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Collection: Video and Captioning

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What is Descriptive Video Service?

Descriptive Video Service (DVS) is a free national service that makes television programs and popular home video movies accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired. DVS provides narrated descriptions of a television program's key visual elements without interfering with the program audio or dialogue. The narration describes visual elements such as actions, subtitles, scene changes, graphics and body language. Descriptive Video Service was developed by the WGBH Educational Foundation in Boston, producer of many public television programs and a leader in the development of accessible media. The DVS broadcast service was launched over the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in January 1990 and DVS Home Video was created in November 1991.

How does a viewer watch DVS on television?

A viewer must live within range of a PBS station that carries DVS and must have a stereo TV or a stereo VCR that includes the Second Audio Program (SAP) feature, standard on most newer stereo televisions and videocassette recorders. Inexpensive receivers that convert TV sets to stereo with SAP also can be purchased. Viewers who subscribe to cable should ask the cable company to "pass through" stereo with SAP.

Where are described television broadcasts available?

Description is broadcast by an increasing number of public television stations in the United States. To carry video description, a station must broadcast in stereo and be Second Audio Program (SAP)-equipped.

What television programs include description?

Description is available on popular PBS series, such as "Mystery!," "The American Experience," National Geographic Specials, "Nature," "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" and specials such as "Baseball." Viewers should contact their local public television station for a local schedule of programs with description.

Which movies on home video include description?

Disney's "Beauty and the Beast," "Field of Dreams," "Ghost," and other major motion pictures as well as popular television programs such as "Eyes on the Prize" and "The Civil War" are now available for direct mail purchase from the DVS Home Video catalogue. No special device is needed beyond a regular videocassette recorder (VCR) and a television to enjoy these programs. DVS videos are sold at suggested retail prices. Consumers are not charged extra for the added audio description. Videos are also carried by many public libraries and video rental stores across the country.

How does DVS seek and use feedback from blind and visually impaired people?

DVS has both a national and a local (Boston area) consumer advisory council, comprised of diverse groups of blind and visually impaired people, who regularly monitor and critique the DVS descriptions to ensure that the description meets the needs of its audience. DVS staff also obtain feedback from viewers by attending the national conventions of the major consumer organizations of blind people. Focus groups are also held with educators and with other professionals in the field of blindness. The DVS toll-free Info Line also asks for comments and suggestions, and the DVS Guide has always sought feedback. DVS takes this feedback seriously and the production staff work hard to incorporate what is learned into the description process.

Does DVS describe differently for children than for adults? How is DVS beneficial for children?

During the past two years, DVS has conducted focus groups with blind children, their parents and teachers, and with producers of children's programming, to determine how to make description of children's and family programs as beneficial as possible. As a result, DVS has developed a description style specifically for children's programming and continues to refine that style as additional feedback is obtained. As a result of input from blind children, parents and educators, describers employ age-appropriate vocabulary in description for children, set the scene of the program or movie when possible, repeat information important to the program, and make an effort to leave pauses in order for the child to absorb the added information. Narrators use a more animated voice when they read the description for children's programs.

Parents and educators of children who are blind say that description of programs and movies can benefit children at home and in the classroom. When a described program is shown to a classroom that includes a blind child, that child will have access to the same visual information as his/her sighted classmates, and will be able to participate more fully in discussions of the program. Description, parents and educators say, also can help children learn about the world of body language and the variety of facial expressions that were previously unknown to them, and about the importance of these gestures to communication.


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

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