Netflix Wins Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award
This past Sunday, Netflix was named as a recipient of the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) for our work in Audio Description (AD) and overall contribution to accessibility in entertainment. This moment is especially important given July is Disability Pride Month and the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). On a personal level, it’s a humbling culmination of my short time at Netflix and nearly ten years of academic and professional work on audiovisual translation.
For those who do not know, Audio Description is a separate narration track that describes what is happening on screen, including physical actions, facial expressions, costumes, settings, scene changes, on-screen text and subtitles, all key elements that would otherwise be missed by a blind or low vision viewer. As Chris Danielsen, Director of Public Relations at the NFB, describes: “a shared culture strips away one of the barriers that separate blind people from the rest of society. Netflix is helping us participate in that shared culture because it gives us equal access to video programming that is enjoyed, discussed, and debated throughout our society”.
My own personal path to Audio Description began in 2012 during my Master’s Degree in Audiovisual Translation, but it’s only when I joined Netflix in 2018 that I finally got to actively work on it. At the time, there were a few individuals at Netflix like Erica Kram championing accessibility initiatives. I was deeply inspired by them. I saw that as an opportunity to put my passion and experience to work. I focused on our Audio Description guidelines, continuously improving them through direct feedback from the blind community and advice from external experts.
As my team grew in size, so has the impact we’ve been able to make. We have found that by having a core team internally – to provide feedback on Audio Description narrators’ casting decisions and how things are being described – has led to a better Netflix experience for our members, according to feedback we’ve heard from the community.
We are not done; this is a work in progress. Over time, we will continue to update the Audio Descriptions guidelines for our series and films. Recently, we also announced that we are offering accessibility in more languages – starting with Spanish, Portuguese, and French – totaling 20 languages. And we’re expanding Audio Description and Subtitles for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (SDH) to more titles.
Inside Netflix, we have the best people (in my opinion!) championing Accessibility, including Heather Dowdy who recently joined our team as the first Director for Accessibility at Netflix, along with a growing community of employees engaged in making the company and our product more accessible (shout out to the Accessibility@Netflix ERG!). As Emily Magilnick, who leads the Accessibility@Netflix ERG, continues to say, “You don't have to have a disability to care about accessibility,” and this is exactly the change I’ve seen happen at Netflix. Countless people are working behind the scenes to improve the experience for members who use assistive technologies.
We want to deliver more inclusive and accessible entertainment to the world – through exploring new technological innovations and working with the industry, disability communities and policy makers. Hearing that we’ve done a good job from the community who benefits most matters deeply to us. This award affirms that we’re on the right path – and is an added motivation to keep up the work.
- Image 1 description: Netflix award winners pose with NFB lead. Left to Right: Shanta Arul, Director of Global Tech & Innovation Policy at Netflix; Everette Bacon, President of National Federation of the Blind of Utah; and me! – Elisa Beniero, Dubbing Title Manager at Netflix.
- Image 2 description: Netflix’s Director of Global Tech & Innovation Policy, Shanta Arul, welcomes attendees to a private, accessible screening of Stranger Things 4 at NFB’s annual conference in New Orleans, LA.