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NAD Opposes Netflix “Deaf Tax”

December 22 2010 | by

The National Association of the Deaf sent another letter to Netflix on Friday addressing concerns about Netflix’s new pricing plan for its Watch Instantly movies, which the deaf community says amounts to a “deaf tax.” NAD also requests, again, that Netflix caption all of its Internet movies and provide an easy way to search for movies that are already captioned.

In November, Netflix announced in The Wall Street Journal that it would offer an Internet-only subscription service plan for less money than its DVD-by-mail plan. Netflix says it believes the $600 million it will save annually on mailing DVDs can instead go towards securing better content deals and go head-to-head with Hulu as well as HBO.

In this move, accessibility takes a steep dive. Netflix’s DVDs have captions or subtitles prepared and supplied for them by the major studios and their distributors. Movies in Netflix’s Internet library are not captioned, with the exception of a handful of titles. Thus, the deaf community says the new plan discriminates against them, and calls it a “deaf tax.”

Netflix has been largely unresponsive to complaints by the deaf and hard of hearing community. Last year, when Netflix debuted “The Wizard of Oz” movie for free in Watch Instantly, it didn’t provide captions — even though a transcript of the movie already existed on DVD. Netflix did not reply to “thousands of letters, emails, comments, and tweets urging Netflix to caption the movie,” NAD says.

Instead, Netflix’s director of communications, Catherine Fisher, responded to NAD with an email, saying, “it was not simple for Netflix to instantly stream the Wizard of Oz .., otherwise we would have done it.” However, it is not technically difficult to provide movie captions, experts say. The transcript is used to generate a caption file, which can be programmed into the Microsoft Silverlight application that Netflix uses for its Watch Instantly feature.

NAD also requested more movies in the Watch Instantly library be captioned. To date, Netflix has captioned about 300 titles on Watch Instantly, out of the more than 17,000 titles in its library. While Netflix is making progress, it is painfully slow, NAD says. And finding the Netflix titles that are captioned, NAD says, is like “looking for a needle in a haystack.” Currently there’s no way to search for captioned or “CC” Netflix movies — not on their website, nor on Wii and PlayStation 3 systems, where Netflix has secured deals to stream its movies.

In response, some people in the deaf and hard of hearing community have cancelled their Netflix subscriptions. Others are calling for a subscription rate for unlimited DVDs equal to the subscription rate for unlimited online videos as a way to compensate deaf and hard of hearing people for the inaccessible online service.

Netflix should “caption all of the videos on its Watch Instantly services now. No exclusion, no discrimination, no special discounts, no exceptions. We do not want to pay more and get less. We want equal access,” NAD says. The organization urges consumer advocates to e-mail Netflix to request captioning on Netflix Watch Instantly movies. Advocates can also visit the Netflix twitter account and Netflix Facebook page, or post comments on the Netflix blog.

Related article: Abledbody White Paper on Video Accessibility for The Disabled


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  • Sam the Deaf

    It’s one of huge major reason why the cost has increase on Netflix because of Comcast that label as Level 3 on Netflix.

    I know it look like it cause increase because of subtitle. It’s not really the reason for that. Subtitle isn’t suppose be hard when it’s already have captioning exist from the disc.

  • Name Withheld

    Rent DVDs from your local public library instead of above so to save you money. It’s as simple as that.

  • Stacey

    Not only the deaf use the closed captioning. I hear very well in one ear but sometimes have difficulty understanding what is said, so I turn on the captions.

    Also, to Name Withheld, don’t assume everyone is in a city within easy distance of a library. Out in the country, not everyone can get to a library–some people live several miles from one. Also, not every library carries lots of titles, and certainly not the indie or obscure ones that Netflix does.

  • Second Class Citizen

    @Name Withheld:

    I’m sadden to hear that you believe deaf people should accept themselves as a second class citizen.

  • Tousi

    Name Withheld, I disagree that it is as simple as that. What’s happening is an uneven playing field. Why should I have to go to the library and not enjoy the benefits that hearing folks do?

  • rose poe

    I agree with the deaf although i am not i hear just find but learning asl so i am looking for the same as the deaf to learn everything there is to know what the deaf go through dont release a moveie unless it is for all not just hearing

  • Pingback: Knocking On Netflix’s Door: Captioning Revisited — Michael Janger Consulting

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