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People Are Turning Netflix Videos into “Audiobooks” with the Audio Description Feature

  • a man adjusts the volume controls on his car's dashboard while driving

    The concept of driving your car while enjoying a movie on your phone just became a lot safer.

    Lifehacker recently published an article about a Redditor who pointed out that you can listen to movies and TV shows on Netflix by turning on the audio description feature in user controls.

    In other words, audio description can turn your favorite movies and shows into audiobooks that you can listen to anywhere.

    What is audio description?

    For the uninitiated, audio description is an accommodation feature for blind and visually impaired people that is available on a lot of video content.

    Just like how closed captions communicate important auditory information via text to deaf and hard of hearing viewers, audio description is an audio track that describes relevant visual information on the screen so that blind viewers can understand what is happening in the video. Additionally, people who are on the Autism spectrum and those who are auditory learners have been shown to benefit from audio description, as well.

    ‘Netflix Audiobooks’

    Just like closed captions have universal benefits outside of accommodation, people are discovering that audio description can also be enjoyed by sighted people as an alternative to watching a video. Between dialogue, action sounds, and the soundtrack, audio description carries you through a video so that you don’t miss any details which are absolutely crucial to understanding the plot.

    Here’s an example of how audio description accurately narrates details of a plot from a scene in Netflix’s original series “Stranger Things.” The audio description track is shown in italics between the captioned audio:

    [Sounds of Mike and Will’s friends talking around arcade games]

Will wanders away, gazing out the door at white spores drifting through the air.

WILL: “Hey. Hey guys, do you see the ---”

He turns around to find everyone gone. The lights flicker off. Growth is now climbing over the walls and dark arcade games. 

He rolls around as the front door crashes open.
    Outside, the first letters of the purple-neon “Palace” sign flick on, then off again, as Will steps out of the arcade in the “Upside Down.” 

His bottom lip trembles as he gazes past the spinning growth covered arcade sign to flashes of lightning crackling behind thick clouds.

The flashes grow more intense and he gazes up at the ominous storm, tears welling in Will’s terrified eyes. 

MIKE: [Echoing, then heard clearly] “Will, Will… Are you okay?”

Will spins around to Mike. He looks back, the night sky returned to normal.
    Images: Netflix

    Narration for Video

    Audio description in film and TV episodes has a vivid narrative quality in order to create an equivalent experience for the visually impaired. So naturally, sighted listeners can also use their imaginations to visualize what is happening in the video, just like one would do while reading a book. And since you can use the feature on your Netflix smartphone app, you can use audio description while:

    • Walking, running, or exercising
    • Driving, commuting to work or traveling long distances
    • Listening to a show as background noise while working

    Basically, in any situation where you’ve been enjoying audiobooks, you can now enjoy movies and TV shows!

    Which titles have audio description?

    If you use the search function on Netflix and enter ‘audio description,’ you’ll find an entire section titled “Audio Description in English” full of titles that offer the feature.

    For a full database of which movies and TV shows offer this feature, you can also consult the Audio Description Project’s website which includes titles from Netflix, Amazon Video, and more! New titles are added fairly regularly.

    Audio Description is an Example of Universal Design

    In an ideal world, both people with and without disabilities should be able to enjoy the same goods and services without having to take “extra steps.” The term “accommodations” would become a thing of the past as physical and digital interfaces are universally designed from the start to include everyone.

    Audio Description offers people the possibility of listening to their favorite shows and movies instead of watching them. As people begin to realize this, hopefully, we’ll start to see a lot more titles with audio description as popular demand for it grows.

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