Education has been the cornerstone of public broadcasting stations since their inception in the late 1960s. For nearly 50 years, public media has been helping to teach millions of young children and preparing them to enter school. Examples of programming that have become household names for generations include Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, Super Why!, and Sid the Science Kid, which focus on everything from learning "the ABC's" to how to deal with feelings, and from developing reading skills to finding out what makes science fun.
Another important cornerstone of public media is serving those who are unserved or under-served by what is normally available in society. In Nevada, public media station Vegas PBS has chosen to focus on the under-served group of blind and deaf children. Nevada is one of the few states in our country that do not fund state schools for the blind or deaf students. In Nevada’s Clark County School District, there are more than 360 blind and visually impaired students, as well as more than 500 children who are officially classified as deaf and hard of hearing. Unofficially, there are thousands of more children who could also be defined as hearing or visually impaired. Finding educational materials for those children is often extremely hard for both educational organizations and for the children’s families. In 2004, Vegas PBS –then known as KLVX –became the first PBS station to house the National CMP (Captioned Media Program) library, providing services to the deaf and hear-of-hearing in Southern Nevada.
In 2012, Vegas PBS expanded on the idea of the CMP and, through federal and state grants, as well as corporate and foundation gifts, opened the Vegas PBS Described and Captioned Media Center (DCMC).
The Described and Captioned Media Center (DCMC) is a free-loan educational media library for all Nevada residents with visual and hearing impairments. It offers many services that most traditional libraries do not, including: braille printing services, audio and braille books – many of which are Newbery and Caldecott Award winners – and educational puzzles and games for deaf, hard-of-hearing, blind, and visually impaired students. Also available on loan are descriptive DVDs and VHS tapes for blind and visually impaired children, as well as closed captioned DVDs and VHS tapes for children who are deaf and hard of hearing.
The response to the DCMC has been positive and overwhelming: "Those who have learned about us value and utilize our resources. Patrons are telling other organizations and families about our services and bringing them in to visit our library," says Shauna Lemieux, who leads communications and promotions at Vegas PBS. "We have new clients visiting our library every week."
In addition to being able to borrow books and videos, the DCMC also offers literacy kits for families with visually or hearing impaired children as well as classroom literacy kits for schools. The classroom literacy kits help teachers and students learn how to interact with classmates who are blind and visually impaired through interactive activities. Students also learn about braille, courtesy rules for the blind people, sighted guide considerations, and more.
The family literacy kits for the blind and visually impaired are designed for students in kindergarten through third grade and center around the PBS Kids character Arthur the Aardvark. There are five different versions of the literacy kit, each providing three days of 30-45 minute activities including language arts and a braille experience for children and parents. Every kit includes Arthur and DW dolls that have been modified with audio devices that describe the characteristics of the dolls, a parent guide in both English and Spanish, a DVD of an Arthur episode with Descriptive Video Service (DVS). The kit also includes braille or large print storybooks that match the concepts presented in the corresponding DVD. A braille literacy activity includes vocabulary from both the DVD and the book. It also allows children and their parents to practice their braille spelling. Braille number blocks have children recreate a scene from the story, while practicing their numbers. For new parents the book "Because Books Matter" shares the basics of braille code and why be able to read braille is so important to their family.
Family literacy kits for the deaf and hard of hearing are also available through the DCMC. These kits, much like the kits for the visually impaired, includes a DVD that is closed captioned, a book that compliments the theme of the DVD and activities for children and parents. The DCMC’s most popular DVD selections for the deaf and hard of hearing audience has been the various children’s’ stories told in American Sign Language, as well as several different series that teach American Sign Language.
To date, Vegas PBS, through the DCMC has distributed 56 braille kits to elementary classrooms and other organizations. Another 50 -75 literacy kits for deaf and blind students have also been distributed.
The DCMC's resources are available to Nevada residences through online or call-in orders. All orders are shipped free of charge. Vegas PBS and the DCMC are in the process of designing a physical space for a more functional library setting with seating and activity areas that will provide parents and professionals needed space for interaction with groups and when working with children.
The success of the Described and Captioned Media Center has been so positive that Vegas PBS is in the process of securing intellectual property rights and distribution partners to make their classroom kit available nationwide.
“This is an exciting time to for our Described and Captioned Media Center,” said Lemieux, “We are gaining momentum as word spreads about our program. As grant funds become available, we plan to grow and expand in response to the needs of our community.”
Vegas PBS has been serving the community since 1968, originally called KLVX. It was the first educational and public television station in the state of Nevada, signing on March 25, 1968. It was the only educational station in the state until 1983.