How Does Description Benefit Students With Visual Impairments?

Verbal depiction of the key visual elements in video-based media is critical for visually impaired students. Without it, these students are deprived of equal opportunity to understand and learn.

Defining the Dilemma

In today’s highly visual world, where a majority of teachers are utilizing new media—much of which is video-based—as primary instructional content, thousands of students with visual impairments are at a distinct disadvantage simply because of a lack of accessibility.

Many teachers of students with visual impairments (TVIs) and administrators in schools for the blind make the difficult decision to omit video from their curriculum, finding that the time, energy, and resources devoted to making video content accessible at the local level is too exhaustive of the often limited resources available to them.

However, the increasingly inclusive classroom—in which more and more students with varied learning and sensory abilities receive instruction within a common environment—removes a great deal of latitude from the teacher’s ability to amend his or her curriculum. In other words: If video is required to present or support mandated curricular content, video must be used.

View DCMP's video Equal Access in the Classroom and review information about maximizing the benefits of description.

At its core, description’s primary utility is obvious: it presents visual information in a format that is accessible (or more accessible) to students who can’t see (or can’t see very well). Or, to put it another way, it “makes the visual verbal.”

Customized to Meet the Needs of Diverse Students

Unlike description for adults, description of educational media for students takes into account and targets the unique learning styles of children with visual impairments, who often don’t realize the same opportunities for learning through imitation and incidental experience as do their sighted peers.

It can also serve as a tool for bridging the gap between this shortfall in incidental experience and that which is typical of sighted children. In fact, though students with visual impairments typically learn inductively (progressing from local, specialized knowledge to more general conceptual knowledge), description can help them master the concepts underpinning the deductive—and more mainstream—learning style and develop more defined content organization skills.

Description: Conserving Critical Instructional Time

Of TVIs who regularly use video (which currently is overwhelmingly inaccessible due to the lack of description), 87% must devote significant instructional or preparatory time to developing and delivering their own description (or worse: rely on sighted—but untrained—classmates to provide description).

An increase in the availability of described educational programming will inevitably lead to a substantial reduction in the amount of time that teachers spend ensuring that their students have some degree of access to important curricular videos as well as the overall quality and consistency of that access.

What Do The Teachers Say?

Check out “TVIs Sound Off About Audio Description” to read some comments from teachers about how they’ve been able to use description in their classes.