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Media Access Group at WGBH

Innovator of Closed Captions and Video Description


Media Access Group at WGBH

The Media Access Group at WGBH created closed caption and video description -- the two main technologies that persons with hearing and vision impairments to enjoy


The Media Access Group is a business within Boston PBS station WGBH that provides closed captioning and descriptive video -- services that make TV, film, and other media accessible to disabled viewers.

Closed Captioning(CC) makes media accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing. The "captions" are words that appear onscreen that display dialogue and non-speech information, such as music, laughter, and sounds effects.

Descriptive Video Service (DVS) is narration added to a TV or movie soundtrack that describes key visual elements for blind or visually impaired viewers. Read more...

Since 1972, WGBH has been the driving force behind every innovation extending media access in all forms to America's 35 millions viewers with sensory disabilities.

The Caption Center at WGBH

The Media Access Group launched the Caption Center, the world's first captioning agency, in 1972.

The Caption Center has developed the technologies, processes, and quality standards that make captioning readily available to for all forms of media, including TV, film, the Internet, and live events.

Each year, the Center captions more than 10,000 hours of media, including: broadcast TV, films, DVDs, online content, and teleconferences. It also conducts outreach among deaf and HOH viewers and English language learners of all ages.

Descriptive Video Service (DVS)

Descriptive Video Service (DVS) provides narration about the key visual elements of a TV show, film, or other media that a blind or visually impaired viewer might miss. These include: actions, facial expressions, scene changes, and onscreen text.

WGBH introduced DVS on VHS in 1993. The description couldn't be turned off, though low-vision viewers loved the format as VCRs were easy devices to operate.

Descriptive video is now digital and available on about 70 percent of movie DVDs released since 2009

Sources for DVS content currently include:

  • Theatrical and DVD film releases from Disney, Sony, 20th Century Fox, and Universal
  • PBS stations nationwide
  • Turner Classic Movies cable network
  • Selected CBS, Fox, and Nickelodeon TV shows
  • Feature films, including IMAX. Find described content...

The Media Access Group's development of video description has enabled organizations such as the Described and Captioned Media Program to extend standards for educational videos. Read more...

National Center for Accessible Media

Within the Media Access Group is the Carl and Ruth Shapiro Family National Center for Accessible Media, a research organization launched in 1993. The organization's director is accessibility pioneer Larry Goldberg, who, for 30 years, has been at the forefront of captioning and video description technologies. Read more...

NCAM seeks to improve and expand broadcast access by partnering with leading technology and telecommunications companies to develop, implement, and promote universal design. Key projects include:

NCAM research has enabled the Media Access Group to bring captioning and descriptions to new venues such as the web, theme parks, museums, and other live attractions.

WGBH Media Access Group Milestones

  • 1972: First nationally broadcast captioned program -- The French Chef (PBS)
  • 1975: First captioned children's series, Zoom (PBS)
  • 1984: First captioned network series - Dallas (CBS)
  • 1987: Descriptive Video Service (DVS) formed and named
  • 1988: First national DVS testing - American Playhouse (10 episodes, PBS)
  • 1989: Prime-time network programming now 100 percent accessible to deaf, HOH viewers
  • 1990: WGBH and Public Television win Emmy for "Outstanding Achievement in the Science of Television Engineering"
  • 1992: WGBH describes and captions the first Omnimax film, Mountain Gorilla, for the Boston Museum of Science
  • 1993: Clinton inauguration the first live national event featuring both caption and description
  • 1994: First DVS video available the same day as the general VHS release -- Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
  • 1996: Turner Classic Movies begins airing described films on its Sunday DVS Showcase
  • 1998: First show broadcast with English and Spanish captions - 60 Minutes (CBS); first theatrical releases of films (The Jackal; Titanic) with both captions and description
  • 2001: First network broadcast of a DVS film -- Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace (Fox); first MoPix film release -- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
  • 2003: CBS airs DVS versions of "Frosty the Snowman" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"
  • 2005: First DVS music video - Stevie Wonder's "So What The Fuss" (narrated by Busta Rhymes)
  • 2006: Captioned CNN news content made available on America Online (AOL)
  • 2007: 500th captioned film released; MoPix system now installed in 350 theaters
  • 2008: National Public Radio election night coverage is first-ever featuring live captioning
  • 2009: Sony and Universal include DVS on DVD and Blu-ray releases; Disney-Pixar releases Up with DVS on DVD, Blu-ray, and on iTunes
  • The Media Access Group produces content for Disney's Audio Description service in select attractions at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts
  • 2010: Launch of DescribedMovies.org, selling DVS films and PBS programs.

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