Netflix is improving its accessibility tools for audio description and subtitling
Closed captioning on Netflix, subtitles for deaf and hard of hearing (SDH), and audio descriptions (AD) are all useful tools for making movies and TV shows more accessible to persons with impairments. However, such features have become commonplace in how people from all walks of life view Netflix material, and the streaming platform plans to give its members more of what they want.
Netflix is getting up to enhance its accessibility features around the globe in honor of Global Accessibility Awareness Day, and unveiling a new collection spotlighting stories of people living with impairments. Celebrating Disability with Dimension will work similarly to Netflix’s other special collections, which draw from the platform’s current material in order to increase its visibility while viewers browse the site. Netflix is expanding its AD and SDH services in more languages, including Spanish, French, Korean, and Portuguese, in addition to the new collection.
When we spoke with Heather Dowdy, Netflix’s director of accessibility, she highlighted that people’s ability to use AD and SDH has traditionally been dependent on whether the networks airing the program took the initiative to provide the services in different languages. While shows made in France, such as Lupin, may have those features available in French, English-speakers seeking to view the series with English AD or SDH will only be able to do so if the platform showing it prioritizes accessibility.
While delivering such features to individuals who need them is at the center of Dowdy’s work at Netflix, she noted that one of the major reasons the platform has been planning for this expansion is that more customers are watching material from around the world.
Netflix claims that 40% of its global user base uses subtitles on a regular basis and that audio descriptions have been turned on for hundreds of thousands of hours of shows like Lucifer, Ozark, and Seinfeld. Netflix also engaged with members of the disability community to design more comprehensive AD rules to make the platform’s approach to accessibility more inclusive, according to Dowdy, who is a CODA herself.
Netflix’s efforts have paid off, with shows like Bridgerton ranking as the most-watched show or films with subtitles in six countries, according to the platform. However, the plot differs from those of other global phenomenons such as Squid Game, whose English subtitles were criticized for being hopelessly wrong. Dowdy did not say what steps Netflix expects to take as part of its new endeavor to ensure that the original voices of series and movies are preserved as they are localized. She did note, however, that the Squid Game incident provided an opportunity for Netflix to grow as a result of critical feedback from users.
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