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.

Hangouts, where’s my mute?

I mostly use Hangouts to communicate with friends and family. While at work on my laptop, I use the Chrome extension for Hangouts. The rest of the time I use the iPhone app. The user experience between these two versions is not the same though, because the navigation menu is so different.

I think the iPhone app has the superior layout and use of space.

screenshot of the Hangouts iPhone app with title at the top and a menu bar with options favorite, voice, invite, video, mute, details
Google Hangouts iPhone app

With one tap of the menu icon, you get access to most of the hangout features, the rest of which are available by tapping the “Details” icon.

Conversely, in the browser extension the same features are either missing or work differently.

screenshot of the extension menu bar with icons for video call, people, and options
Google Hangouts extension chat window

I am most annoyed that the ‘Mute’ function is missing because I use it frequently. It’s located under the ‘Options’ icon, labeled “Notifications”, and is turned on/off with a check box.

screenshot of the Hangouts extension 'Options' screen with edit name, notifications check box, history check box, archive, and leave
Google Hangouts extension ‘Options’ screen


After unchecking the “Notifications” box, you have to click ‘Save’ to return to the chat window. The total interaction requires three clicks, context switching, and a confirmation action. After turning off notifications, though, the menu bar displays an indication icon.

menu bar showing a mute icon for the chat
Hangouts extension notifications off

Clicking the ‘Mute’ icon now performs the same action as clicking the ‘Options’ icon and you have to check the “Notifications” checkbox to turn them back on.

Design Recommendations

  1. Add the ‘Mute’ icon and allow for single click to turn notifications on or off
  2. Use consistent labels—change “Notifications” to “Mute” and “Options” to “Details”

screenshot of extension menu bar design with mute icon added and options icon updated to match the app
Updated menu bar with mute icon

Favorites doesn’t seem to be supported in the extension and it never remembers my favorites in the app, so I don’t see this as missing on the desktop. Not including Voice is questionable, it could open up Google Voice, but using that on desktop is also not something I do. Video hangouts cover both.

Waze, what is that bar on the left for?

I’ve been using Waze for a few months now, and every now and then, a bar shows up on the left side. I’d glance down and see that it showed “something” was estimated to happen (or last?) for a few minutes, but I could not figure out what. We have a hands-free law here, so I could not legally take my phone off its holder and look at it more closely.

photo inside a car of an iPhone in a phone holder, displaying the Waze app map
Waze app in my car

The screen is probably 18″ from my eyes and I wear polarized sunglasses which makes the app even harder to interpret when glancing down for fractions of a second.

It took using Waze as a passenger to see that the bar’s label also had the word “Jam” (traffic jam?) in a light blue font. However, other times I’ve been driving and the bar has no label, so I’m still not sure what it’s for!

screenshot of the Waze map with a status bar on the left side that has no label to indicate its purpose
Waze left bar with no label

Design Recommendation

This is an easy one. Change the font color to white and bold it so that the word “Jam” is just as visible as the time estimate. And always include a label to indicate why the bar is there.

Waze map showing an orange status bar with "Jam 7 minutes"
Screen capture of the Waze map screen