Daredevil, created in the 1964 by Stan Lee, Bill Everett and Jack Kirby and published by Marvel Comics, recently has become a bastion of the Marvel Universe with the release of the hugely successful Netflix series Daredevil. The second time out of the gate after Ben Affleck’s portrayal of the character in 2003 Daredevil, as a blind superhero, carries with him a weight of many visually impaired viewers.
The issue with the focus on the character as blind in the series is that it makes disability the central point of the story. Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) is more than a person who just happens to have a disability, he is a person defined by their disability. This distinction singles that character out uniquely among other Marvel heroes. Of the movie and the series the movie focused more on how Matt Murdock was blind, including point of view scenes of how Daredevil saw the world, and thus reminding the viewer of his visual impairment.
In the Netflix series this isn’t quite the case. The villains don’t know of his visual impairment and he is able to dole out violent punishment equally as much as he receives, despite his blindness. The focus moves towards the hand to hand combat and the visceral realism of his abilities, rather than emphasising or even alluding Daredevil’s blindness.
As a blind man Matt Murdock has to navigate the world with aids such as his alarm clock and phone which use audial clues to alert him. He uses touch to feel his way around and needs verbal cues to know when someone is communicating in a non-verbal manner, such as by nodding or shrugging. One of the best aspects of this representation of disability is Matt’s close friend Foggy (Elden Henson) and his approach to Matt’s disability; Foggy acts as an interface between Matt and the world in the face of any awkwardness, by verbally announcing any non-verbal cues that people inevitably do.
However, the realistic portrayal of visual impairment does seem to fall to the wayside later in the series, as the show becomes more dark and violent. Turning away from the expected BOOM KAPOW Adam West ‘60s fighting expected of most comic book adaptions, to a grittier mobster style violence and gore makes it unique among the Marvel universe. However, in spite one of two scenes detailing how Matt views the world, the character’s actual blindness remains in the background of the action.
Ironically enough, despite the character being a possible figurehead for bringing disability to the forefront of the cultural spectrum, the actual series was initially inaccessible to those with a visual impairment, many of whom would have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of a visual impaired protagonist. Netflix wasn’t legally required to provide audio commentary for those with a visual impairment. As opposed to a broadcasting network, Netflix, as an internet based streaming service, doesn’t have to provide such access requirements. An online petition followed and following a surge of support Daredevil now has the audio commentary required to be accessible, with Netflix planning to provide such commentaries to other shows.
Daredevil regardless of whether he wins against Kingpin has already won one battle in the realm of accessibility, and Netflix has taken a step in right direction in catering to the needs of its broad base of loyal fans.