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Netflix, the iPad, and the Deaf Consumer

Netflix, the iPad, and the Deaf Consumer

So I just subscribed to Netflix again, after years of turning my head every time I passed a red package on the street. It’s not just the iPad app that convinced me, though.

See, I believe in financial activism. When Netflix ignored Deaf customers and their calls for online access-when their top officer made discriminating, disparaging remarks about us-I cut them off. I loved Netflix DVDs and the luxury of receiving my films in the mail. I hated knowing I was contributing to the enemy. Was a luxury worth such guilt? I decided the answer in this case was definitely no. As a Deaf taxpaying working consumer, no.

At the time I also railed against online vid providers such as Apple and Hulu and PBS. Apple only captioned a tiny percentage of its video offerings. Hulu did better than any other provider – but the inaccessible films still far outweighed the accessible ones. Even
publicly-funded PBS was “working on it,” (as their canned response to my email at the time said).

So what’s changed? Well, Netflix has, apparently, now captioned 30% of its online content, and it’s available on the iPad (and other devices including Google Android). This claim, if true, would make it far and beyond the cheapest and most accessible entertainment content provider online that I know of-PBS captions zero content due to a “persistent captioning bug” (another email) and Hulu and Apple don’t seem to have significantly added to online captioned content (Apple has nearly doubled the captioned movies they offer through iTunes, now providing nearly 550, I believe. Yay). In addition, if Netflix keeps true to their promise to continue working on it, I’d have a valuable video library for a few dollars a month at the touch of a Wifi-enabled finger. This gave me pause.

Also, Netflix is offering a 30-day free trial. So. Today, the experiment begins. Is Netflix worth it now? Have they atoned their sins? Will I actually commit to paying 7.99 a month? I’ll report soon-but after three hours I’ve only found three movies/tv series not
captioned (and unfortunately they don’t offer the Sopranos). But I can report it looks great hooked up to my HDTV, and I can report no significant slowing at all, although the yellow, no-background subtitles can be hard to read at times.

It feels weird, though. Maybe it’s too soon-in 2007, Netflix took heat for not having a TTY line; in 2009, for refusing to caption online programming; in 2010, for making the captioned DVDs more expensive than online programming, inciting calls they were installing a Deaf tax. How much can a Deaf consumer’s heart take? We’ll find out (shades of Morgan Spurlock!)… in 30 days.

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