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Collection: Video and Captioning

purple arrow (1137 bytes)Descriptive Video and Children

CONTEXT: (This resource was prepared by staff at WGBH.)

Descriptive Video Service was developed by WGBH, the public broadcaster in Boston, and launched over the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in 1990 to make television broadcasts and movies on video accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired. DVS inserts carefully crafted, concise narrated descriptions of key visual elements (actions, settings, facial expressions, graphics) into natural pauses in a program or movie's dialogue. Currently, DVS narration can be heard on a number of PBS broadcasts (including drama, nature, science, select episodes of popular children's programs, and documentaries) as well as on a number of movies and documentaries on video. A wide variety of entertainment and educational videos and programs are available for children, including Disney classics and Hollywood hits such as "Beauty and the Beast" and "Field of Dreams," PBS children's programs and specials including select episodes of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" and "Sesame Street Stays Up Late: a Monster New Year's Eve Special" and documentaries like "The Kennedys" and "Eyes on the Prize."

DESCRIPTION: Since the inception of DVS, the Descriptive Video Service staff has worked with focus groups and advisory councils of adults with visual impairments to discuss description issues and ensure that the description meets the needs of its audience. Beginning in 1992, with a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, DVS began expanding its focus groups and advisors to include children who are blind, parents, educators, and producers of children's television programming, with the goal of making description of children's programs and movies as beneficial as possible for children who are blind. DVS wanted to research what it had heard from parents of children who are blind and teachers: that the DVS description in television programs and movies not only provides children who are blind with access to the information and entertainment available to sighted children, but also helps them to learn concepts (e.g. size and orientation to objects) as well as social skills, such as the appropriate use and meaning of body language.

The DVS staff have conducted focus groups of children ages 4-18 in various locations nationwide, obtained feedback from parents, and established a task force of educators to determine how DVS can help meet the educational, cultural and social needs of children. This research has influenced the description of children's programs; for example, description includes age-appropriate vocabulary, sizes are described in relation to something children who are blind have likely touched or experienced, and important details are repeated more often than in programs for adults. In addition, more care is taken to set the scene, and in programs likely to be watched by adolescents, attention is paid to fashion and hairstyles. Narration style in children's movies is often more animated than in movies for adults; at the same time, describers try to leave space for children to process and absorb the information.

In the classroom, availability of described versions of educational programs and films can enable a mainstream or vision educator to include the child who is blind or with low vision in the viewing and discussion of a movie such as "Henry V" or NOVA's "Miracle of Life." Described programs can become tools for teaching important concepts. With access to described programs and movies at home, the child with visual impairment can join his or her family and friends in watching, enjoying, and discussing television programs or movies that are a part of our popular culture. With DVS, children gain greater independence and access to information, and gain increased self-confidence from being included. One parent of a child with visual impairment, says, "DVS helps level the playing field on which (my son) will live, work and compete, and will help determine the extent to which he may participate in society as a productive, contributing member."


DVS, WGBH Educational Foundation, 125 Western Avenue, Boston, MA 02134. Toll-free phone number: 800-333-1203

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This material was developed by the National Center to Improve Practice (NCIP), located at Education Development Center, Inc. in Newton, Massachusetts.  NCIP was funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs from October 1, 1992 - September 30, 1998, Grant #H180N20013.  Permission is granted to copy and disseminate this information.  If you do so, please cite NCIP.   Contents do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by NCIP, EDC, or the U.S. Government.  This site was last updated in September 1998. 

ŠEducation Development Center, Inc.