Making Breaking Bad accessible to all

Media is accessible everywhere today, but it’s still not accessible to everyone

Netflix may soon have to caption their online video.

A year or so ago, my wife and I decided to give Breaking Bad a try and were quickly hooked. We soon began devouring the episodes for ealier seasons via Netflix streaming. It even got to the point where I was streaming episodes on my iPhone on the train commuting to work. Technology is a great thing!

Unless, of course, you’re visually impaired, or deaf or you have a disability of any sort that can prevent you from using a device like a smartphone or consuming some of all that great media that’s available to most people these days. While technology in many ways has made life better for those with disabilities, it also introduces a lot of new problems, particularly when it comes to consuming media.

Accessibility to media for those with disabilities has been in the news this summer and not for the best of reasons. In June, a judge overseeing a lawsuit brought by the National Association for the Deaf, ruled that the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) does apply to Netflix, meaning that the company may soon be required to start captioning its online video. Netflix is appealing that ruling arguing, among other things, that copyright law prevents them from doing so and that they are already subject to the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), which doesn’t require captioning for all online video until 2014.

Speaking of the CVAA, a number of industry groups and manufacturers are requesting waivers for (or "flexibility" around) implementation of the accessibility standards mandated by the law.

Frankly, I find the pushback, while not surprising, certainly disheartening. Fortunately, there are people creating media (and technologies) that are accessible to all. If you’re interested in doing so, or just want to learn more about this issue, there are some great resources available.

The National Center for Accessible Media is an excellent place to start. They’re the folks that developed things like closed captioning (CC) and descriptive video services (DVS) and they offer a wealth of information, tools, and how-tos for making media accessible. They also evaluate technologies for accessibility.

Then there’s the Web Accessibility Initiative, which develops guidelines, materials and resources to help make the web more accessible.

These are just a couple of places to start if you’re interested in coming up-to-speed on accessible media. If you create content, or technologies to serve it, I encourage you to become familiar with the issues and solutions currently available.

After all, people with disabilities should have the same chance that I did to witness Walter White go from Mr. Chips to Scarface. On a mobile device. On the train. On their way to work.

Let’s make technology an even greater thing.

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