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Netflix in Need of Improving its Closed Captioning Options

The original article appeared in The Week as “How Netflix alienated and insulted its deaf subscribers”
by Jon Christian
summarized by Rachel Cain, staff writer

Netflix, which has grown tremendously over the past decade as a television and movie streaming giant, has garnered some complaints regarding the poor quality of its closed caption subtitles. Oftentimes, the closed captioning provided by Netflix includes nonsense characters, transcription errors, skipped words or sentences, long periods of silence, inconsistencies in style, and dialogue sequences that simply don’t make sense in the context of the show. For instance, the subtitles for an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, have Commander Riker declaring (to the confusion of its viewers), “ALL STATIONS PREPARE FOR A HAPPY BIRTHDAY.” Another example of insufficient quality control with the closed captioning is in an episode of the ABC sitcom Better Off Ted. In this episode, the Japanese spoken by several characters is translated into English at the bottom of the screen. However, for those using closed captioning, the translation is obscured by the words, “SPEAKING JAPANESE.” The problems with closed captioning prevent viewers who are deaf, hard of hearing, or otherwise have difficulty understanding dialogue from completely enjoying their shows.

Sam Wildman, a blogger and law student with hearing loss, wrote an open letter to Netflix in which she criticized it for its inconsistent and inaccurate transcriptions. “If someone is watching a show with subtitles they ought to have the same sort of experience,” she wrote. Her letter resonated with many other members of the deaf and hard of hearing community.

Netflix is currently on a timetable that will make captions available on all of its streaming content later this year. This plan is the result of a 2011 lawsuit filed by the National Association of the Deaf. The National Association of the Deaf argued that Netflix violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by not making enough closed captioning options available. “As we push for 100 percent captioning, our next battle will be the quality of the captioning itself,” said the National Association of the Deaf CEO Howard Rosenblum.

Unfortunately, Netflix doesn’t always own the rights to the closed captioning for all of its shows. After the original article was published by The Week, a Netflix representative reported that “while we don’t have the rights to make edits to subs/captions we do, in fact, request redelivery of subtitles or captions when we discover errors. The titles in your piece are now under investigation.”

Read the original article, “How Netflix alienated and insulted its deaf subscribers,” here.

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