Accessibility Insights with Heather Dowdy of Netflix

Profile images of Robin Christopherson and Heather DowdyEpisode two of the Accessibility Insights web broadcast series joined Heather Dowdy, Director of Product Accessibility at Netflix, with Robin Christopherson MBE, Head of Digital Inclusion at AbilityNet to discuss all things accessibility related at Netflix and to find out about Heather's work. 

The Accessibility Insights series is your chance to find out what goes on inside large and often global organisations, learning from their accessibility leaders about the developments in their companies, impacts of the pandemic, what makes them tick and learn about their accessibility career development. Plus, you will get to find out about their top tips.

You can access the recording below and check out exclusive extra questions answered by our guest, Heather Dowdy.

About Heather

With fifteen years of experience developing and demonstrating accessible technology in mobile, web and artificial intelligence, Heather Dowdy is passionate about connecting the dots across disability, race, tech, and faith. She currently leads Product Accessibility at Netflix, leveraging technology to connect people with disabilities to their next favourite story or game. In 2022, Heather was appointed to the US Access Board by President Biden based on her expertise in accessibility and experience in fostering collaboration within the disability community. Previously, Heather served in several accessibility leadership roles at Microsoft and Motorola Mobility, including being named Chair of the Accessibility Working Group of the Mobile & Wireless Forum.

As the oldest daughter of Deaf parents, Heather is fluent in American Sign Language (ASL). Heather has served as a Board Member of the World Institute on Disability (WID), deaf kids CODE, and Billion Strong. She loves using the design thinking process to create solutions that improve usability for everyone. Heather holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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This webinar lasted 30 minutes and included an opportunity to pose questions to the guest, please see below the questions and answers from Heather. You can sign up for our next free webinar in our AbilityNet Live webinar series. You can also find an archive of our webinars on our website and we also offer paid role-based accessibility training.

Q: How did you get Netflix to make significant changes and investments in your accessibility work?

Heather: Accessibility is a fundamental part of Netflix’s mission to entertain the world. As such we have continued to invest in the accessibility of our content and user interface over the years. Between the growing number of members with and without disabilities who use accessibility features on our service and the feedback they provide, accessibility continues to be an opportunity for us to innovate and deliver value to our members.

Q: I attended The Gray Man Audio Description Premiere which was fantastic. Will you do more?

Heather: Yes we have plans for more accessible movie screenings! We learned a lot during these events and it was clear that the disability community wanted to hear more from disabled creatives about the challenges and progress being made in the entertainment industry.

Q: With the Audio Description out loud premieres, how about having it on in the main screening so the actors get to experience and understand what AD is about?

Heather: We partnered with RNIB for the UK screening to create the most accessible experience for the space and community. It was really fun to have the talent from the movie at the screening. We are considering lots of ideas like this one for future screenings. In NYC we had a mixed audience and there was lots of positive feedback from people with and without disabilities who had never watched a movie with audio descriptions. There’s so much room to broaden the awareness of these accessibility features while bringing communities together.

Q: How is Netflix considering inclusion for those with physical disabilities who need an alternative to mouse, keyboard or remote control in order to access content?

Heather: We test features with various assistive technologies like keyboard and mouse alternatives. We also involve people with disabilities in accessibility testing and regularly review feedback from members. 

Q: Were the Stranger Things descriptive captions a one-off or will they be extended to other themed content where it makes sense - such as horror shows?

Heather: We collected lots of feedback from Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing members on the descriptive captions for the latest Stranger Things series. Over time this data will help us tweak our guidelines and optimize the experience when collaborating with creatives who choose to include more descriptive captions in future shows.

Q: Heather, do you have any thoughts about culturally responsive audio descriptions or other disability / accessibility related services? i.e. is there value / possible to have people of a community write audio description for content that is rooted in a specific cultural community?

Heather: By collaborating with disability organizations we were able to update our AD guidelines to include more descriptions pertaining to race, hair texture, character clothing, etc. Check out Bridgerton as an example! When working with partners to produce audio descriptions, we have seen great success with bringing in people related to the community depicted in the content. As an example, for Beyonce’s Homecoming documentary, it was important for us to work with our partners to ensure the entire team of writers, and voice actors came from the African American community to align with Homecoming’s creative intent.


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Date of webinar: 
4 Oct 2022 - 13:00