5 Video Streaming Services Doing Accessibility Right

March 12, 2018 BY PATRICK LOFTUS
Updated: June 3, 2019

In addition to providing subtitles in multiple languages for a worldwide audience, streaming services understand that providing closed captions and audio description broadens their customer base to include the hundreds of millions of people worldwide who have hearing loss and vision impairments.

Making video accessible is also a legal requirement for online streaming services. In 2012, Netflix lost a legal battle with the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) for failing to caption their movies and TV shows. The court argued that internet-only businesses like Netflix should be considered “places of public accommodation” under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This ruling has had far-reaching implications for entertainment companies that stream video online.

While some streaming services are still a little behind when it comes to making captions and audio description available to people with sensory disabilities, some companies are shining examples of what accessible video should look like.

With help from the American Council of the Blind’s (ACB) Audio Description Project database, here are the top 5 video streaming services making video as accessible for as many consumers as possible with closed captioning and audio description:

#1 Netflix

As a result of their 2012 settlement with the NAD, Netflix agreed to add closed captioning to all of their movies and TV shows.

In another settlement with the American Council for the Blind (ACB), Netflix agreed to provide audio descriptions for many popular titles in both its online streaming platform and disc rental service by December 31, 2016. Today, Netflix boasts over 560 titles with audio description — not including the many individual episodes in each season of its series that offer audio description.

As it stands, the ACB now considers Netflix “the dominant provider of streaming content with description.”

#2 Amazon Video

White Paper: How the ADA Impacts Online Video Accessibility
As a result of a deal they struck with the NAD, Amazon also has an incredibly vast catalog of nearly 200,000 captioned TV shows and movies. They have even gone out of their way to add captions to video content when content creators do not.

They also offer over 350 audio described movies and shows through Prime Video.

Learn more about the exciting accessibility culture at Amazon.

#3 iTunes & Apple TV

Apple is a global leader when it comes to making technology accessible to as many people as possible.

Apple TV supports closed captioning for “TV episodes and thousands of movies” and audio description when available. iTunes currently carries more than 600 movies with audio description.

To find out which movies and TV shows include captions on the iTunes Store, look for the CC or SDH icon (subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing) when selecting a title. You can also enter “closed captions” or “SDH” into the search bar and view the results.

#4 WATCH ABC

As a major cable broadcast network, ABC is required by the FCC to follow strict closed captioning guidelines and must provide 50 hours (87.5 hours starting July 1, 2018) of audio described content per calendar quarter.

ABC offers closed captioning for all of its full-length content on television and online though ABC.com or the Watch ABC app available for download on multiple devices.

According to the Audio Description Project, “ABC’s streaming service offers access to live content and select previous episodes from mobile devices in select markets for free. Generally (but not always), if an ABC show offers audio description, the show will be described using the app.”

To enable audio description for ABC content, you must enable the feature manually on your device’s settings and not in the app itself.

#5 PBS: Passport

Passport is PBS’s video on-demand streaming app available to PBS donors who contribute at least $5/month or $60/year.

Closed captioning was essentially invented under the umbrella of PBS in the 1970s and, apart from certain exemptions allowed by the FCC, can be found in most all of their video content through it’s app and website.

PBS also offers more than 30 series with audio description according to this Wikipedia page. If a program does have an audio description track, you can activate it just before the program plays in Passport.


Intertested in learning more about accessiblity for online streaming services? Check out the article, Accessibility Laws for Media and Entertainment.

Go to Accessibility Laws for Media and Entertainment

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