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Media Accessibility Information, Guidelines and Research

The Described and Captioned Media Program: A Classroom Staple in 21st Century Education

By Susan Elliott


In the last two decades, technology has advanced exponentially. As a result, the Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP) has adapted to provide needed resources to Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals. As I look back over my career as a teacher of the deaf, I realize that DCMP has always been a critical resource in my classroom, and I am grateful that DCMP has kept up with the winds of change. Whether media arrived in the form of reel-to-reel films, VHS, DVD, or streamed through the internet, DCMP has always been my rock. Today as I work hard to prepare my students for successful 21st -century careers, I find that DCMP is more important than it has ever been.

A computer tablet. The screen says Described and Captioned Media Program. Online at

It is interesting to reflect upon the numerous ways that DCMP has reinvented itself to efficiently provide quality resources. One might think that because of the dramatic increase in media today, the need for the DCMP should be less critical. Ironically, I find that as technology evolves, it is becoming more difficult to have access to quality captioned materials, and so the need for DCMP has never been greater.


More and more these days I struggle to access captions. For example, in my classroom we pursue a wide variety of research using the internet. There are very few videos and TV clips on the internet that are captioned. I feel extremely disappointed that I can't view information in captioned format when I know it ran on TV with captions. In many public schools, people assume that all DVDs are captioned. For educational media this is not true. I am disappointed when I look for captions on educational DVDs stocked in our library. It is so hit or miss!

There are very few videos and TV clips on the internet that are captioned. I feel extremely disappointed that I can't view information in captioned format when I know it ran on TV with captions."

Outside of my classroom I am also noticing that it is becoming harder and harder to figure out how to put captions on TVs in public places that use satellite or have added features, like Pay-Per-View shows, on-demand movies, and high-definition broadcasts. It is important that everyone who relies upon captions to access media be vocal about their experiences.

Many of us enjoyed a period where most programs on TV and available DVDs were captioned. Captions should always be easy to access, but today I find that our "progress" is going backwards. Like a 1970's déjà vu, my heart aches when I experience old barriers to captions popping up again in great frequency.


It is also no secret that education budgets are shrinking. I personally have to pay out of pocket to purchase captioned DVDs for my classes. Thank goodness I can stream quality DCMP videos into my classroom without charge.

With the wonderful technology we have in our classrooms today, you would think that teachers of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing have access to a plethora of media they can implement in their instructional strategies.... Wrong again! One particularly frustrating experience occurred earlier this year when my students wanted to critically analyze public speaking skills demonstrated by politicians running in the 2008 election. They knew how to download the debates using the internet and project them on to our SmartBoard. We were terribly disappointed when we couldn't view the footage with captions. They had to print separate transcripts of the speeches and try to follow along in order to critically analyze each speaker's skills. Unfortunately it was an exhausting exercise, as it is impossible to look at two places at once and try to process information at the same time! We had the same problem when we tried this using an interpreter.

Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals learn so much more when they can simultaneously watch the action with captions on-screen. When we can stop the video, take notes, double check, use new vocabulary terms authentically, ask critical questions, discuss/debate the clip, and evaluate and support our opinions, we are honing 21st -century skills. We were grateful when DCMP captioned the biography of Barack Obama, and we were able to stream this to learn more about him and critically discuss new information during government class.

How DCMP Can Help Us Develop 21st Century Skills

Accessible Information

As mentioned earlier, students need to be able to view and consider new information as a class. They need to see the action along with the captioned dialogue in order to have full access to learning resources. Teachers of these students need to be able to select specific clips for group discussion and critical-thinking exercises. These captioned resources need to be readily accessible in a format for group viewing. As teachers, we are responsible for protecting our instructional time and maximizing classroom experiences. DCMP has an outstanding collection of captioned educational media that can be streamed into a classroom via the internet or by connecting one's computer to a TV. I recently timed myself. It took me two and a half minutes to select, order, and stream a video in my classroom. Had I not misspelled my password, it would have taken me less time.


Education is on the brink of a dramatic transformation, and in order to maintain our competitive edge as members of a global community, DCMP is more valuable than ever in our classrooms, helping us implement new instructional strategies. Traditional approaches to learning no longer meet the needs of 21st century learners. In traditional classrooms students all faced the teacher who lectured and expected students to recite the information expounded during class. In that environment, learners are best prepared for factory work, as they are not trained to think critically, create, or collaborate. The 21st century demands that classrooms be organized as learning communities that engage collaboratively in critical thinking, and the traditional model doesn't meet this demand. Teachers are creating a new culture of engagement and thoughtful discourse. We are moving away from the Information Age and entering what Daniel Pink has described in his book, A Whole New Mind, as the Conceptual Age.

In the Conceptual Age, for our students to be successful in tomorrow's workplace, they must learn to work as team members, use technology, communicate effectively, problem solve, and think critically to evaluate, synthesize, and create.


We are also at a point in history where the impact of technology has transformed our society into a global community. This has had a dramatic impact upon education. According to Thomas Friedman in his book The World Is Flat, students today are not competing with peers sitting beside them in class for future jobs—they are competing with students who live on the other side of the globe. Workers of the future must be excellent critical thinkers, collaborators, and problem solvers in order to conceptualize and create products demanded in this global market. To do this, students who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing must have a community of peers with whom they can interact freely in a classroom surrounded by quality resources that are 100% accessible. Accessibility, but more importantly equal accessibility, can only help students succeed in competing and collaborating with their peers.


DCMP is a ready resource for developing learning communities that will promote critical thinking and group collaboration. As a teacher, I value this resource now more than I ever did. I know DCMP will continue to meet our needs as our global society continues to evolve. Thank you, DCMP, for being my ROCK in a very uncertain and rapidly changing world.

About the Author

Susan Elliott has taught the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Colorado public schools for 31 years and became National Board Certified in 2006. She was Colorado Teacher of the Year 2009 and is one of four national finalists for National Teacher of the Year. Born with a progressive hearing loss, she became profoundly deaf as a teenager. She holds master's degrees in Deaf Education from Gallaudet University and Educational Administration and Supervision from the CSUN National Leadership Training Program. Since 1977 she has taught in public school programs at every level.

Susan served as a member of the Gallaudet University Board of Trustees for 13 years and chaired the Committee on National Deaf Education. In 2004 Ms. Elliott was inducted into the National Hall of Fame for Persons with Disabilities.

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