated. You will be asked to enter your name, a password, an email address, and payment information.
Next to each device type is a button. Activate the button and underneath the device’s name will be specific sign-up information.
Netflix has three pricing plans: Basic, Standard, and Premium. No matter which plan you choose, you have unlimited access to Netflix content. Prices listed are per month.
The Basic plan costs $8.99 per month. Only one device can be used at a time and only one device can download content in addition to streaming it. Content can only be played in standard definition with this plan.
The Standard plan costs $13.99 per month. Two devices can be used at a time and two devices can download content in addition to streaming it. In addition, content is available in high definition with this plan.
The Premium plan costs $17.99 per month. Up to four separate devices can be used at the same time and four devices can download content. Also, content is available in 4K Ultra HD with this plan
All Netflix plans allow up to five profiles per account. For example, on my Netflix account I have my profile plus profiles for my husband and daughter.
Make a profile by first going to the screen for creating profiles. On the iPhone, select Account Settings and then Add Profile. An edit box opens where you enter the name. Activate the Save button. The main benefit of profiles is that Netflix will send recommendations for a particular profile based on that person’s viewing habits. You can also set parental controls for specific profiles. Once Audio Description is activated for your profile, it will transfer to other Apple devices running Netflix. I have my profile selected on my iPhone, Mac, and Apple TV. When the Netflix screen first loads, the list of profiles will be on the home screen. Select the profile for whoever is using Netflix.
Netflix on the iPhone
Overall, Netflix works very well on the iPhone. At the top of the screen, Netflix asks who is watching. Below this heading is a list of profiles in the account. The one you select will load that person’s profile. Under the last profile is a button to add another profile. You can have up to five on your account. In the top right corner of the screen is an Edit button. Selecting it loads a screen to manage profiles. Activate the Done button in the upper left corner when finished.
Note that even if VoiceOver says that a profile is selected, you will need to double tap on it to get to the next screen.
At the bottom of the next screen are four tabs: Home, Coming Soon, Search, and Downloads. The Coming Soon tab has a list of TV shows and movies that will be on Netflix. Each listing has the name and date available. Since Netflix releases all episodes for a season at the same time, the season number will be listed. Flicking up or down on any listing offers options including Full Description, Remind Me, and More Info.
The Search form is self-explanatory. Any content that you have downloaded is accessed via the Downloads tab. The advantage of downloading content is that you don't need an Internet connection to watch it. Netflix has a feature called Smart Downloads. If you start watching a series, episodes you have already played will be removed automatically and Netflix will download upcoming episodes. Turn Smart Downloads on or off in the Downloads tab.
At the top of the screen are four buttons: Home, Target Selector, Account Settings, and Filter Bar. The Home button brings you back to the Home screen. The Target Selector button does not work. At this time, Apple Airplay does not work with Netflix.
The next button is Account Settings. The first part of this screen has a list of profiles on your account, followed by options to add or manage profiles. Next is a My List button. As you explore Netflix and get suggestions from Netflix, you can add content to your list. The list is a convenient way to keep shows and movies you are interested in watching in one place. The next option is App Settings. This section contains information about downloads such as whether to allow them only on Wi-Fi.
The final control is labeled Filter Bar. Flick up or down on it. There are three sorting choices: Movies, TV Shows, and Categories. Selecting Categories brings up more sorting options including Audio Description. VoiceOver will say "Audio Description button." When you select this option, a list of content with audio description will be on the screen.
Once you have found a title you want, double tap on it. The next screen will contain information about your choice including description, buttons to download or play, an option to add it to your list, number of seasons (if applicable) and much more.
Once content is playing, flick right until you hear the controls to play/pause, rewind 10 seconds, and fast-forward 10 seconds. Flick right a few more times to Audio and Subtitle Options. If audio description is available, it will be in this section. Controls on the screen disappear quickly. When you navigate the screen and controls are not available, VoiceOver says, "Show Controls." Double tap and controls will be on the screen.
Netflix on the Mac
The Netflix website has a lot of information but not a lot of clutter. The web rotor works well with links, headings, and forms. A specific option for audio description is not available.
When the website first loads, if there is more than one profile on your account, you will be asked who is watching. Links on the page include TV Shows, Movies, New and Popular, and My List.
Netflix on the Apple TV
Once the app loads, choose a profile. Flicking down on the Apple TV remote brings up various options including Search, Home, TV Shows, and My List. Be aware that the remote is extremely sensitive to touch. The categories filter in this version of Netflix has audio description as number 24 of 24. Once audio description is selected for any one program, it will be activated for other programs if it's available.
Flick around the screen to get an idea of how the app is arranged. For example, if you select the Home option, flicking right brings you to a list header. Flicking right again moves you into the list for that header. Flicking up or down in the headers list moves through the names of the lists. When you find one you want to explore, flick right to learn what content is available. Items within a list are numbered. As with the iOS app, the Apple TV version has lists of popular and trending shows and movies.
When content is playing, three tabs are available: More Info, Subtitles, and Audio. Audio description is labeled "English AD."
Netflix on Fire TV
Aaron Preece, AccessWorld Editor-in-Chief, has contributed the following information on Fire TV, Fire OS, and Android:
Netflix on Fire TV does not use the Fire TV screen reader, VoiceView, but uses its own screen reader. I find that this means that it lags considerably, which makes for a painfully slow experience when trying to navigate. That being said, you can always launch shows using the Alexa function of the Fire's remote, and everything I have tried in the app is accessible. In addition, Netflix will give you context for every screen you are on, with detailed layout information. This is useful as the layouts of screens can change. Note, to turn on audio description on supported titles, pause the program, press "Up" to open the options menu, navigate to the audio options, and select "English, Audio Description."
There isn't much to say about the Fire OS and Android versions of Netflix. From a quick look, the apps seem fully accessible on Fire OS with VoiceView and on Android with TalkBack. The apps have the same features as the iOS version, though the layouts are somewhat different with the various aspects rearranged. Overall, they should not be any less accessible or usable for someone using one of these other mobile platforms. The only access issue I noticed is that the log-in fields aren't labeled on the Fire OS version of the app. As usual, going into subtitles and audio will allow you to select audio description. When you select it for a show, it seems to persist when you then go to watch that show on another device. It seemed like the video player aspect of these apps was the closest to the iOS app in layout. Note that on Android it is possible to move by other elements, e.g., headings, when available.
Netflix from a Low Vision Perspective
AccessWorld author Steve Kelley provided the following information about using Netflix for people who have low vision:
One of the great features of Netflix is that even with the basic subscription, it’s available on virtually any device you can think of—desktop or laptop computer, tablet, smartphone, TV—you name it. While the screen may be smaller on my iPad or 22-inch computer monitor, being close to the screen makes a huge difference and using the magnification features on these devices is also a great addition. On the iPad, for example, during an intro to the video or when there is print on the screen I might not see while watching on the TV, I just zoom in or pause the play for a moment, zoom in, then continue playing. To watch on your tablet or smartphone up close while the rest of the family watches the big screen from the couch across the room, you’ll need at least the $13.99 plan. [Because the Basic plan allows only one screen at a time.]
Overall, the flexibility of the Netflix apps and web interface really adds a new dimension to "move closer" to the screen for a viewer with low vision. The best way to see the TV or video is not the same for any of us, and sometimes it’s easier on a smaller screen held close to our face, with some magnification when needed, and even a screen reader or audio description at times. The Netflix app worked really well across the various platforms and with the accessibility features each offered.
If you are looking for an accessible streaming app with a great deal of audio-described content, Netflix is an excellent choice. Netflix includes audio description in their original programming and often offers audio description on content from other sources. All their platforms are accessible. In the last few months, I have watched a great deal of content from Netflix.
This article is made possible in part by generous funding from the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, Huntington, West Virginia.
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