skip to main content

<< Learning Center

Media Accessibility Information, Guidelines and Research

Deaf Culture, Language, and Heritage

By Frank G. Bowe

[Editor's note: This article was written in 2002 before the author's death in August 2007 and before the Captioned Media Program became the Described and Captioned Media Program. To see the National Association of the Deaf's tribute to Dr. Bowe, please refer to the end of this article.]

Several young children of different ethnic backgrounds smile.

Growing up in central Pennsylvania in the 1950s, I never saw anything captioned. I think I went to about three movies throughout my childhood and youth, one of them "Frankenstein." At home as my parents and sisters watched TV, I would bother them during commercials, and sometimes in between. I was much more dependent on hearing people than I (or they!) found comfortable. Today, we would explain this in terms of "Deaf Culture"--which tells us something. Captioning began for reasons related to Deaf Culture.

It was only much later that I learned that there were a few (a very few!) films with captions. They were distributed by Captioned Films for the Deaf (CFD) in Connecticut. In the late 1950s, the first federal captioning program was created and CFD. Malcolm ("Mac") Norwood became the government's first project officer, and Mac steered the program for the next 30-some years. Importantly, he focused CFD both on educational films and also on general-interest films. Then, as now, CFD offered free loan of films to deaf clubs. I was one of many who created a club specifically so we could watch films every month. These were my only source of independent film entertainment. Some of these deaf clubs blossomed into multipurpose organizations, sponsoring all kinds of activities. They began, however, because of CFD. CFD today is the NAD's Captioned Media Program (CMP).

From Films to Many Media

If you visit the Web site of the CMP, you go to Why, you may ask, is it "cfv" rather than "cmp"? Therein lays a tale. It's worth telling, as part of history, or as Jack Gannon likes to call it, Deaf Heritage.

In the mid-1980s, as videotape came into popular use, CFD broadened its offerings to include video. The program was renamed "Captioned Films/Videos"--hence the "cfv" abbreviation. E-mail arrived shortly thereafter. When it did, the staff acquired e-mail addresses, all with the "" suffix. When the Web took off in the mid- to late-1990s, the Web address, too, adopted the "" suffix. Later, when DVD became popular, the organization's name changed yet again. Rather than take on a convoluted moniker like "Captioned Films/Videos/DVDs," the decision was made to name the organization the Captioned Media Program (CMP). This name neatly avoids future problems, when some new media arrive.

If you know the history--that today's CMP is the direct descendent of CFD and CFV-- the Web address becomes easier to remember.


The CMP recognizes that the Deaf community is comprised of people who are also members of other ethnic, racial, and cultural groups. That's why the CMP offers a wide variety of films, videos, and other media of special interest to Native Americans, Latinos, women, and other groups. Teachers thus may order media to support class activities during Black History month and other culturally important time periods.


The arrival of DVD media has important implications. One that is particularly interesting to me is that DVD offers developers many new tools. One is that the spoken language and/or the captions may be offered in a choice of languages. Thus, a DVD movie can be made available with English dialogue and English captions, Spanish dialogue and Spanish captions, English dialogue and Spanish captions, and Spanish dialogue and English captions. The same movie could also be presented in German, Portuguese, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, etc.--with the captions not necessarily in the same language as the spoken dialogue.

This opens up all kinds of possibilities in today's public schools. Our nation today is far more diverse than ever before. The population of Hispanic Americans grew explosively during the 1990s, almost doubling in size. Similarly, many schools now have large numbers of students from homes where Japanese, Vietnamese, and other languages are spoken. In fact, schools in Los Angeles, New York, and several other cities have students from homes where some 75 to 150 different languages are spoken!

The CMP is responding to the real and growing need. A steadily increasing number of captioned educational and general-interest offerings in DVD format are being offered by the CMP. These materials provide multiple language audio and subtitling options.

Looking Ahead

Today, I no longer need to bother anyone in my household when I watch a TV program or a rented video. In fact, I sometimes feel a little guilty because I cannot possibly watch even a fraction of the flood of captioned media that comes into my home every day. That sense of guilt reveals something about my age.

I cannot say the same about educational media that I use or those students whom I prepare to be teachers use in the classroom. Only about 1 out of every 20 educational media is captioned upon release. Some schools think they are providing "reasonable accommodation" when they interpret a video or hand a deaf student a copy of the script. The CMP encourages teachers and parents to only buy captioned media, thereby pressuring the media producers/distributors to voluntarily caption. Parents are encouraged to advocate this position with school boards, and sometimes boards have passed a policy that their school should "attempt" to buy captioned media. That's why I am so glad that the CMP is relentless in its efforts to caption educational media, even when the producers should have done it themselves.

While there is a proliferation of TV captioning, last month's airing of uncaptioned segments of "Roots" on the Hallmark network reminds us that all is not entirely well. It is incumbent upon all of us to complain about noncaptioning "when we see it." Doing so takes just a few minutes, and a visit to the NAD Web site provides guidelines for such complaints to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) or other agencies. Parents may also file state-level complaints against schools for failure to provide captioning and other accommodations specified in their child's Individualized Educational Plan (IEP).

If you contact the producers of a noncaptioned film, video, or DVD, I suggest you tell them about the CMP. They will appreciate being assisted in solving the problem. I know from personal experience that the CMP responds quickly and effectively to requests from producers for assistance in learning to caption, locating captioning service providers, and reaching new markets for captioned versions of their materials.

From the National Association of the Deaf Web site ( at the time of Bowe's death:

Frank G. Bowe, Ph.D, LL.D, a long-time member and supporter of the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), died on August 21, 2007.

He served as a Government Affairs consultant to NAD during the past several years, in addition to his full time work as a professor of counseling, research, special education and rehabilitation (CRSR) in Hofstra University's School of Education and Allied Human Services. Prior to serving as consultant to the NAD, he provided his expertise and support quietly behind the scenes and opened doors on Capitol Hill, providing opportunity for the NAD to share its message with our country's leaders.

Frank served on the faculty at Hofstra University since 1989 and held the Dr. Mervin Livingston Schloss Distinguished Professorship for the Study of Disabilities. In 2005, 2006 and during the spring of 2007, he served as acting chair of Hofstra's CRSR Department. Also in 2005 and 2006, Frank gave invited testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce and conducted U.S Congressional demonstrations of high-speed broadband communications.

An accomplished leader in the disability rights movement, Frank was the first executive director of the first national cross-disability consumer advocacy organization, the American Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities (ACCD). He conceived the nationwide protest that led to issuance of landmark regulations for Section 504 in 1977. In 1980, Frank was the first person with a disability to represent any nation in the planning of the United Nations (UN) International Year of Disabled Persons. In the mid-1980s, he chaired the U.S. Congress Commission on Education of the Deaf (COED), which made 52 recommendations for improving education and rehabilitation. He was director of Research for the U.S. Architectural and Transportation Compliance Board ("Access Board") from 1984-1987 and then regional commissioner for the U.S. Department of Education's Rehabilitation Services Administration from 1987-1989.

Frank earned his doctorate at New York University, his master's degree at Gallaudet University, and bachelor's degree at Western Maryland College. He was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws by Gallaudet University. He was selected as an Outstanding Scholar of the 20th Century and received a Distinguished Service Award from President George H.W. Bush in 1992.

Tags: history, dcmp

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

Okay, Sure!