Streaming video largely lacks accessibility for the deaf; Netflix is working on it

The Web as a whole tends to favor those individuals with their vision intact.

There are a couple of areas of the Web that have benefitted the visually impaired: Web radio and podcasting services, for example, are generally free sources of lots of information, and many of the most popular news sites do daily or weekly audio recaps of their featured written content. Voice over IP communications, likewise has brought the convenience of free instant messaging to those without sight. But for the most part, the Web has been a silent place that we look at, instead of listen to.

Netflix on Friday, however, revealed that streaming video is one of those areas on the Web where the hearing impaired also face a big statistical disadvantage. Even though video, by definition is something that we consume with our eyes, the audio is often just as important, and without closed captioning, it can often be of no use.

Neil Hunt, Chief Product Officer at Netflix said only 30% of streaming content on Netflix (roughly 3,500 TV episodes and movies) has support for captioning and subtitles in the U.S, and they can only be viewed on PC, Nintendo Wii, Sony PS3, GoogleTV, and Boxee Box. Hunt says more devices will be added in the summer of 2011, and the goal is to equip 80% of streaming content with subtitles by that time.

Mike Chapman, a commenter in the Netflix blog on Friday, had already gone through the list of subtitled content item-by-item and determined that only 6.37% of all content actually had active subtitles. Chapman posted his results here, and determined that it would take until November 17, 2023 to have all streaming content captioned at Netflix's current rate.

Elsewhere on the Web, audio transcription is at about an equal state of maturity.

In late 2010, YouTube's automatic closed captioning launched in public beta. That feature could listen to the audio track of a video and generate live closed captions based upon the speech it could pick up. Of course, the results of this technology are still rough at best, and absolutely hilarious at worst.

In late January, YouTube launched the YouTube Captions Uploader open source project which was written for the Java App Engine environment. This allows users to upload existent captions (.srt files) to YouTube videos. The standalone web application based on the open source code resides here, and requires access to your YouTube account.

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