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American Experience “The Presidents” Downloads have Closed Captioning and Video Description

American Experience “The Presidents” Downloads have Closed Captioning and Video Description

Editor: PBS has long lead in the area of providing accessible media for people with disabilities. They continue that trend by providing free downloads of the “Presidents” series with closed captioning and video description. Here’s their press release.


September 2008

PBS’ American Experience is offering free downloads of six of its award-winning Presidential biographies for educational use. As the 2008 election heats up, closed captioned biographies of Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan — more than 23 hours of programming — are available on the American Experience “The Presidents” web site (pbs.org/presidents) and on Apple’s on iTunes U, a section of the iTunes Store showcasing free educational offerings from WGBH and top universities.

“Our iTunes U collaboration with Apple is an effective platform for reaching our existing audience and attracting new viewers,” says Annie Valva, WGBH Interactive’s director of Research and Business Development. WGBH’s digital reach is further expanded by the pioneering work of WGBH’s Media Access Group. Annie notes, “Within an hour of posting one American Experience film to iTunes U we heard from a user who told us how much he and his wife depend on our captioned material. Before we even had a chance to upload all the films, the user wrote back telling us, “I was on a quick plane trip and I was watching the Carter series on both the outbound and return flights. . . which I could not complete because of interruptions by other passengers who wanted to know about the iPhone and especially the show!”

Making history in another way, the Roosevelt biography is the first online video program to be offered as a download with a Descriptive Video Service(r) (DVS(r)) track, which makes video more accessible to viewers who are blind or have low vision via narration of key visual elements, inserted into pauses in dialogue. American Experience is closed captioned and described for broadcast by WGBH’s Media Access Group (access.wgbh.org) for the nation’s 36 million viewers with hearing or vision loss.

According to Larry Goldberg, director of Media Access at WGBH, “While virtually all broadcast and cable programs are closed captioned, and many air with video description as well, only a few programs that migrate to the web do so with these important access features intact. We are thrilled that American Experience has succeeded in including a large audience, numbering in excess of 36 million potential users with sensory disabilities, in “The Presidents” online initiative. Apple is to be congratulated for its leadership in making web-based, downloadable video accessible.”

For more information on access features for web-based video, either creating captioning and description or making sure these features are included when video is repurposed for the web, contact the Media Access Group at WGBH, access@wgbh.org

The free program downloads will be available until Inauguration Day, January 20, 2009.


The Media Access Group is a nonprofit service of Boston public broadcaster WGBH, with offices in Boston and Los Angeles. The Group includes DVS, which has made television, film and video more enjoyable to audiences who are blind or visually impaired since 1990, and The Caption Center– the world’s first captioning agency– which has made audiovisual media accessible to audiences who are deaf or hard of hearing since 1972. The third branch of the Media Access Group, the Carl and Ruth Shapiro Family National Center for Accessible Media at WGBH (NCAM), is a research, development and outreach organization that works to make existing and emerging technologies accessible to all audiences. Members of the Group’s collective staff represent the leading resources and experts in their fields.


Television’s most-watched history series, American Experience has been hailed as “peerless” (Wall Street Journal), “the most consistently enriching program on television” (Chicago Tribune), and “a beacon of intelligence and purpose” (Houston Chronicle). On air and online, the series brings to life the incredible characters and epic stories that have shaped America’s past and present. Acclaimed by viewers and critics alike, American Experience documentaries have been honored with every major broadcast award, including twenty-four Emmy Awards, four duPont-Columbia Awards, and fourteen George Foster Peabody Awards, one most recently for Two Days in October.


WGBH Boston is America’s preeminent public broadcasting producer. More than one-third of PBS’s prime-time lineup and companion Web content as well as many public radio favorites are produced by WGBH. The station also is a pioneer in educational multimedia and in access technologies for people with disabilities. For more information visit wgbh.org. For more information about American Experience and The Presidents visit pbs.org/americanexperience