Marvel’s Daredevil Painfully Highlights Netflix’s Lack of Accessibility for the Blind
Much like closed captions exist to allow the deaf to enjoy TV and movies alongside the hearing, the blind have descriptive narration—sometimes. As great as the feature of an audio track that narrates on-screen action for those who can’t see it is, it’s not nearly as widespread as captions, and it’s completely missing from Netflix streaming. While this problem didn’t suddenly appear on Friday, Netflix and Marvel’s new show starring a blind superhero made it too uncomfortably ironic to continue.
Adding descriptive narration to movies and TV shows isn’t even terribly difficult or expensive. Modern TV already supports alternate audio tracks, and adding in a button for it on a streaming service like Netflix should be an easy update. CNBC says Audio Description Associates will get the job done for just a few thousand dollars depending on length of the program. That might sound like a lot to the average person, but it’s basically nothing to a massive TV or movie production, and it’s everything to the people who’ll benefit from it.
Robert Kingett, a comic book fan who is legally blind, has been trying to get Netflix to add audio description to their streaming service since 2012 with The Accessible Netflix Project. Neither Hulu nor Amazon has audio description on its original content, and the project has been making headway in getting the major streaming players to work on accessibility for the blind—including DVD search features to make hard copies of content with audio description easier to find.
There’s already a petition to get the feature added to Daredevil at the very least, but the show’s blind hero just makes it a very visible reminder of the lack of accessibility for the blind. Joel Snyder, who was involved in the beginnings of descriptive narrative and president of Audio Description Associates, told CNBC that he doesn’t want to give the impression that blind people only want to watch shows with blind leads: “Blind people want to watch good television, good film—or bad television and bad film—just like sighted people.” Snyder wants to make sure that the approximately 21 million blind people in the United States and their varied tastes aren’t overlooked.
We couldn’t be more behind the fan campaign to get Daredevil a narration track, and hopefully it’ll start a big shift in the visibility of audio description as an important accessibility feature for video services. We’ve still got a long way to go when the unfortunate irony of this particular situation was brought up well before the show’s release, and still nothing has been done about it. Let’s go, Marvel and Netflix. You’ve got a unique opportunity here to make a really visible change in favor of accessibility. Don’t you dare miss it.
[Editor’s Note: If you went anywhere near the Internet this weekend, you’ve probably heard that Daredevil itself is quite good. We’ll have recaps of the first two episodes later today for whoever out there hasn’t already watched the entire series while livetweeting it so please keep spoilers for the show out of this particular comment thread out of respect to fellow fans.]