After requests from many disability activists and folks with a sense of irony, Netflix has rolled out audio descriptions — a common way of making visual media accessible to the blind or otherwise visually impaired — for Daredevil, and promises that the option will be available for a number of their other original shows soon.
An audio description is an audio track in which a narrator describes the visual action, around — or in complement to — the audible action. While other video on demand services like the BBC iPlayer have offered audio descriptions for programs since 2009, Netflix does not. The Accessible Netflix Project has also criticized the service for providing an user interface that doesn't interact well with screen readers or the adaptive technology used by those with motor impairments. It's a known problem among disability activists, but a problem that hit peak irony within the last week as it became clear that Netflix had not implemented audio descriptions for Marvel's first Netflix original series, Daredevil. This meant that the titular hero of Daredevil, despite even his advanced senses, wouldn't be able to experience his own TV show.
Some online responses seemed more puzzled than angry. Netflix rolling out accessibility options for the blind, starting with their show about a blind superhero, seemed like such a no-brainer.
A lack of audio description for Daredevil on Netflix was actually a step back from the last time the character got a major screen adaptation, in 2003.
But in the end, it took less than a week of online criticism for Netflix to roll out an improvement, and not just for Daredevil. In an official blog post yesterday, Netflix director of of content operations Tracy Wright announced that audio description was now available for Daredevil, and outlined Netflix's new commitment to providing that level of accessibility.
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.
Audio description will be available for "major Netflix original series" in the future. For now, the option can be found alongside Daredevil's other language tracks.
While it's an option that Netflix should have implemented a long time ago, it's also a swift response from a big company. Still, it'd be an entirely different, much more positive story, if Netflix had announced a commitment to audio description before anyone complained about Matt Murdock being unable to enjoy his own TV show.