Robert Kingett, 25, is a self-proclaimed geek who enjoys video games and comic books. So it is no surprise he was looking forward to the Netflix original series on Marvel Comics' Daredevil, which debuted on Friday.
There was just one problem: Like Daredevil, Kingett is legally blind, and Netflix does not provide audio descriptions, a feature that narrates non-verbal action on screen to help the visually impaired better enjoy filmed entertainment.
Kingett is just one of a number of comic book fans—both blind and sighted—who are lobbying Netflix to make "Daredevil" accessible to the visually impaired. And while the fact that a show based on a blind protagonist will not have audio description has stirred consternation, the issue extends far beyond Daredevil's fictional world.
The cost of audio description is "a tuppence" compared to the price of producing movies and television, said Joel Snyder, president of Audio Description Associates. The company charges about $5,000 to write, voice, and record description for a roughly 21/2-hour movie, and about $1,000 for a 22-minute sitcom.
Since October 2012, Kingett has been writing to Netflix executives under the banner of the Accessible Netflix Project, a grassroots campaign now comprised of 11 blind volunteers who want the world's largest streaming video service to provide audio descriptions. The group has since asked Netflix to audio describe "Daredevil" in particular.
"It's entertainment, but accessibility is important regardless of if it's entertainment or education," said Kingett, who also lives with cerebral palsy and contributes stories to gaming publications about accessible video games for the blind.
To be sure, Netflix is not the only over-the-top service that fails to offer the feature. Neither Hulu nor Amazon Instant Video describe their originals.
Nor is the description common on broadcast television. FCC rules require local affiliates of CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox located in the top 25 markets—as well as the top five non-broadcast networks—to provide at least 50 hours of audio described programming per quarter. The regulation will expand to the largest 60 markets in July.
PBS and Turner Movie Classics offer audio description on select programming, though they are not required to do so.