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he Educational Technology, Media, and Materials program is the primary source of support for accessible technology and media-related activities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The program supports two broad categories of activities—accessible technology and educational media and materials.
Technology activities are generally designed to promote the development, demonstration, and use of accessible technology. The technology component of the program also supports research on using technology to improve outcomes for students with disabilities, and technical assistance and dissemination activities to enhance the use of technology by students, parents, and teachers. Media and materials activities focus on closed captioning, video description, timely provision of books and other educational materials in accessible formats, and other activities to improve access to education for students with disabilities.
The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 expanded the range of media that must be closed captioned and updated accessibility standards to include emerging Internet and mobile technologies. However, significant gaps in captioning coverage remain. The Educational Technology, Media, and Materials program ensures educational media that are not otherwise required to be made accessible are available to students with disabilities. For example, mandatory captioning only applies to broadcast television, not to video broadcast solely over the Internet or video produced for classroom viewing. Funding for this program helps to fill these critical gaps in the accessibility of learning content and materials by supporting the captioning and nationwide distribution of thousands of titles of educational media each year.
Video description is used to make video and other media with visual content accessible for people who are blind or visually impaired. Audio-narrated descriptions of key visual elements in a video or television program are inserted into natural pauses in the spoken dialogue, supplementing the regular audio track of the program by providing additional context. Federal law requires television broadcast stations affiliated with the top four commercial broadcasting corporations (ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC) and licensed to the top 60 Designated Market Areas (i.e., unique, county-based geographic areas designated by The Nielsen Company, a television audience measurement service based on television viewership) and the five most watched non-broadcast networks to provide 50 hours of video description per calendar quarter. The video description must be of prime time or children’s television programming. All other video programming, including educational materials intended for use in the classroom and increasingly popular Internet media, are not subject to description requirements. The funds available through this program play a critical role in filling these gaps. The IDEA requires that description and captioning funds be used only for programs that are suitable for use in classroom settings, and program funds may not be used to describe or caption news programs, even when they are suitable for use in classrooms.
Educational materials activities include the preparation of electronic files suitable for efficient conversion into specialized accessible formats. The educational materials provided by this program are intended to support students’ access to the general curriculum and participation in statewide assessments. The single largest grant in this program provides funding for the production and distribution of textbooks and other educational materials in accessible formats to students with visual impairments and other print disabilities. Due to recent advances in digital technologies, these activities can be accomplished more efficiently than ever before.