Netflix Sued for Lack of Closed Captioning

Closed Captioning Symbol
IMAGE: Symbol for Closed Captioning. Two C’s in a box resembling a TV.

Special thanks to Ocean from the Deaf Pagan Crossroads for informing me about NAD’s lawsuit.

“The National Association of the Deaf (NAD), the nation’s premier civil rights organization of deaf and hard of hearing individuals, announced the filing of a major federal lawsuit against Netflix today in U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts, Western Division in Springfield, MA. The lawsuit charges the entertainment giant with violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by failing to provide closed captioning for most of its “Watch Instantly” movies and television streamed on the Internet.” NADA press release

YouTube Preview Image
VIDEO: NAD press release in ASL (American Sign Language) about the lawsuit against Netflix.

In March I reported that Netflix had a very limited amount of closed captioned movies and TV shows available for instant viewing on PC or gaming devices.

“Unfortunately, it takes many many hours to embed captioning into streaming video and Netflix has a huge library to go through. Don’t expect many titles with captioning steaming to your TV soon. Here are a couple of blog posts by Neil Hunt, Chief Product Officer at Netflix. “Closed Captions and Subtitles” blog.netflix.com/2009/06/closed-captions-and-subtitles.html However, there are more available if you watch Netflix streaming to your computer. “Subtitles Now Available for Some Titles for PC/MAC Viewing.” blog.netflix.com/2010/04/subtitles-now-available-for-some-titles.htmlStaff of Asclepius “Community Linkage” March 30, 2011

Apparently the NAD has voiced their concern over Netflix accessibility since 2009. (October 5, 2009 letter from NAD to Catherine Fisher Director, Communications
Netflix, Inc.)

In 2010, NAD wrote a follow-up letter to Fisher. “While Netflix is making progress, which is great it is painfully slow. Further, Netflix does not provide a means for consumers to identify captioned Watch Instantly videos, except by trying to watch them. Looking for a captioned video on Netflix is literally like “looking for a needle in a haystack.”

Compounding our community’s frustration, Netflix’s recent announcement about a new subscription rate plan, effective January 2, 2011, raises the rate for DVDs, which are generally captioned (information about captions are provided on the Netflix website); and lowers the rate for online videos, which are not captioned. This new rate plan not only excludes deaf and hard of hearing people from the online service because all but a few videos are captioned, deaf and hard of hearing people now have to pay more for the DVD service that is accessible. Some in our community are calling this a “deaf tax.” See, e.g., http://www.doncullen.net/?p=568. We agree.”

Netflix hasn’t posted a response to the lawsuit on their website as of Tuesday morning June 21. Comments on the NAD video on YouTube are varied.

On February 24, 2011, The Netflix Blog reported that about 30% of their content had closed captioning available. Netflix has a sortable and searchable web page on their site that lists all of the “watch now” TV shows and movies that are available with subtitles. “It is accessible via a link in the Netflix Website footer, via search (for “subtitle” or “caption”), or linked from the detail page of any title that has subtitles. Subtitles are supported on PCs and Macs, Nintendo Wii, Sony PS3, GoogleTV, and the Boxee Box. We expect that Roku and Xbox 360 will support subtitles later this year. Most new Netflix ready devices released this summer or later will support subtitles. For content that has subtitles, look for the Subtitles button in the player on the PC/Mac.”

With a full list of captioned content, finding accessible films and shows isn’t exactly a needle in a haystack. Though, Netflix via XBox 360 doesn’t have the same search. That could be an issue with Microsoft.


(Correction added 6/28/22: The NAD letter to Netflix where they point out the difficulty of finding movies with captioning is dated 2010. Netflix didn’t provide easier captioning searches until after March 2011.)

What do you think about the lawsuit?

About Tara "Masery" Miller

Tara "Masery" Miller is a Neo-Pagan panentheist Gaian mage living in the Ozarks with her husband and pets. She's also a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church. She is the editor of Rooted in the Body, Seeking the Soul which you can find at Immanion press. www.immanion-press.com/info/books.asp She has a minor is religion from Southeast Missouri State Missouri State University with an emphasis in mysticism. Masery has lead various groups over the years and organized Pagan Pride Day events. Her magic and author page is at www.taramaserymiller.com

  • NotBuyingIt

    As a video professional I can tell you Netflix’s cry “…it takes many many hours to embed captioning into streaming video…” is complete horse sh*t.

    With the advent of automated voice recognition technology the entire process can be streamlined. This is is sheer laziness.

    They’ve known about this issue since 2009. Netflix’s arrogance and assumption that the public will buy into their lame excuse is one of many reasons why I refuse to have Netflix in my house.

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  • Chuck

    My hats off to NAD. lack of captioning is the exact reason I quit netflix. Finding current movies with captioning was frustrating and time consuming to say the least. I found that foreign films were typically subtitled and more likely to be deaf friendly. HULU and Youtube movies should be next on NAD’s list of movie streaming sites to whip into compliance with ADA.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/members/masery/ Masery

    I’ve added a correction to the post. The NAD letter to Netflix where they point out the difficulty of finding movies with captioning is dated 2010. Netflix didn’t provide easier captioning searches until after March 2011. NAD was correct to express that finding movies with Closed Captioning was like finding a needle in a haystack.


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