Netflix Fails Deaf Subscribers

Netflix has been around for about a decade now, and in that time has compiled a huge library of films, TV series and documentaries.    All of this is backed up with multiple device support and a really clever algorithm that suggests and recommends films and shows to it’s users.

It’s simple to use and you can access on a variety of platforms – my favorite is the new Wii U where you can even watch your shows on the gamepad if you prefer.  There’s no doubt that Netflix have developed a state of the art viewing platform except of course if you happened to be dead.  Many hearing people’s first experience of closed captions on Netflix will perhaps be on a foreign film or perhaps some mixed dialogue in a film.  You’ll then start to see what deaf subscribers have to put up with – they’re truly awful.

If you’re lucky they may just be out of synch, but in reality most are transcribed very badly almost to the point of a bad joke.  They’ll often line up over each other, contain awful spelling or grammar, or perhaps just be complete nonsense.  An example in one of ABCs sitcoms Better off Ted, sees the captions block out real subtitles for a foreign language excerpt and cover them with the text – ‘SPEAKING JAPANESE’

Or how about this beauty from the latest Bond blockbuster – Skyfall.

“Report to the new Quartermaster for ur documentation,” 

It’s enough to make you cry, the real scandal is that a global media company treats it’s deaf subscribers with such disdain. There’s very little excuse, Netflix has even been sued by the National Association of the Deaf in 2011. A timetable was agreed at that point to include and improve captions on all streaming content. It appears they have honored that agreement by trying to just stuff any old rubbish into their shows and hope nobody notices.

Perhaps we should be grateful that there is at least some effort into providing captions at all but I think that misses the point. Some of these efforts are so awful that they can really spoil a movie, remember if you’re deaf and rely on these captions – this is the dialogue you see.

Netflix is always keen to pour resources into it’s algorithm or to create new region versions of it’s subscription. Netflix in the UK for instance has only a fraction of the content available to subscribers in other places like the USA. Although if you want to access those then at least your subscription is valid for all of them but you’ll need to use a fast proxy to access them like in this video.

There is some sympathy with Netflix from many quarters, providing closed captions is not easy and there is no simple solution available at the moment. You only have to look at the automatic captions produced by the huge resources of YouTube – often they’re complete nonsense. But surely quality should be the driver here, mistakes and errors just spoil the experience completely for the viewer. It’s like trying to read a book full of spelling mistakes it’s an extremely depressing experience.

There is a demand for this and Netflix spends a huge amount of money on licensing and generating it’s own programming.  Many people already switch between versions of Netflix just to get better versions, they don’t like people doing this and there’s been a lot of – How to Hide your IP address type videos like the one above.  They shouldn’t forget that up to 15% of people have some sort of hearing difficulties so that’s an awful lot of people.

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