Media

Deaf activists launch social campaign against Netflix

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Today a group of deaf and hard of hearing activists are using Change.org, a platform for social change, to persuade Netflix, an internet subscription service for movies and TV shows, to provide better access to subtitles for its online streaming content.

“Since I started relying on captioning, I’ve learned how few entertainment options exist for the deaf and hard-of-hearing,” says Sebastian St. Troy, a consumer-rights activist in Texas who launched the Change.org campaign. St. Troy, who is hard-of-hearing as a result of a non-cancerous brain tumor, interviewed over Google Chat.* “Netflix has been promising captioning for years, but hasn’t really followed through.”

St. Troy’s campaign started two months ahead of a lawsuit filed by The National Association of the Deaf on June 17, 2011. Change.org is now helping him get the word out. In the lawsuit, Netflix is accused of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by not providing the deaf with equal access to its “watch instantly” digital video. Activists are hoping Netflix will come around without having to go to court.

Those activists are making posts on Netflix’s social media sites in a social media “bombing” campaign. According to the group, Netflix currently only provides captions on a small portion of its online “Watch Instantly” titles.  Although it’s possible to see a list of all of the subtitled content on the site, users cannot search within that content.

“In order to see what there is with subtitles you have to go to the Subtitles link hidden at the bottom of Netflix’s website and then click through 58 pages of content,” St. Troy explains. “You can see why having a search option, as simple as ‘with subtitles’ could save people time, not to mention frustration.  I’ve spent hours every week just to find content to watch, which has now led to my canceling my subscription after Netflix changed their website.”

“Technology such as Captivision and other digital tech products are now allowing captioning in movie theaters, so this is why I started the petition,” says St. Troy. “There is no reasonable explanation as to why Netflix doesn’t have subtitles on all of their content.”

Activists hope to rally thousands from the nation’s 35 million deaf and hard of hearing to the cause.

We put in a request for comment from Netflix this morning and have not yet heard back. We’ll update when they do.

*We ask St. Troy how this interview would have happened 10 years ago: “We would have had to have used TTY, which now has many forms,” St. Troy says with a LOL. “I now use an IP Relay service via my computer and AIM for phone conversations.

UPDATE: Netflix VP of Corporate Communication, Steve Swasey, just called and said his company has been “working on and continuing to work on” captioning. He points out that 100’s of titles are available with captioning, with more being added soon.

“We’ve been candid and transparent about this situation,” he said, directing me to Netflix blog posts on the subject. Swasey says he has not been directly contacted by Sebastian St. Troy or Change.org.

UPDATE: St. Troy filed his petition against Netflix after learning about a Class Action lawsuit filed by Don Cullen and The Weston Firm filed in March 2011.