Five Key Reasons to Use the Described and Captioned Media Program

By Bill Stark

Do you have a child in your classroom or at home who has difficulty understanding educational media because he or she is visually impaired, blind, hard of hearing, deaf, or deaf-blind? A solution to this problem is the free-loan collection of described and captioned educational media provided by the Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP) through funding by the U.S. Department of Education.

The DCMP is also the go-to center for information about educational media access, including tips for effective use, research reports which support the need, and how-to guidelines for adding descriptions and captions to media. And there is more—we answer teachers’ questions about equal access and help parents advocate for their children’s educational needs.

The best part is that there is no charge for any DCMP membership, products, or services! The five key reasons why you should utilize this opportunity are detailed below.


Reason No. 1:
A Collection of Free-loan Accessible Educational Media

A female teacher points to a computer monitor that says "Described and Captioned Media Program." Three students sit in front of the monitor.High-quality educational media with descriptions and captions is available through the DCMP. Visit our website for information about how to register (also free). You qualify for membership if your child has a vision or hearing loss. Over 4,000 media titles can be viewed online or be ordered for shipment to you in DVD format.

We select media that supports academic standards and provides enrichment to curriculum for students in pre-school through grade 12. Quite simply, the media collection is one of the best available in the U.S. Before any item is added to the DCMP, it is evaluated by master teachers and DCMP staff based on strict standards for technical and content quality.

Everyone can browse through the DCMP online catalog listing of topics or perform a keyword search. From astronomy to zoology, you’re sure to find it at the DCMP! And members can always recommended media to be added to the collection.


Reason No. 2:
Provision of the Highest Quality Descriptions and Captions on All Media

Descriptions and captions are accessibility features added to videos (including those on the Internet) to provide equal access for students who are sensory impaired. Descriptions are additional segments of narration that explain or describe images to students who are blind or visually impaired, and they are inserted into pauses in a video’s original soundtrack. Captions provide access to students who are deaf or hard of hearing, as they are printed transcriptions of the video’s dialog or narration (along with identifying important sound effects and providing speaker identification).

Professionals who perform description and captioning for DCMP media are selected from an approved list, and all their work is reviewed by experienced DCMP staff to ensure quality. One of the goals of the review of descriptions is to determine if the vocabulary used matches the grade level of the production. A review of captions verifies they are error free, synchronized with the audio, and displayed with enough time to be read completely.

After a DCMP review of submitted work, the professionals are asked to correct errors or make any changes necessary for adherence to DCMP guidelines (see Reason No. 4 below). This ensures that the thousands of students who will view each DCMP media item during its lifetime in our collection will benefit from equal access. No other program performs these types of quality control measures!


Reason No. 3:
Information About Educational Media Access

The DCMP also serves as a clearinghouse of information on the subject of description and captioning for service to consumers, agencies, businesses, schools, and families. Clearinghouse offerings include numerous DCMP print and online informational resources as well as referrals to accessibility information from the websites of DCMP consumer advocacy and professional groups.

Listening is Learning logo. Girl has her hand up to her right ear, looking in that directionSite visitors can browse or perform a keyword search for DCMP articles and webpages written by DCMP staff members, educators, advocates, and others. Information about the DCMP accessible media loan program, procedures for applying for free-loan service, updates concerning the availability of new items in the collection, research related to production and effectiveness of accessibility features, and tips for effective use of accessible media are available in the Clearinghouse.

The DCMP search engine not only reveals results from the DCMP website, but also from the websites of twenty other national consumer, professional, and advocacy groups. Searchers simply click on a link and are led to information on these collaborators’ sites.


Reason No. 4:
One-of-a-Kind Guidelines for Creating Descriptions and Captions

Anyone wanting to create descriptions and captions for media may utilize the DCMP online guidelines which provide a framework for consistency and quality. These technical and style manuals have been used by providers, government agencies, businesses, school technology departments, teachers, parents, students, and others. They are the only such guidelines available in the United States and have been adopted in several other countries.

The Description Key guidelines cover a range of topics from identifying what information needs to be described to determining how to describe it. Preparing educational description requires constant decision making with regard to the content and timing. The “key visual elements” of an educational program which are selected for description should be those that serve to convey a specific learning goal.

Captioning Key logoThe Captioning Key includes information on language mechanics, presentation rate, sound effects, speaker identification, synchronization, and special considerations (music, dialect, slang, play on words, etc.). These guidelines have been translated into other languages, received international distribution, and have been utilized in various settings as a basic reference.


Reason No. 5:
Advocacy Regarding Media Access Issues

There are ongoing examples of lack of understanding, apathy, and prejudice that lead to inaccessibility in technology that dramatically impacts students who have sensory disabilities. Education and advocacy are crucial to overcoming these barriers.

As indicated by questions continually fielded at the DCMP, the majority of people are uninformed as to laws and regulations concerning description and captioning, the process of selecting a provider of these services, the steps necessary to perform description/captioning, and the costs of procuring these services. The DCMP is a comprehensive and trusted source for answers to questions about educational description and captioning.

Accessibility barriers to emerging technologies have grown to the extent that on May 26, 2011, the U.S. Department of Education issued guidance on rights of students with disabilities when educational institutions use technology, sending a “Dear Colleague Letter” to elementary and secondary schools throughout the nation (Office for Civil Rights, 2011).


Pass It On!

Be a part of enabling children with special needs to reach their potential. Share this information with your friends and colleagues!


About the Author

Bill Stark is Communications and Accountability Administrator for the Described and Captioned Media Program. Read his tips for utilizing videos in the classroom and feel free to e-mail him at

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