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Following Criticism, Netflix To Launch Audio Description Service For The Blind, Starting With Daredevil!

Netflix adds “Audio Descriptions” in response to a grassroots effort inspired by Marvel’s latest superhero show.

image via youtube screen capture

The reviews are in, and by most accounts Netflix’s adaptation of Marvel Comics’ Daredevil is a smash hit.

The story of lawyer-by-day/vigilante-by-night Matt Murdoch, Daredevil is noteworthy not only for being a visually striking, graphically violent look at the seedy underbelly of the thus far squeaky-clean Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), but also for being a superhero show whose protagonist lives with a physical condition shared by nearly 40 million people worldwide.

Matt Murdoch, the titular Daredevil, is blind.

In fairness, Murdoch’s super-powered senses compensate for his lack of sight, and afford him a form of visionless echolocation, which he (spoiler alert) uses to whoop the asses of street criminals, ninjas, and evil crime bosses alike. Still, given the fact that their latest breakout hit focuses on a protagonist who is depicted onscreen holding a white cane as often as he is holding his superhero batons, it would be understandable if you expected Netflix to have a plan in place to allow those with his same impairment the ability to enjoy the series. As it turns out, Netflix had no way for visually challenged to experience their original programming. And people noticed.

Since Daredevil premiered on Netflix last week, a petition calling on the streaming service to “Make your new show about a blind superhero accessible to blind viewers" garnered over three thousand individual signatories in just a few days. “Netflix’s new show Daredevil is about a blind lawyer turned superhero," the petition begins "and it seems unfair that if he were a Netflix subscriber, he wouldn't even be able to enjoy his own show!" As the petition notes, the company has the technical capability for a “visual description” option, (think closed-captioning, only read out loud) but had not made the service available for any of Netflix’s original programming.

The petition joins the “Accessible Netflix Project.” The group, spearheaded by journalist Robert Kingett, has been calling on the streaming service, and others like it, to add description options to their programming.

image via (cc) flickr user calamityjon

That changed this Tuesday, when Netflix announced they’d be rolling out a description service for all their original programming. First up? None other than their newest offering: Daredevil. In an official blog post published April 14th, Tracy Wright, Netflix’s director of content operations, wrote:

At Netflix, we work hard to continually improve the experience for our members when viewing movies and shows on our service, including providing accessibility across devices. Now we’re expanding our accessibility options by adding audio description on select titles, beginning today with our new critically acclaimed series, Marvel’s Daredevil.
Audio description is a narration track that describes what is happening on-screen, including physical actions, facial expressions, costumes, settings and scene changes. Customers can choose audio narration just like choosing the soundtrack in a different language.
In coming weeks, we'll add more titles, including current and previous seasons of the Golden Globe and Emmy award-winning political thriller House of Cards, Emmy award-winning comedy-drama series Orange is the New Black, as well as Tina Fey’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and the epic adventure series Marco Polo.
Netflix is actively committed to increasing the number of audio-visual translations for movies and shows in our English-language catalogues. We are also exploring adding audio description into other languages in the future.
Over time, we expect audio description to be available for major Netflix original series, as well as select other shows and movies. We are working with studios and other content owners to increase the amount of audio description across a range of devices including smart TVs, tablets and smartphones.

It’s a heartening move from the company, and a sign of their willingness to listen to the needs of their users–something most cable providers, with whom Netflix’s streaming service is in direct competition with, aren’t exactly known for.

The audio description service is already up and running (give it a try–as a seeing person, I found the experience really interesting) which means anyone–regardless of visual ability–interested in enjoying some good ol’ fashioned super-heroism can do so now.

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