Audio Descriptions on Netflix

For the first time last night, I stumbled across a Netflix movie offering audio description in addition to subtitles. According to The Audio Description Project

Audio Description involves the accessibility of the visual images of theater, television, movies, and other art forms for people who are blind, have low vision, or who are otherwise visually impaired.  It is a narration service (provided at no additional charge to the patron) that attempts to describe what the sighted person takes for granted—those images that a person who is blind or visually impaired formerly could only experience through the whispered asides from a sighted companion.

The movie in question is Hush, a thriller with a deaf woman as the protagonist. I use closed captions/subtitles all the time, even though I am hearing, because I find them useful for understanding quiet dialogue. When I went to turn captions on for this film, I was surprised to see an option for audio descriptions.

screenshot showing a list of language options for audio and subtitles
Screenshot: Netflix app audio and subtitles menu

Excitedly, I chose “English – Audio Descriptions”. This film is a study in accessibility options! A couple of the characters use sign language and the descriptive audio provides spoken translation for the woman who does not speak when she signs. In a single scene we see sign language, hear audio descriptions and dialogue, both while reading subtitles.

The film has very little dialogue, providing ample time to experience the audio descriptions. I rather enjoyed them because this was a thriller and it felt less scary with someone describing the scene. It also provided a richer layer for enjoying the story since the audio interpretation at times highlighted actions and parts of the scene I might have missed as a sighted user.

It’s good to see Netflix taking accessibility more seriously and providing useful options for non-sighted customers. Netflix provides a list of content with audio description support after signing in to your account.

5 Reasons to Stop Using Carousels, Now

Motion on websites makes me sick. To me, automatic carousels are the equivalent of the GeoCities sites from 20 years ago that would start blasting you with some awful music on page load. The only people who liked the auto-music were the people who made the webpages, and the only people who like carousels are the content owners.

I’m not the first to lament this antiquated website trope. I’m particularly fond of yourcarouselsucks.com; the name says it all and provides a great example. The third slide proclaims:

“We have tested carousels many times and the results are crystal-clear: It is a poor way of presenting content and blocks website sales.”

The next slide demonstrates the first problem with carousels.

1) They move automatically

Oops, did the carousel move on before you could finish? That sucks, right?
Screenshot from yourcarouselsucks.com

When a slide moves forward, not only do I have to fight a wave to nausea, but I have to squelch my frustration with moving the carousel back to finish reading. And if it only has backwards and forwards arrows…

2) They don’t stop

More often than not, I encounter carousels that do not have a pause feature. When I was working with an agency during my company’s last redesign project, I had to point out their code was missing a pause feature—and this was a huge agency.

Some expect the user to click something non-pause-button-like to stop the carousel on a particular slide. Not intuitive, and not useful when you just want it to stop!

screen shot of the Zappos.com home page with a carousel
Screenshot: Zappos.com homepage

3) They have tiny hit areas

It’s common to use little, close together, almost hidden circles as a way to indicate how many slides are in the carousel and to allow the user to jump between slides. These hit areas are hard to click with a mouse, and maddeningly difficult not to fat finger on a phone or table. I frequently end up clicking or tapping the slide and get taken to another page when all I was trying to do was make the damn thing stop.

screen shot of the amazon.com home page with a carousel that has little white circles for navigating the carousel slides
Screenshot: Amazon.com homepage

4) They are plagued with accessibility problems

Even when carousels provide controls, they often do not work for users with disabilities. Take the below example from Sears.com.

Screenshot image of the homepage of sears.com showing a carousel
Screenshot: Sears.com homepage
  • The back and forward navigation controls are hidden unless you mouse over the slide
  • The ‘pause’ button has such poor contrast and is so small, it’s easily overlooked
  • There is no way to interact with the carousel controls using a keyboard
  • The markup used to construct the carousel does not identify it or have meaningful button text, there’s no way to skip it, and the rest of the slides and content are hidden
screenshot of what the Sears.com carousel looks like without CSS enabled
Screenshot: Sears.com carousel markup

5) No one likes them, other than your Marketing department

The most compelling reason to stop using carousels is that they annoy users and reduce visibility of your most important piece of page real estate.

Accordions and carousels should show a new panel only when users ask for it. Otherwise, it should stand still and let users read the information in peace, without having the rug yanked from under them.

Not convinced? Please do a usability study of your site’s homepage and let me know how it goes.

Sharing Images and Videos Isn’t Inclusive

A huge part of social media platforms is the ability to share images and videos. But I’ve yet to see one that takes people with visual impairments into account by enabling users to add alt tags and descriptions to multimedia assets.

Let’s look at Twitter for a moment. People more and more are using using images and the words within them to supplement their tweets.

The alt tag for all Twitter images is “Embedded image permalink”. Hardly descriptive or useful when every image has the same alt text. In the Tweet above, we see a cat but also words and meanings in the objects around him: a sign with YOLNT (you only live nine times); a book by Jonathan Frazen titled Freedom; and a bottle of Gordon’s gin. People who can’t see this image miss out on much of the intended meaning of the tweet.

In some instances, the entire purpose of the tweet is contained in the image. Look at this example from The Oatmeal where he has attached an image containing an entire comic. (Even providing a link to his website wouldn’t help because he does not provide alt text for his comics.)

Sharing platforms really need to enable users to provide alt text for images and descriptions for videos, even if they don’t choose to use them.