Netflix is making it easier for everyone to enjoy its content — on Global Accessibility Awareness Day, no less.
Heather Dowdy, the company’s director of product accessibility, announced a major plan to expand its audio description and subtitle translations for customers who are blind, deaf, or hard of hearing. Additionally, Netflix is also launching a new collection, titled ‘Celebrating Disability with Dimension,’ that features more than 50 shows and movies with characters and stories involving disabilities.
Dowdy, a former Microsoft and Motorola Mobility executive, joined Netflix in August of last year. A Chicago native and child of deaf adults (CODA), she grew up using sign language with her mom and dad. “It really is a personal drive for me,” she said of Netflix’s accessibility initiative. “It used to be far and few between when my parents and I could all watch something together.”
“How we access stories has changed a lot,” she said. “Whether it’s video conference calls, texting, or the flashing doorbell, nowadays technology can build bridges to access for many people living with disabilities. That’s why today, to celebrate Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD), I’m excited to announce that we’re expanding our language availability of Audio Descriptions (AD) and Subtitles for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (SDH). Starting this month and into 2023, these features will be made available across more of our catalog and in more languages including Spanish, Portuguese, Korean, and French. For decades, your access to entertainment was determined by where you lived and what language you spoke, meaning that until recently people who needed AD or SDH could only enjoy a story if it was made in their local language. Looking forward we’re focused on scale — to continue to provide the quality we’re known for but at scale. Our whole goal is about delighting members. It’s about including everyone.”
According to Netflix, it currently supports more than 11,000 hours of audio description. These provide additional audio commentary and explanations for consumers in more than 30 languages. In the United States viewers have used audio descriptions to stream more than 350,000 hours of Ozark and more than 500,000 hours of Lucifer. They also consumed nearly a half a million of hours of “Seinfeld” reruns with AD.
Roughly 40% of Netflix members use subtitles globally. The current #1 most popular series among those watched with subtitles is the Drama series Bridgerton. Dowdy clarified that the streamer worked directly with the blind community on audio description guidelines. Together they determined the best ways to represent race and gender identity in AD so it could include information on skin tone and hair texture: “That implementation wouldn’t have happened without the community feedback. It’s a better description of what’s happening. The audio descriptions are pretty steamy for some of those scenes”,
Netflix’s audio descriptions already won a Game Changer award from the American Council of the Blind last year. The streaming platform plans to expand audio descriptions, subtitles, and dubbing in more than 10 additional languages throughout the year starting this month. The company is also rolling out new badges to show which titles are available with AD.