Netflix Allegedly Making Progress on Closed Captions for Streaming Content

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Earlier this month we received an important update from the National Association of the Deaf and Netflix regarding a class action lawsuit that was filed in federal court over Netflix’s repeated refusals to provide accessibility of streaming content to the hearing impaired. Here is the press release that was sent out:


October 10, 2012

Shane Feldman

Arlene Mayerson, Directing Attorney, Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund

Jonathan Friedland, Netflix Inc.

Netflix and National Association of the Deaf (NAD) Reach Historic
Agreement to Provide 100% Closed Captions in On-Demand Streaming
Content Within Two Years

(October 10, 2012) Netflix Inc. and the National Association of the
Deaf (NAD), a non-profit organization, have submitted a joint Consent
Decree to a federal court in Springfield, Mass., ensuring closed
captions in 100% of Netflix streaming content within two years.

NAD, along with the Western Massachusetts Association of the Deaf and
Hearing-Impaired (WMAD/HI) and Lee Nettles, a deaf Massachusetts
resident, brought suit against Netflix seeking that commitment in

The agreement indicates the parties’ mutual intent to increase access
for people who are deaf and hard of hearing to movies and television
streamed on the Internet. Netflix began its closed-captioning program
in 2010. Netflix has increased captioning for 90% of the hours viewed
but is now committed to focusing on covering all titles by captioning
100% of all content by 2014. Captions can be displayed on a majority
of the more than 1,000 devices on which the service is available.

Howard A. Rosenblum, CEO of NAD, the lead plaintiff in this case,
said, “The National Association of the Deaf congratulates Netflix for
committing to 100% captioning, and is thrilled to announce that 48
million deaf and hard of hearing people will be able to fully access
Netflix’s Watch Instantly services.”

“We have worked consistently to make the broadest possible selection
of titles available to Netflix members who are deaf or hard of hearing
and are far and away the industry leader in doing so,” said Neil Hunt,
Netflix Chief Product Officer. “We are pleased to have reached this
agreement and hope it serves as a benchmark for other providers of
streaming video entertainment.”

Netflix will also improve its interface so that subscribers will be
better able to identify content that has been captioned in the period
until 100% captioning is achieved. The parties have asked the court
to maintain jurisdiction of the case for four years to assure
compliance with the terms of the Decree, and plaintiffs will monitor
Netflix’s progress.

“We’re so pleased that Netflix worked jointly with plaintiffs to
devise a reasonable and workable way to achieve 100% captioning. The
Decree is a model for the streaming entertainment industry,” said
Arlene Mayerson, Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund’s
Directing Attorney. “DREDF hopes that this is the beginning of opening
the Internet for deaf and hard of hearing individuals in streamed
entertainment, education, government benefits, and more.”

The Consent Decree is available here:
regarding National Association of the Deaf, et al. v. Netflix, Case
No. 3:11-cv-30168.

The plaintiffs are represented by the Disability Rights Education &
Defense Fund in Berkeley, CA, the Oakland, CA law firm Lewis,
Feinberg, Lee, Renaker & Jackson P.C., and the Boston, MA law firm
Sugarman, Rogers, Barshak & Cohen, P.C.

Netflix is represented by David F. McDowell and Jacob M. Harper of
Morrison & Foerster LLP.

# # #

National Association of the Deaf (NAD)

The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) is the nation’s premier
civil rights organization of, by and for deaf and hard of hearing
individuals in the United States of America. NAD represents the
estimated 48 million Americans who are deaf or hard of hearing and is
based in Silver Spring, MD.

Western Massachusetts Association of the Deaf and Hearing Impaired (WMAD).

WMAD is an advocacy membership organization of individuals who are
deaf and hearing impaired in western Massachusetts.

Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF)

Founded in 1979 by people with disabilities and parents of children
with disabilities, the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund
(DREDF) is a national law and policy center based in Berkeley, CA and
is dedicated to protecting and advancing the civil rights of people
with disabilities.

Lewis, Feinberg, Lee, Renaker & Jackson P.C.

Lewis, Feinberg, Lee, Renaker & Jackson P.C. is a national law firm
based in Oakland, CA that represents plaintiffs in civil rights,
employment discrimination, ERISA employee benefit and pension
litigation, and wage and hour Overtime litigation.

Sugarman, Rogers, Barshak & Cohen, P.C.

SRBC is a Boston-based civil litigation firm with 26 lawyers and more
than 80 years of success in managing complex cases for local, regional
and national clients.

— Charlotte Lanvers, Staff Attorney
Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund
3075 Adeline Street, Suite 210
Berkeley, CA 94703
V/TTY. 510-644-2555 ext. 5231
F. 510-841-8645

And now for our thoughts.

We are a hearing impaired household, and paid for a Netflix subscription (back when one fee covered streaming and DVDs) for many years. After easily two dozen phone conversations with Netflix representatives and even a Better Business Bureau complaint against Netflix as a company, we determined they had no interest in accommodating the needs of the deaf. We cancelled our account and understand we let them know exactly why. Around this same time, a petition was making the rounds in the deaf community and we signed it. We were pleased to see others shared our point of view, but were still upset so many people were affected by Netflix’s clearly calculated decision not to get on board with captioned streamed content like their competitors. TV network web sites, Hulu, YouTube, and even unique content creators were at least making a serious attempt at having videos be accessible to those who couldn’t hear.

Years later, we attempted to use Blockbuster’s On Demand movie service via its web site. We were let down by that, as well. Very little content had the option of captions or subtitles, and Blockbuster showed even less interest in the needs of its hearing impaired customers. This indicated to us that there was still a long way to go, even in early 2012.

Where do you weigh in? Is this progress, too late? Are you thankful for the move? If you’d cancelled your Netflix account because you’re deaf and were sick of waiting, does this make you consider resubscribing?

4 Responses to “Netflix Allegedly Making Progress on Closed Captions for Streaming Content”

  1. Emmett

    Since 2010 I do not use NetFlix. I am HOH. I will not give them another chance. They are only doing this because federal judges made it known NetFlix were in the wrong.

  2. vikki

    sorry, too late for us. we found other ways to get the content we want, from companies that actually care about the various abilities of their customers.


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