skip to main content

<< Learning Center

Media Accessibility Information, Guidelines and Research

DCMP: A Valued Resource

Or, More Tools in the UDL Belt!

By Debbie Pfeiffer, Ed.D., CED

Looking around the classroom, Sarah wondered how she would meet the diverse needs of her students in teaching History. After reading their school records and talking with other teachers, she knew that four students came from families where English was a second language, but that many more lacked the background knowledge and vocabulary needed to comprehend her content; three students in the class had moderate to profound hearing loss; and one student had little vision.

A young blind girl has her hands on a large globe.

Teachers today are challenged more than ever in meeting the varied needs of their students. More students with special needs are included in classrooms with their typically-developing peers and held accountable for achieving the same standards. There are also increasing numbers of students who are English Language Learners, some of whom also have special learning needs. As a former teacher of students who are deaf and hard of hearing, I relied for years on the Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP) to provide free-loan educational media that helped me to meet students' diverse needs. As the Virginia Department of Education's Specialist for Students who are Deaf/Hard of Hearing, Blind/Visually Impaired, and for Deaf-Blind, I now take advantage of every opportunity possible to make educators, administrators, and parents in Virginia aware of the DCMP as a valuable resource.

The Value of Captioning and Describing Media

Most people are familiar with captioning, the use of text onscreen that transcribes the audio portion of the program. Provision of captions makes educational videos accessible to many of our students who have the required reading abilities, but who are not able to hear the speech and sounds onscreen. Captions were created for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, but can also be used as a tool by those learning to read or learning to speak a non-native language. Research has shown that use of captions helps ESL students' general comprehension, vocabulary acquisition, and listening comprehension (Huang & Eskey, 2000). Other studies that cite the benefits of captioned programming and films for non-native English speaking and remedial students are Maginnis (1987); Parlato (1985); Koskinen, Wilson, and Jensema (1986); and Huffman (1986). Although more current studies were not found, there may be merit to using captioned media with ESL students and those struggling with reading, as well as with students who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Many teachers have not been exposed to described media. Description is additional narration that translates images into spoken words that are inserted into pauses in a video's original sound track. For example, in the opening credit sequence of the children's series Arthur on PBS, the description has been performed as follows:

"Arthur is an 8-year-old aardvark. He wears round glasses with thick frames over his big eyes. He has two round ears on top of his oval-shaped head. He wears red sneakers and blue jeans, with a yellow sweater over a white shirt."

Screen capture from video Listening is Learning. One young man sits at a desk with a laptop while another stands beside him. Captions read The videos my teacher assigns are captioned for the deaf and hard of hearing.

It is evident that this type of description would be beneficial to students who cannot see the visuals clearly. It has been argued that as a byproduct of the added multi-sensory learning opportunity afforded by description, more sophisticated language skills would develop in all children exposed (Peskoe, 2005). Browne (1999) claimed that with description of what is happening on the screen, all children are more likely to understand the meaning of the scene. Singer & Singer (2005) support Vygotsky's theory of a "Zone of Proximal Development," suggesting that the audio and visual devices guide attention to the content and help make sense of the program, and can help the child reach the upper limit of his or her capabilities. So the use of described and captioned media may benefit many children in the classroom.

The DCMP Library

The library is the heart of the DCMP operation. Many years ago, we borrowed "reel to reel" films from schools for the deaf; now, the DCMP media library has over 4,000 described and captioned media titles that are conveniently available to watch as streaming video online or from DVDs that are shipped at no cost to the user. IDEA 2004 championed availability of accessible print instructional materials by establishing National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standards (NIMAS). As many educational videos are not captioned and few are described, the DCMP ensures that many students who are blind, visually impaired, deaf, hard of hearing, or deaf-blind have equal access to this media.

I have always been surprised at how many teachers are not aware of the DCMP, or do not use the services. As in many states, we have standards of learning and accompanying curriculum frameworks and enhanced scope and sequence (model lessons plans). It is so easy to use key words from the curricular content to search for related described and captioned media on the DCMP Web site. Just go to the search engine and type, "civil war," for example, and you'll see that 31 educational titles are available! Media is available for practically any content you can think of, and for different grade levels. The Web site details the length of each video, grades for which they are appropriate, and accessibility (captioned, described, or both). Many of them are available immediately online through streaming video, and all are available at no cost to the user.

Media focuses not only on core content areas, but also on art, counseling and self-help, health and safety, sports and recreation, and topics too numerous to mention here. You might use Introduction to Soccer: Getting Started or Fly Away: The Butterfly Stroke to help teach skills before a student is on the field or in the pool. In the area of transition, there are 163 titles under "job skills," and 75 under "occupations," with some available in Spanish, and some featuring adults who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind or visually impaired, or deaf-blind.

If you're starting to think of all the ways you can use the wealth of resources available from the DCMP, consider these ideas:

  • For your lessons during Deaf Awareness Week (the last full week in September), Deaf History Month (March 13—April 15), or for a Deaf Studies curriculum, explore the vast amount of media related to the history of deafness, including episodes from the Emmy award winning Deaf Mosaic series from Gallaudet.

  • If you are helping others to learn American Sign Language (ASL) or you're trying to polish your own skills, the DCMP offers hundreds of videos related to ASL.

  • To learn about blindness, you could start by learning about two young New Yorkers who are blind and how Braille was invented, and then select from more than 40 videos to help you understand the nature of visual impairment and to gain insight regarding orientation and mobility, low vision devices, and use of guide dogs.

Other DCMP Resources

Other valuable resources provided by the DCMP:

DCMP shares our goal of "excellence in education" for all students, provides materials to help overcome the challenges that a hearing loss and/or vision loss presents regarding media accessibility, and does it free of charge to the user. It's a resource that provides many tools for meeting the needs of our diverse learners!


Browne, N. (1999). Young children's literacy development and the role of televisual texts. London: Falmer Press.

Huang, H., & Eskey, D. (2000). The effects of closed-captioned television on the listening comprehension of intermediate English as a second language students. Educational Technology Systems, 28, 75-96.

Huffman, D.T. (1986). Soap operas and captioning in the ESL class; Paper presented at the International Conference on Language Teaching and Learning of the Japanese Association of Language Teachers, Hamamatsu, Japan, November 22-24. (ERIC Document Reproduction Services No. ED 281 392)

Koskinen, P.S., Wilson, R., & Jensema, C.J. (1986). Closed-captioned television: A new tool for reading instruction. "Reading World, 24" (4), 1-7. (ERIC Journal No. EJ 319 746)

Maginnis, G.H. (1987). Captioned video cassettes: A source of reading material. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the 32nd International Reading Association. Anaheim, CA, May 3 – 7. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 291 063)

Parlato, S.J. (1985). Re-discovering films with captions. "Teaching English to Deaf and Second Language Students, 3" (1), 17 – 20. (ERIC Journal No. EJ 320 019)

Pescoe, M. Descriptive children's television: Bridging the gap for blind kids while benefiting all kids. Accessed at August, 2011. Singer, D.G.,

Singer, J.L. (2005). Imagination and play in the electronic age. Harvard Press: Cambridge, MA.

"ABCs of DVS." Media Access Group at WGBH. WGBH, n.d. Web. 30 Aug 2011.

About the Author

Debbie Pfeiffer received her Bachelor's Degree in Speech and Language Pathology and Audiology at Syracuse University, her Masters' in Deaf Education at Gallaudet University, and her doctorate degree in Educational Administration and Policy Studies from the George Washington University. As the traveling wife of an Air Force Officer, she has taught students who are deaf and hard of hearing at the preschool, elementary, middle school and secondary levels in self-contained and resource settings in public and state schools; worked as an educational and free-lance interpreter; served as Language Diagnostician for all deaf students attending Boston Public Schools; was Associate Director of de l'Eppe Deaf Center serving deaf adults in the 17 southern counties of Mississippi; and started the Parent/Infant Outreach Program at Virginia School for the Deaf, Blind, and Multidisabled at Hampton. Dr. Pfeiffer is currently the Virginia Department of Education's Specialist for Deaf/Hard of Hearing, Blind/Vision Impaired, Deaf-Blind, and Traumatic Brain Injuries.

Tags: educators

Please take a moment to rate this Learning Center resource by answering three short questions.

Okay, Sure!