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Media Accessibility Information, Guidelines and Research

Welcome to The DCMP @ Fifty

Thank you for visiting our special commemorative “Golden Anniversary” section. We hope that you will explore, along with us, the DCMP’s rich history in educational media accessibility. Here you will find a brief but informative article chronicling the program’s history up to 2008, a detailed timeline highlighting the first fifty years of captioning and description, and a list of some of our favorite DCMP history-related articles from our Clearinghouse section.

Select one of the navigation links at the top of the page to begin your exploration of our history. We hope you will tell others about the DCMP so that we can look forward to providing another fifty years of much-needed service to current and future generations of K–12 personnel and families.

The Midas Touch of Accessibility
(and how the DCMP is still making history)

The 1927 release of the sound motion picture The Jazz Singer heralded the decline of silent films. The utilization of sound from then on made movies inaccessible to people who were deaf or hard of hearing (who had equally shared the film-viewing experience with the hearing audience during the silent film era). Simultaneously, however, it also made movies partially accessible to those who were blind or visually impaired (who never before had experienced movies with sound to guide them through the action).

Unfortunately, efforts to resolve this problem of inaccessibility in media as it related to the deaf did not begin for two decades. In 1947 the first true “captioning” occurred, as captions were placed between film frames, and while that helped alleviate some of the problem, it still wasn’t equal access.

Edmund Boatner Edmund Boatner
Dr. Clarence O’Connor Dr. Clarence O’Connor

As a response to this accessibility problem, Captioned Films for the Deaf, Inc. was established in 1949 in Hartford, Connecticut. Founders Edmund Boatner, superintendent of the American School for the Deaf, and Dr. Clarence O’Connor, superintendent of the Lexington School for the Deaf, organized the program as a private nonprofit corporation. Since captioning had quickly evolved to the superimposition of captions on film frames, both Boatner and O’Connor used said style of captioning for the films they obtained and loaned. In a few years, a library of thirty captioned theatrical films was acquired, and these films were free for use by deaf persons at residential schools, social clubs, and even in their home or apartment.

Although the program was initially a success, more financial support was needed than could be provided by private funds. The possibility of government support was explored at length. Organizations, including the National Association of the Deaf, the National Fraternal Society of the Deaf, the Conference of Executives of American Schools for the Deaf, and the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf, lobbied Congress on behalf of the program.

In 1958 the Captioned Films for the Deaf, Inc. became federal Public Law 85-905. The private corporation dissolved, and its entire collection of films was donated to the government. In July of 1959 the requisite funding was made available, and in October of that year the new federally run Captioned Films for the Deaf (CFD) program opened its doors to the public.

malcolm norwood Malcolm J. Norwood

Although the initial purpose of the CFD was to provide subtitled Hollywood films to deaf people, teachers and other academic professionals were quick to recognize the potential of captioned films and other visual media as untapped educational resources. Consequently, the Congress amended the original law to authorize the acquisition, captioning, and distribution of educational films.

Malcolm J. Norwood [PDF], widely known as the “Father of Closed Captioning,” stated in his article titled “Captioned Films for the Deaf,” published in Exceptional Children in 1976:

The introduction of sound films in 1927 seemed to signal to deaf persons that they were to be completely isolated from the motion picture media. The threat was, of course, averted as the Captioned Films [for the Deaf] program made it possible once again for hearing impaired persons to share a common experience with the general public and to participate in the recreational and cultural aspects of motion pictures. Moreover, captioned films opened up avenues not only to recreation but also to important learning experiences.

Logos for Captioned Films for the Deaf, Captioned Films/Videos, Captioned Media Program, and Described and Captioned Media Program The various incarnations of what is today the Described and Captioned Media Program

In 1984 CFD introduced videocassettes and subsequently became Captioned Films/Videos (CFV). Throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, 16mm films were withdrawn from the collection in favor of the more widely used VHS format. Likewise, in the mid-to-late 1990s, DVD, interactive CD-ROM, and streaming media gradually took over as the formats of choice in many schools and homes across the country. To reflect this evolution, CFV was again rebranded as the Captioned Media Program (CMP). This change occurred simultaneously with an increased focus on accessible media for K-12 students and their teachers and parents. In 2006 the CMP began serving students with vision loss, and once again changed its name, this time to the Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP).

Along the way, the program has been a pioneer in establishing quality standards for captioned media, particularly that which is used in educational settings. The Captioning Key: Guidelines and Preferred Techniques, a manual designed to encourage high-quality standards and serve as a teaching tool for beginning agencies, was released in 1994 as a one-stop guide for captionists seeking to hone their craft. Given its wide circulation and constant evolution, the Captioning Key remains an important component of the DCMP’s services today.

DCMP service to students who are blind or visually impaired involves another essential accessibility tool: description. Description (also called “audio description” or “video description”) is the verbal depiction of key visual elements in media and live productions. The concept of description has been around since the mid-1960s when Chet Avery, a U.S. Department of Education administrator who was blind, suggested to several consumer groups affiliated with the blind and visually impaired that they apply for funding to describe educational media, much in the same way that organizations affiliated with the deaf were applying for funding to caption films. However, description as a viable accessibility option in educational media and for broadcast television really began to take shape and form back in the 1980s when Dr. Margaret Pfanstiehl, founder and president of The Metropolitan Washington Ear, and her husband, Cody, trained volunteers to describe episodes of the PBS series American Playhouse.

Today approximately 4,000 captioned and described media items are available for free-loan to qualified DCMP members; students who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind, visually impaired, or deaf-blind, and teachers, parents, and others who work with them, are eligible to borrow these materials.

download an informational flyer about the Description Key Description Key informational flyer

The DCMP’s commitment to equal access for students with vision loss doesn’t stop with the distribution of described educational media. In October 2008 the DCMP released its Description Key. Developed in partnership with the American Foundation for the Blind, the Description Key is a first-of-its-kind reference for burgeoning describers seeking to improve access to educational media.

DCMP Manager Dorothy Ogden celebrating Read Captions Across America Read Captions Across America™ festivities are held in hundreds of schools across the country.

Finally, the DCMP has historically served a larger role than that of library service: advocacy. For example, in the last five years alone, the following initiatives have been established: Read Captions Across America™, which is in conjunction with NEA’s Read Across America; Caption it Yourself, a step-by-step tutorial to show individuals who shoot and upload their own media to the Internet how to caption; Equal Access in the Classroom, which is a production detailing description and captioning, providing teacher testimony supporting the need for these accessibility options in educational media, and overviewing the services provided by the DCMP; the completion of the first-ever educational media Description Key; and the DCMP Captioning Key, which is constantly evolving alongside technology and education.

This is why the DCMP is celebrating its 50th anniversary from September 2008 to September 2009: It was 50 years ago during that time frame that the law was enacted, the funding was provided, and the CFD officially began its long journey into history.

Because of the people who saw a need for equal access and acted upon it, and because of the time and effort of many who came after these initial few, captioning is practically ubiquitous now, and description is gaining momentum. Accessibility is more valuable than gold—it is a necessity—and captioning and description provide equal access to sources of information that would otherwise be inaccessible to millions of people in America. And that is why captioning, description, and the DCMP’s 50th anniversary are all particularly golden.

Accessibility Timeline Highlights


  • Under the federal law, Captioned Films for the Deaf—established in 1949 as a private organization—becomes Public Law 85-905 [PDF] to provide subtitled Hollywood films for people who are deaf. John Gough, former superintendent at the Oklahoma School for the Deaf, is appointed to direct the program.


  • Congress amended previous legislation authorizing the captioning of entertainment films by passing Public Law 87-715, which added the captioning of educational films. That same year, Rockets: How They Work became the first educational film to be captioned.


  • Chet Avery, a U.S. Department of Education administrator who is blind, suggests to several consumer groups affiliated with the blind and visually impaired that they apply for funding to describe educational media, following in the footsteps of deaf-affiliated groups, such as CFD.




  • Dr. Malcolm (Mac) Norwood, the “Father of Closed Captioning,” becomes Chief of Media Services of the Captioned Films Branch, Bureau of Education for the Handicapped, U.S. Office of Education.



  • Julia Child’s The French Chef is the first national broadcast of an open-captioned program, airing across the country on PBS.
  • To assess the possibility of “closed” captioning, a technical committee is established.
  • San Francisco State University Professor Gregory Frazier establishes his nonprofit company, AudioVision, to explore the concept of making media and live performances more accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired.


  • The first-ever regularly scheduled open-captioned program debuts. The Captioned ABC News broadcast is seen late-night on more than 190 PBS stations (and airs for nine years).


  • PBS files a petition with the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) to reserve a segment of the television signal for transmitting captions.


  • The FCC reserves Line 21 of the vertical blanking interval (VBI) for transmitting closed captions.


  • Development begins on Line 21 captioning decoders.



  • Closed captioning decoders enter the market. (NCI’s TeleCaption I is sold at Sears.)
  • First closed-captioned television programs air, totaling 16 hours a week.
  • Captioned home videos become available; the first title is Force 10 From Navarone.


  • First closed captioning of a children’s television program, Sesame Street, is broadcast.
  • First open-captioned theatrical movie release, Amy, opens in ten cities.


  • Real-time captioning of the Academy Awards and the first regular real-time closed captioning for ABC’s World News Tonight is performed.
  • First closed captioning of a live sporting event, the Sugar Bowl, airs.
  • Description pioneer and founder of the Metropolitan Washington Ear, Dr. Margaret Phanstiehl, along with her husband, Cody Phanstiehl, train volunteers to describe episodes of the PBS series American Playhouse, resulting in the first description of a regularly broadcast television show.


  • The National Television Systems Committee (NTSC) adopts Multichannel Television Sound (MTS) as a standard, introducing the American television market to the Secondary Audio Program (SAP) feature. SAP eventually becomes the primary means for transmitting description to analog television viewers.
  • CFD introduces videocassettes and becomes Captioned Films/Videos (CFV).


  • Based on positive feedback received during research of described media’s possible application, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) awards funding to WGBH for what will eventually become the Descriptive Video Service (DVS).


  • WGBH, in conjunction with the Metropolitan Washington Ear audio description service, launches the first test of its DVS system on ten PBS stations during presentations of American Playhouse.
  • Narrative Television Network (NTN), founded by Jim Stovall, begins providing “open” described films on its cable TV network, accounting for four hours per week by year’s end.


  • Ernie Hairston becomes Chief of Media Services for the CFV.
  • First closed-captioned music videos are produced.
  • By the end of the 1980s, all prime-time programming on ABC, CBS, and NBC is closed-captioned. PBS closed captioning is in place for most of its programming, with all of its programs being captioned by 1993.


  • The Decoder Circuitry Act [PDF] states that all televisions 13 inches or larger must have built-in captioning decoder capability.
  • Congress passes the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • Dr. Margaret Phanstiehl, Jim Stovall, PBS, and Gregory Frazier are awarded Emmys® [PDF] for their work in making programming accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired.
  • Beginning with the 1990 season premiere of American Playhouse, DVS becomes a permanent fixture of accessibility on participating PBS stations, carrying described audio programming on the SAP channel.


  • The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) receives its first U.S. Department of Education (ED) contract award to administer the selection and captioning of new CFV materials. The designation “for the deaf” is immediately dropped from CFV promotional materials and catalogs in order to be more inclusive of the hard of hearing community. The NAD continues in this role to present time.


  • WGBH’s Media Access Group launches MoPix, a service to provide accessibility to moviegoers who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind, and/or visually impaired through the use of closed captioning and description.
  • Sixty-two PBS stations broadcast regularly scheduled DVS programming, reaching 50% of U.S. households.


  • TRIPOD Captioned Films makes open-captioned first-run 35-millimeter films available to local theaters.
  • WGBH/The Caption Center devises the Rear Window Captioning® System to display captions on movie screens using a system to display captions in reverse at the back of the theater which are then reflected at the seat.
  • There are more than 750 captioned hours a week on the networks; more than 5,000 captioned home videos, including a large portion of new releases; and cable channels are just beginning to introduce captioning.
  • "Adding Audio Description: Does it Make a Difference," a study conducted by the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) and WGBH, finds that consumers who are blind or visually impaired prefer to have access to description on television. The study concludes that viewers of described programming recall more program content (especially in the case of science programming) than those who did not have access to description.



  • The NAD wins the ED contract to administer the CFV distribution activity. The NAD continues in this role to present time.
  • Live! With Derek McGinty, by Discovery Communications, becomes the first regular weekly show to be captioned on the Internet.


  • The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) forms a working group for captioning standards on MPEG digital video, which is used on DVDs.
  • The Telecommunications Act of 1996 mandates closed captioning for all video programming. (Takes effect in 1998.)
  • DVS programming reaches 71% of U.S. households and is broadcast on 130 PBS stations.


  • Bill Clinton’s second presidential inauguration becomes the first presidential inauguration to be simultaneously captioned live on television and the Internet.
  • First installation of a Rear Window® movie theater captioning system and DVS Theatrical movie theater description system in a first-run theater (General Cinema, Sherman Oaks, California).
  • The Jackal, released in November, becomes the first feature-length film to be both closed captioned and described at the time of its release. The film premieres at the General Cinema in Sherman Oaks, California.


  • First closed-captioned video game, Activision’s Zork Grand Inquisitor, is released.
  • CFV adds CD-ROMs and other multimedia to its collection, and it becomes the Captioned Media Program (CMP).


  • Five closed-captioned feature movies in ten Rear Window®-equipped theaters throughout the country are premiered.
  • Encarta Encyclopedia is released with captions on CD-ROM.



  • The CMP, through a collaborative agreement with, makes full-length open-captioned classic movies and television programs available on the Internet.
  • Seventeen first-run major motion pictures are released to theaters in the U.S. with DVS description available in equipped theaters.


  • The CMP provides the first streamed educational open-captioned videos on the CMP Web site, as over 400 titles become available.


  • The Speech-to-Text Services Network (STSN) is formed as an information resource and to promote quality relating to court reporter verbatim stenography systems, nonverbatim meaning-based systems, and automatic speech recognition systems.
  • WGBH launches Teachers’ Domain, a free Web resource for educators and students, which includes captioned and described streaming media that conforms to national curricular standards.
  • NCI partners with the nonprofit educational organization Sesame Workshop to provide description for Sesame Street for the first time in the program’s 34-year history.


  • Stevie Wonder’s “So What the Fuss” becomes thefirst-ever described music video. WGBH’s West Coast office coordinates and voices the description track.


  • The U.S. becomes the first country in the world to require that all new television programs, with few exceptions, be closed-captioned.
  • Sixty-three first-run major motion pictures are released to theaters in the U.S. with DVS description available in equipped theaters.
  • The CMP begins circulating media with description for people who are blind or visually impaired and partners with the AFB to produce the first-ever guidelines for the description of educational media (published in October 2008 as the Description Key). The CMP becomes the Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP).


  • The DCMP launches its “Caption It Yourself” initiative to educate busy parents, teachers, and others in the basics of Web video captioning.
  • The Description Key for Educational Media, a set of guidelines and preferred techniques regarding how to describe educational media, developed by AFB and the DCMP, is completed and published in October 2008. The document overviews how to describe educational media, what to describe, and the technical elements that are part of the description process.
  • The Captioning Key for Educational Media, a set of guidelines and preferred techniques regarding how to caption educational media, developed by the DCMP, is completely revised for the Web and published in October 2008.
  • The DCMP launches its “Equal Access in the Classroom” training production, designed to educate and train teachers and parents about the necessity of captioned and described educational media in the classroom.

DCMP History Clearinghouse Articles

Captioned Films for the Deaf

Written by Edmund Burke Boatner, and published by the American Annals for the Deaf in 1980, this article reviews the origin of captioning and the pioneers who resolved to create a mode of communication by which deaf audiences could enjoy films. The perseverance of many of these diligent people eventually led to the creation of Captioned Films for the Deaf. Mentions other supporters, such as the Junior League of Hartford and RKO. To quote Mr. Boatner: “No man ever won a football game alone. It was our team that won, and it was a great victory.” Also includes a letter of congratulations to Mr. Boatner from then-President Dwight Eisenhower after the passage of the Captioned Film Act (Public Law 85-905) in 1959. This act provided federal funding for captioning feature films.

Captioning Captures Captivated Audience

Al Van Nevel, Grand President of the National Fraternal Society of the Deaf (NFSD), writes about “an entire generation that has benefited from the CFD/DCMP programs.” He touches upon the early history of “social club” use of captioned films, including the role of NFSD’s Dr. Frank Sullivan in bringing the weight of the NFSD lodges across the country to support the initial federal funding of movie captioning.

How Bird Hunting in North Carolina Saved Captioning

Reviews the pioneers of captioning, the early years (1960-1969), the birth of closed captioning (1970-1980), and the current Described and Captioned Media Program.

In Education, Transition, and Life: Teachers Made the Difference

Dr. Ernest E. Hairston writes about two of his great teachers: William King and Malcolm (Mac) Norwood. Mr. King, teacher at the West Virginia School for the Colored Deaf and Blind (WVSCDB), became Dr. Hairston’s role model by teaching him how to appreciate poetry and by shaping his literacy skills. Dr. Norwood became his teacher when the “Brown v. Board of Education” decision in 1954 opened the door for integration of black students from the WVSCDB into the West Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind (WVSDB). Mac Norwood became Dr. Hairston’s teacher and mentor and later recruited Dr. Hairston into the U.S. Office of Education Bureau of Education for the Handicapped. Dr. Norwood and Dr. Hairston then worked together on the federal level for many years, changing the lives of deaf persons forever with the initiation of closed captioning and other captioned media advancements. ©1998 by Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center. Reprinted with permission.

Report of a Conference on the Utilization of Captioned Films for the Deaf

This conference was sponsored by the U. S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, just two years after Captioned Films for the Deaf (CFD) was signed into federal law. Its goal was to review the background, brief history, and future plans of CFD. Speakers at the conference included Dr. Edmund B. Boatner and Dr. Clarence O’Connor, who were the founders of the CFD. The report also includes a list of participants, exhibits, and suggested topics for future discussions. Prepared by Patricia Cory, Librarian (Lexington School) and Conference Coordinator.

School Library Services for Deaf Children: Audio-Visual Material

Written by Patricia Blair Cory, Librarian and Visual Education Director at the Lexington School for the Deaf, and published in 1960 by the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf, Inc., this article concentrates on the responsibilities of librarians in regards to various educational media provided to deaf children. She states that librarians should familiarize themselves with the films in their collection and be prepared to evaluate each title for things such as clear identification of subject matter, age appropriateness, and whether or not the film depends too heavily on a soundtrack. The latter is an important topic in her paper, because at this time educational films were not captioned, and students had to depend on lipreading what the characters said, or have the material pretaught or preread before the showing. She urges librarians to use films that rely on visual cues to tell the story or explain the subject matter.

Malcolm J. Norwood

Dr. Norwood is known as the “Father of Closed Captioning” and is recognized as one of the greatest achievers in the deaf community. Also revered as a pioneer, “Mac” was the first deaf professional to work at the Department of Education and was at the forefront of almost every research and development program related to captioned media for the deaf. He left a body of work for captioning that will most likely never be equaled or duplicated.

VIDEO: An Interview with Dr. Malcolm J. Norwood

In December of 1979, as a project at the University of Maryland, Karen Brickett interviewed Dr. Malcolm (Mac) J. Norwood, the “Father of Closed Captioning.” Dr. Norwood relates how 10% of the general population would not accept captions on their TV screens, which necessitated the development of a closed captioning system. He discusses the postponement of decoder sales until March of 1980, estimates of the number of potential viewers of closed-captioned TV, predicts 22 to 22½ hours of captioned programs will be available by the end of 1980, discusses the development of two captioning centers on the East Coast and West Coast, and addresses other exciting developments. This 25-minute production is the only known video of Dr. Norwood. Thanks to Karen Brickett Russell for sharing this record of captioning history.

(See the accompanying resource guide [PDF] for more information about this one-of-a-kind production.)

Malcolm J. Norwood—A Leader is Gone

Malcolm J. Norwood’s leadership from the early 1960s when the criteria and technology for 16mm captioning was developed, until the advent of Line 21 captioning for television broadcasting, was invariably enthusiastic, energetic, and innovative. Article contains a tribute to him printed in the Captioned Films/Videos for the Deaf Newsletter, April 1989, and his curriculum vitae.

Don’t Let Your DCMP History Expedition Stop Here!

The resources listed above represent only a few of the hundreds of unique articles and informational references available from the DCMP Clearinghouse. Once you’ve run out of DCMP history, check out the other Clearinghouse articles which cover a wide range of subject matter, such as the use of accessible media and assistive technology.

description, captioning, dcmp, history