Netflix makes Daredevil accessible to visually challenged people

Netflix Audio Description
Credit: Netflix

Netflix's latest original series, Daredevil, hit the service last Friday. It's a show based on the Marvel comic book character of the same name. It was a big hit in our house; we semi-binge-watched it, starting on Friday and finishing episode 13 on Monday. For us that's a lot of TV watching!

What made it so compelling, I think, is the Netflix format. Since the writers knew you'd have all the episodes available to watch in order, they didn't spend a lot of time on recapping what happened in earlier episodes, and they didn't feel the need to have a self-contained story in each episode. Instead it was one strong, cohesive plot through all 13 episodes without a lot of fluff. I recommend it if you're at all interested in this kind of show.

One of the things I enjoyed was the banter between main character Matt Murdock (who is blind) and his buddy and business partner, Foggy Nelson. Foggy often acts as Matt's eyes; when they're having a conversation with a third person Foggy will point out gestures that the third party makes, e.g. "She just nodded her head." Whenever he does this, the third person will realize what they've done and apologize to Murdock for not taking into account the fact that he is blind. It's all presented in a somewhat humorous fashion (a nice counterpoint to the fairly grim story line) but it's an important observation about how we relate to people with disabilities.

Netflix seems to have got their own message. Yesterday they added a new feature to Daredevil: Audio Description. It turns the show into a kind of audio play: something that visually impaired users can enjoy. In Netflix's own words:

"Audio description is a narration track that describes what is happening on-screen, including physical actions, facial expressions, costumes, settings and scene changes."

You turn it on via the audio options in the same place you turn on subtitles or change languages. The image at the top of this post shows where it is on the Netflix web player.

For now audio description is only available in English and only for Daredevil but Netflix says they'll be adding English audio descriptions to House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Marco Polo and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt in the coming weeks, and they're exploring adding audio descriptions in other languages, too. They also say they're working with other studios and content providers "to increase the amount of audio description across a range of devices including smart TVs, tablets and smartphones."

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