A little thank-you for a captioning job well done

By Sheri Smargon

I realtimed a job a couple years ago for a writers’ national literary conference holding their annual convention in Tampa Bay, Fla., where I live. I was contacted by the Disabilities Coordinator for the group after he did a search of the NCRA Sourcebook to find a local CART provider. The group needed someone to provide one-on-one CART to a member who is Deaf. The job was going to take place at our convention center downtown. As hinted to by the name, the location would be large.

My consumer would be attending four or five breakout sessions per day, but that schedule was subject to change. The agenda I was given only listed the name of the author giving the talk and the title of the book of which they would be speaking. Since I didn’t know which seminars my consumer would be attending, I prepped for every seminar and every topic before I went onsite. I made a dictionary and added names, titles, and any words from any of the authors’ autobiographies that I could find.

On day one of the seminar, I arrived on site about an hour and a half early. I wasn’t exactly sure where I needed to go, but I needed to assess the setup and the best place for me to sit so I could be inobtrusive yet still able to hear the speakers. I learned quickly that I should wear flats the next day, as the heels I had chosen on the plush, lush carpet made for a great leg workout.

I found the on-site Disability Coordinator when I arrived, and they told me where and what my consumer’s seminars for the day would be. I would start in Ballroom A, move to Ballroom C, back to Ballroom A, and finally to Ballroom D for the final seminar. I then had to think logistically the best way to get all of my equipment from ballroom to ballroom in the 15 minutes between seminars. Luckily, Ballroom D’s seminar was after lunch, so I had a bit of time to move and reacclimate.

I determined that sitting at the very front of the room off to the side would work best for me in most of the ballrooms. I was closest to an electrical plug. and I could use a few of the participants’ chairs to create a makeshift desk area. I set up five iPad minis on the chairs next to me. Granted, there was only one consumer that I knew of, but I wanted to ensure there were no tech issues with any of the equipment they needed to use. I set up my steno machine, my Cooltable to hold my laptop, plugged everything in, tested all my equipment, and waited for my consumer. She arrived, introduced herself, gave me her cell phone number to communicate, then wandered off to find a seat, iPad in hand.

Because I use Stenograph’s iCVNet, I was able to provide the iPad and my consumer could sit anywhere in the room she wanted to. I couldn’t get reliable internet access in the convention center, so I used my personal router to stream to the iPads. Seminar one went off without a hitch. My consumer brought my iPad back and said she would see me in the next seminar. So I quickly packed up all my gear, laying my open laptop on top of my steno bag, wrapping cords with a bungee wrap so I don’t trip while moving, “throwing” my iPads into my steno bag and hustled over to the next ballroom.

Seminar two — well, there started the fun. It turned out the seminar presenter had taken up my scoped-out seat site and had friends in the area I had chosen. So I sat at the back of the room for this job. Not my wisest move, as it turned into an impromptu panel discussion with people in the audience. They were all speaking with their backs to me. To do a good job, I decided to leave my computer and setup where it was and move just my steno machine and move closer within the audience, where I could hear better. Luckily, these seminars were only an hour and a half each, but they all ended with a question-and-answer session. Needless to say, I was tired at the end of session two, and I still had two more sessions to go.

At the end of session two, I moved back to Ballroom A for session three, and wash, rinse, repeat with the iPads, cords, cables, etc. That session ended, and it was lunchtime. I packed everything up for the fourth time that day and went to the last ballroom to set up my equipment. By doing that, I could relax for a bit during the lunch break, knowing I was ready to go when the session started.

After two days of this literary seminar, where I was exposed for the first time to people introducing themselves by name and the pronouns they would like people to use when referring to them (she, her/he, him) at warp speed, the last seminar of the day was the only one that had ASL interpreters in attendance. There were quite a few Deaf and HoH participants in the panel discussion. I gave my consumer an iPad, then offered the other participants who wanted one the few remaining iPads I had left. The discussion was fast, intense, and involved a lot of fingerspelling of cities in Africa. But in the end, I still learned something.

A couple weeks after the job, I received a handwritten card from my consumer, thanking me for the job I did. I had never received a handwritten thank-you before, and I was so incredibly flattered and humbled that I was able to help her fully experience the seminar. We don’t take these jobs for thanks, but when you know you provided quality and also learned something, it’s a win-win situation. When the consumer also thinks the same thing and lets you know, it doesn’t get any better.

Sheri Smargon, RDR, CRR, CRC, is a CART captioner and freelance court reporter based in Riverview, Fla. She can be reached at stenorpr@gmail.com.

Checking in with captioners

Weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic, the JCR Weekly checked in with several broadcast and CART captioners to get a snapshot of what has changed and what hasn’t in their work lives. Many already have working from home tackled; so you may find their advice on what equipment to have and the rules to keep your workflow moving useful if it’s new to you.

What are your must-haves in terms of equipment?

Darlene Rodella, RDR, CRR, CRC, Everett, Wash. | Solid internet connection and a mobile hotspot for backup, two computers/laptops updated and loaded with the appropriate platforms and connectors (i.e. Streamtext, 1CapApp, Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams, etc.), backup cables for the steno machine to the computer and/or WiFi dongles. Since I’m currently working from the U.K., I have a phone number through Skype that I can either call out on or be called on so no clients have to incur any long-distance charges. I also love my noise-cancelling headphones and comfortable chair!

Toni Christy, RPR, CRR, CRC, La Mesa, Calif. | I need a docking station for my laptop, a monitor (so I have two screens to utilize), a chair that adjusts several ways (mine has a split seat so I can pull my machine into me to write), and a Behringer amplifier.

Brook Nunn, RPR, CRC, Boise, Idaho | Backup equipment! Technology glitches happen frequently. We need to be ready to quickly transition to a different laptop that has our software, dictionaries, and streaming applications loaded. I also highly recommend using noise-cancelling headphones so you can clearly hear everything that’s said.

Adele Helmick-Moorehead, RPR, CRC, CRI, Jackson, Miss. | I have a lot on my list:

1. Two steno machines minimum (one main, one backup). My main is currently a Stenograph Wave. For remote CART, a student model machine is fine because you likely have a stable work environment in your home and are always writing realtime to a computer. You don’t need internal memory or recording capability in the machine itself, nor will you be watching your steno machine for translation. You have your computer for all those things. However, if you want wireless capability, you will need a more expensive professional model machine. For on-site CART, I would recommend a “professional model” machine, because you have less control over your environment for setup, and you really want the ability to be wireless.

2. Two computers and/or laptops minimum (one main, one backup). Consult your CART software company for their requirements as far as memory and speed, etc., and then get computers/laptops with even more than that. In fact, top of the line is recommended. There are always updates that come along, not just with your writing software, but Windows, etc., that will take up more and more memory space, and you will be running numerous programs at one time to provide CART remotely over the internet. So you need computers/laptops with enough memory and power to account for numerous programs running at once and all the updates that come along. I also recommend computers/laptops with numerous USB ports. I need the ports for my machine, mouse, and extended monitor and sometimes a thumb drive to transfer documents. I currently use two laptops (with three monitors between them) on every job. I have an additional laptop and computer nearby that I could turn on and use as backup if the other two that I always have on and ready fail. So backups for backups!

3. Two forms of reliable internet (one main and one backup). You get the point you want to have two separate systems of everything ready in case of emergency? This goes for internet, too! I have a wired-in plan for my whole home that includes my office. Plus, I have a wireless MiFi through a different provider as backup.

4. Battery backups/generator. Sometimes electricity goes out. You may not be able to go for days and days on battery backup or generator power, but you should at least be able to go for half a day or a day, enough time for – usually – power to come back on, to make arrangement to go somewhere else to work, or to refer out your work to another writer if necessary. You shouldn’t immediately be unable to work if your electricity goes out.

5. An awesome headset. I tried going frugal on these; it’s not worth it. Go big. I got a set of Bose over Christmas. Personally, I like a wired variety (because I don’t want to worry about pairing/unpairing Bluetooth every time I switch devices) that are an over-the-ear variety with a lot of padding. Noise-canceling ability (that you can turn on and off to your preference) recommended.

6. Comfy chair. Admission: I’m frugal. I look for bargains. I wasn’t keen on going out and spending hundreds of dollars on an office chair, especially when I’d sat in my fair share of such expensive chairs and found them none too comfortable for actually working long hours writing in. Like Goldilocks, they were too big, too small, too soft, too hard. I didn’t want to make a big money commitment and then find it wasn’t “just right.” But your chair is really important; so if you find one you know is comfortable and supportive even after long hours, buy it! But if you’re like me and can’t say for sure which chair is “just right,” then you can use a regular low-end office chair with wheels and add a thick gel seat cushion like (here’s one I like). This has worked well for me for almost a year.

Mary Kay Belcolore, RPR, CRR, CRC, Bolingbrook, Ill. | I mostly do CART captioning now; so, in addition to everything you use for on-site work, the most important thing is reliable, fast internet. This means being wired with ethernet cables – no WiFi. In addition to the laptop that I caption on through my Eclipse software, I have at least two, but prefer three, other laptops. I watch my Eclipse file to catch errors before they go out; then on another laptop I pull up the site where my captions are going to make sure they’re received; and on the other laptops I pull up any prep I receive from the client — PowerPoints, meeting agenda, etc. — and I often have another one to pull up things like Skype, Zoom, Adobe Connect, Elluminate, Webex, etc., whatever web platforms clients give us to use for audio and/or to imbed captions. This means I have a heavy-duty Netgear modem with four ethernet slots and two phone line slots, which brings us to the next important piece of equipment: a good phone and phone line, and I have a two-line corded speaker phone with an amplifier-with-headset connected which helps boost the sound. Also, I have my noise-canceling Plantronic headset to plug into my computers when I get audio from there instead of a regular phone line. I also have a second steno machine set up on one of the extra laptops, for backup. Oh, and most important too: a comfortable ergonomically correct chair with no arms! So nice to be able to get the right chair, not like what you have to suffer through sometimes on in-person jobs.

Do you have house rules?

DR | I wanted an On Air/Off Air light like they might have in TV studios. But I never got that.

My family knows to not enter the room if my headphones are on. They also know that I might be able to blurt out something to them, but that I can’t actually hear them when working. So asking questions will just have to wait. If it’s important, text me.

TC | I keep a white board in my office. If someone needs to communicate, they write it down and wait for an answer, no matter how long it takes!

BN | My husband knows that if my headphones are on, he can’t talk to me. Also, we have a one-year-old, so I make sure my office door is always shut, so he can’t run in and knock over any equipment.

AHM | I strongly recommend having your our own office space separate from your living area with its own door. There are four humans living in my house (myself, a spouse, and two teen children), plus three cats, and, until recently, a large dog (sadly Ace passed in January). Saying, “Don’t talk,” is not an option. That’s not fair to the other living beings! Plus inevitably someone will knock on your door, storms will roll by and be very loud, construction will be happening outside, etc. Do yourself a favor and find a space that can itself block out the noise as much as possible, regardless of what’s happening outside those office walls. I know not everyone has an extra room. I don’t have an extra room! I am literally working out of a converted walk-in closet. But you know what? It’s cozy, and I actually like it. It’s my space. When I’m in there, I’m in work mode. When I’m not, I’m not! Mentally, it’s also nice to have a separate space. I don’t have to worry about others – except my cats when they sneak in – disrupting my space. I do ask my family to not play loud music or yell, etc., while I’m working, and they respect that. If I’m in my office but do not mind being disturbed, I leave the door open. Otherwise, if the door is closed, they know not to bother me. Going back to the necessary equipment, a good quality pair of noise-cancelling headphones can do wonders, and that’s why they’re a must-have!

MKB | So these days I live by myself, so no trouble there except for when the yard service decides to mow the lawn right outside my window. LOL!

I will say though that transitioning to remote work requires discipline. I have house rules for myself: Get up at the same time every day even if you don’t have an assignment until 10 a.m. If you have time to prep, do it now. Try not to be distracted by the fact that you can clean the house or do laundry. And exercise, exercise, exercise. When you’re working on site, you usually get a fair amount of walking in, even muscle work lifting equipment. Working at home, it’s a lot of sitting, so you have got to keep moving. It’s good for the body and the mind and spirit. And always keep a protein bar, water, and cough drops nearby.

Has anything changed since COVID-19?

DR | For me, business has really slowed down during lockdown. I take a lot of on-site jobs which are nonexistent at the moment. And the remote jobs are being shared between a bigger pool of captioners.

TC | Traveling has always been part of my work. I was in the middle of a men’s basketball conference championship when COVID-19 hit. I scrambled to get home and have not left. All of that work is gone, for now. I have been able to acquire enough remote work to help fill in those gaps. I am blessed.

BN | Initially, there was a decrease in work while schools and businesses figured out how to transition online. However, at this point, it’s mostly business as usual except everyone else is working from home too. One surprising upside to classes being held entirely online is I can easily hear all of the students! I can’t remember the last time I wrote “(Away from Microphone).”

AHM | At first I lost work. Some university classes I was covering converted to asynchronous (so no live class) online so they no longer needed CART services. Some events and conferences I was scheduled to caption canceled. But then I picked up different work that I never would have if not for COVID-19 measures. For instance, one university I had not been working for previously moved from in-person classes to live, online classes and needed more assistance with remote CART captioning; so I picked up some work there. As businesses moved their workforce to work-from-home more meetings were being held virtually, and they needed CART captioning. All in all, at this point I’d say it’s evened out.

MKB | At first, there were many cancellations and business was down for a while, but since then it has picked up, as many companies have transitioned their employees to working from home and are having remote meetings where they used to meet in person. And they need captioners!

Is there anything you are anticipating for two to five months from now?

DR | I do anticipate that the work really will begin to pick up significantly. I sense that companies are coming through the initial phase of getting employees set up and secure to work from home, and there will be a greater need for remote captioning.

TC | I am anticipating much of the same [as we have experienced the past few weeks]. I think we all have different levels of comfort, given the virus onset. Now we have to figure out what that means for each of us. Fall is the earliest I see things potentially moving forward with regard to travel and/or groups attempting to gather, but I am not sure how I feel about that yet. I am going to let the science lead me with regard to those decisions.

BN | I think many people are becoming comfortable working remotely and videoconferencing and will choose to have more virtual meetings in the future.

AHM | Summer, in my experience, has always been a slower time for CART as there is not as much classroom work due to school schedules, and many businesspeople have fewer events due to vacations and holidays. So I expect the next two months to be slower, but not because of COVID-19, but just because that is the normal cycle of things.

Within five months I expect things to ramp up significantly as stay-at-home orders are lifted, fall semesters (whether in-person or virtually) begin, and businesses get “back to normal,” whatever that might look like, including planning for in-person or virtual events. I’m anticipating I will be as busy as I want to be! The need for CART captioning has not diminished. If anything, there is even more awareness and value placed on quality CART at this time.

MKB | I’m not sure what to expect. Usually there’s a bit of a summer slowdown and then a pickup in the fall when schools start again. Everything is upside down; so I don’t know. I do think, though, that clients who have completely disappeared for a while will be starting to return, and on top of the new business with new clients, it will make things crazy busy around September. And I think some clients will continue with remote meetings even after everything opens up again since they’re discovering they can keep the business going with everyone working from home when they didn’t really think they could.

What are your biggest concerns right now?

DR | I’m not terribly concerned, but I am eager for a return to some normalcy.

TC |With regard to work, summer is always more of a quiet time.  Schools of all levels are recessed, and, for me, sporting events and conferences will not be happening; so I know this will be more subdued than usual.  I feel very blessed to be working, period.  I count my blessings every day.

AHM | As has been the case since the 1990s when I originally went to court reporting school, there is a looming threat of technology-based competition. Back in the 1990s, it was the threat of the tape recorder! As students, we wondered if we’d have jobs in the future. Twenty years later and the job market for court reporters, as far as I can tell, is as strong as ever. The threat did not live up to the hype.

Now in the accessibility field of CART, there is the threat of automated speech-to-text technologies. There’s been a lot of improvement in this field, and I know a lot of money and effort is being funneled into this endeavor. There’s also a lot of hype, but to this point, once again, it’s not lived up to the hype. A quality CART provider is still better than any automated system by far, and no automated system can provide true accessibility in almost every circumstance, in my experience and opinion. Will this always be true? I’m not sure. If not, how long will this be the case? Again, I don’t know. Will it even matter “which is better” or truly provides accessibility, or will businesses/organizations/schools just use cheaper automated options without ramifications via legislation or losing lawsuits? Again, I don’t know, but I believe it may be this piece that is most important of all.

I am 43 years old right now. I hope to have CART captioning as my career for another 20 years. I can’t imagine myself doing something else! And I do believe I will be able to finish my career out in this field. But the conversations have started in the back of my mind, if I had to do something else, what would it be? Maybe I should start planning for those things, not because I think it will for sure happen, but because it’s good to have backups. Just like with our equipment needs, emergencies happen, unexpected things happen, and we need to be prepared, nimble, and flexible.

MKB | If you mean business wise, just hoping to stay busy! My two biggest concerns with working remotely is internet stability and good audio. I have no control over my internet provider, and the occasional outage creates havoc. And I never feel as though the audio quality working remotely is as good as being in person. It just isn’t. Now even more so, because everyone is calling in remotely and the background noises — the kids screaming and the dogs barking and pots clanging because people are calling from their kitchen, and so on — makes our job more difficult.

Personally, like everyone, I guess hoping family and friends stay well, physically and mentally. And for me, since I live alone and work alone, I really miss being able to get out in my free time and be with people! I love music, so that helps. And so do all the Zoom happy hours with friends and family!

Do you have any advice for captioners right now?

DR | Keep your sense of humor and stay in touch with colleagues from time to time. We aren’t together, but we are all in this together. Our clients and consumers still need us, maybe even more than ever!

TC | This is a difficult time, full stop. We are all trying to find our way in our lives, in our relationships, in our careers. Being versatile and flexible in our work is vital. Now is the time to hone your craft and build more skills. If there is a software program you need to get up to speed on, a piece of equipment you have been meaning to procure, a more efficient way to write something that you have been wanting to focus on, this is that time.

BN | Continually improve your skill. ASR has improved; so we need to improve as well. Clients have high expectations, and it’s our job to meet those expectations. Build your dictionaries, work toward additional certifications, and familiarize yourself with advanced software capabilities. Also, learn how to integrate your captions into online platforms such as Zoom, Adobe Connect, Blackboard Collaborate, and YouTube.

AHM | Do everything you can to be the best you can be at what you do. Network as much as you can, which, especially remotely, can be hard. Especially as one who is naturally introverted as I am, it can be doubly especially hard! But if one door closes, networking is the best place to find a new one open. Lastly, live in gratefulness. You have an awesome job, doing awesome and important work! I feel so blessed to get the opportunity to be my own boss, working from home, making a decent enough wage to support my family, and I hope you have the same experience. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but I know right here and now it’s a wonderful life.

MKB | I remember feeling overwhelmed when I started working remotely. It seems the technology of it all can be daunting. It still is, actually. But then I was born BC, before computers. (I’ll be 65 next month.) For younger captioners, that part of it might be a piece of cake. But you’re already a captioner; so you’ve conquered the hard part! Working remotely gives you a great opportunity to be of service, just using a different methodology. You have a great skill, you are needed, and it is just as rewarding as working in person, even more so now in this COVID-19 world. I used to tell myself that the only person stopping me was me. So jump right in. The water’s fine! If I can do it; so can you!

Reporting a PGA Golf Tournament

Deborah Kriegshauser with Hale Irwin.

NCRA member Deborah Kriegshauser, FAPR, RMR, CRR, CRC, CLVS, shares a memory of one of her most unusual jobs.

JCR | When and where was the job?

DK | I was asked to caption media interviews of the Senior PGA Golf Tournament players at the Boone Valley (Members Only) Golf Course in Augusta, Mo., in 2000.

JCR | What made the job unique?

DK | It was literally the middle of nowhere. They couldn’t find any freelancer who would accept the job as they were not wanting to pay in cash but, instead, provide four tournament passes to the four-day event, which included celebrity golf tournaments with the PGA players before the big tournament began. In doing so, I personally got to meet Arnold Palmer, along with Tom Watson, Tom Kite, Chi-Chi Rodríguez, and many big-name players. As they came off the golf course each day, they would be interviewed individually, and I would report the interview and provided instantaneous transcripts to the media folks for their use in their articles and TV programs. 

JCR | Did anything else make the job memorable?

Kriegshauser with golfer Larry Nelson

DK | I would be there until dark, but the family and friends who used my tournament passes ended up winning all these attendance ticket prizes that the sponsors were giving away. They were sometimes the only ones left in the area, waiting on me to get done. They walked away with Adirondack chairs, coolers, you name it. It was a pretty awesome experience.

I have a pole flag that all the PGA players signed. It is very special to me. I’ve been told it’s worth a lot of money, especially with all the players who have passed away, including Arnold Palmer.

Deborah Kriegshauser, FAPR, RMR, CRR, CRC, CLVS, is an official reporter in Dallas, Texas.

Utah captioner helps her parents see resolution pass

Phoebe Moorhead with her parents,
Heidi and Clark Gaudette

Phoebe Moorhead, RPR, CRR, recently had a unique captioning experience when her parents got to see the passage of a resolution about captioning thanks to her captions in the House of Representatives. She and her coworker, Cecilee Wilson, RDR, CRR, CRC, told the JCR Weekly more about it.

JCR | Where do you live and what is your position?

PM | I live in Ogden, Utah. I’m a freelance court reporter and captioner. I caption the live online stream of the Utah legislative general session for the House of Representatives every spring. This is our second year covering the legislature, and last year was the first year the session was captioned by an in-house captioner.

CW | I live in Kaysville, Utah. I own Captions West, Inc., a captioning company that was established in 1994. A year ago, Utah’s legislature began in-house captioning of their floor sessions for their 45-day legislative session, and Captions West received the contract. They liked our work and we came back this year.

JCR | What happened with the captioning resolution?

PM | [Utah] HR 3 was a House resolution brought by Rep. Dan Johnson encouraging the use of captions on televisions in public venues. It passed unanimously through the House. 

Phoebe Moorhead, left, and Cecilee Wilson

CW | Rep. Dan Johnson, who sponsored the resolution, is in the office next to mine and knew that Phoebe and I do the captioning of the sessions, and we have chatted at times about captioning. Some of his constituents suggested he run this resolution, and he came up with an excellent bill that addresses the need of having captioning on in public places where captioning could be seen. Hopefully, this will expand education about captioning and expand the call for captioning in public places and in public venues. The resolution passed the House of Representatives, and the citation was read on the floor of the House. As it was only a House resolution, it did not go on to the Senate.

JCR | What is your personal connection to this bill?

PM | My parents are both deaf, and my first language was ASL. I learned to read from the captions on television. My father is a strong advocate for accessibility and captioning for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community in Utah. I knew the passage of this bill would mean a lot to him. The bill was put on the “time certain calendar,” which meant that we knew ahead of time when it would be debated on the house floor. I let my parents know what time it was scheduled for, and they went online to watch it. My parents were able to read the captioning, and we all celebrated together when it passed.

My parents are proud to tell anyone who will listen: “My daughter is a captioner.” Equal access through availability of captions is a subject my parents and I are passionate about, with me as the provider and them as the consumers. As the bill was being presented and my fingers were flying, I couldn’t help but feel an enormous amount of gratitude for the ability to do my job and for the impact my job has on the lives of my parents.

Chabad Lubavitch captioning assignment

By Rivka Teich

On Sunday, Nov. 24, I stepped out of my comfort zone. I did my very first closed captioning event.

Let me give you some background. My name is Rivka Teich, and I am an Orthodox Jewish court reporter. As a matter of fact, I am the only Orthodox Federal reporter in the country. I’ve been a court reporter for the last 20+ years, with nearly all of those years in Federal court. I’m currently in Brooklyn, Eastern District of New York. I do realtime every day and hold NCRA’s Registered Merit Reporter and a realtime certificate. I’m comfortable and confident in my work every day.

The event I captioned was the Gala Banquet put on by Chabad Lubavitch headquarters. Chabad Lubavitch is one of the largest global Jewish organizations. They have emissaries (rabbis and their families) who are in all parts of the world, including more than 100 countries and in every state in the United States. These rabbis create a Jewish community and atmosphere, providing Jewish activities and classes, establishing schools, and providing kosher food. The list could go on and on.

And once a year all of these rabbis, more than 5,000, come back to their base (Crown Heights, Brooklyn) for a long weekend of classes, seminars, and encouragement from one another. And at the end of the weekend, on Sunday, they have a beautiful, uplifting Gala Banquet. At this banquet, all the rabbis join, many bringing their friends and people from their community along, raising the attendance to close to 6,000 people, making it the largest rabbinical conference in the world.

Rabbi Yehoshua Soudakoff with Rivka Teich

One of those 5,000 rabbis is Rabbi Yehoshua Soudakoff. And he is deaf. Soudakoff is originally from California and currently lives in Israel with his wife, Cheftziba, who is also deaf. Together they run the Chabad for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community in Rishon L’tzion. The name of their organization is Chushima, which is a reference to the Biblical figure, Chushim Ben Dan, who was deaf; additionally, the word Chushim in Hebrew means senses.

For Soudakoff to fully participate and enjoy the evening with his fellow rabbis, the CART was displayed on the screens around the exposition hall. The Ruderman Chabad Inclusion Initiative funded the closed captioning and helped guide these efforts for the past five years. In addition to the screens in the room for the 6,000 people to watch, it was also being broadcast live on the internet for those watching at home (100,000+ people) with closed captioning.

This was a big deal. And it was not simple to hire just any CART captioner, because about 40 percent of the words were not in English. They were a mix of Hebrew and Yiddish and a slew of phrases and words that are commonly spoken between Orthodox Jews. The reporter had to be someone familiar with that lexicon and ready for it. So that definitely narrows down the pool.

In the past another reporter, Rikki Woonteiler of Brooklyn, N.Y., who is a CART captioner, did the captioning. But she was out of the country, and so the organizers reached out to me.

I strongly believe that you need to keep challenging yourself and improving. Yes, it’s nice to float along and to be comfortable in your work, but not too comfortable. And that was how I was starting to feel day to day at work, too comfortable. Give me a narcotics trial, a securities fraud trial, a terrorist trial — and I got it! But this was a whole new territory for me with words and phrases that I hardly hear or write at work.

So, naturally, I accepted. Now came the hard work.

I was given most of the speeches ahead of time. And so I wrote them, and wrote them, and wrote them again. Over and over and over again. I also went back to previous banquets online and practiced past speeches. I put more than 700 words into my case-specific dictionary. I was definitely doing my homework and being as prepared as can be.

In addition to the physical practicing, I had to figure out my software and work with the IT people at the convention to change over from court reporting software to captioning software. That was a whole new world for me, too. That took time. And there was a lot of trial and error. Of course, I did not wait until game day, and it all went smooth when we hooked up at the event.

Yes, I had the speeches, but – spoiler alert – most people did not stay on script. As a matter of fact, there was an entire Q&A before the evening of an interviewer going around the room and asking participants where they are from and some questions.

There was a lot of quick thinking. Realizing I didn’t have a specific name in my dictionary, I had to finger spell it. And these are not “John Smith” names, but rather “Rabbi Shmuel Yitzchak Jenkelowitz from Krgyzstan.” That was fun!

Plus if a Hebrew word or phrase was said that I hadn’t prepared for, I would write the English of it instead. So it wasn’t just hearing words and writing them. There was a lot of analyzing going on all at the same time.

Right before we started, Soudakoff came over to me with his ASL interpreter to thank me. That was so special. That was a clear reminder of why the closed captioning was so important. As Soudakoff said on social media: “Accessibility is not just for those who need it. Accessibility brings together an entire community and includes all of its members. That’s why I’m thrilled that the captioning won’t just be in front of me at the Chabad Emissaries Gala Banquet I’m attending tonight. It will be on the screens around the room – sending a message of community-wide inclusion and unity.”

Was I nervous? Yes, yes, yes. It was all so new compared to what I’m used to and confident at. But in the end, that was the biggest accomplishment for me: I put myself out there and I did it. And I did it well. I have been thinking of moving into the closed captioning world but hadn’t done it ever; and now I jumped in with two feet, in the deep end. And I made it!

My take-away is: Go out of your comfort zone. Put yourself out there. Take a leap of faith. It will be uncomfortable, but you’ll gain the confidence that you did it.

Rivka Teich, RMR, is an official court reporter in Brooklyn, N.Y.

What has NCRA done for captioners?

By Carol Studenmund

I live in Portland, Ore., and I am one of the owners of LNS Court Reporting and LNS Captioning along with Robin Nodland. I manage LNS Captioning, and she manages LNS Court Reporting. I began captioning in 1992. I’ve had the joy of captioning two Super Bowls for fans and players in the stadiums, and I have had the heartbreak of captioning way too many mass shooting events. In between are many hours listening to the public testify at city council meetings and inconsequential but sweet stories about kittens and puppies. I love my job and would not trade it for anything.

Evolution of a captioner

I can trace the evolution of captioning in my own personal development.

In April 1992 I attended the first NCRA realtime writing conference, held in Seattle, Wash. The staff of the National Captioning Institute and VITAC took about 200 people through the paces of writing in real time without conflicts or undefined steno. At this conference, I found a path to follow to become a live captioner. From this foundation, I and many others started our immersion into the pool of qualified live captioners.

In July 1992, at the NCRA convention in Chicago, I sat for the brand-new Certified Realtime Reporter examination, and I did not pass. I returned to take the test at the next convention and passed. Passing that test was hard, and I put a lot of work into being ready for it the second time around. I gained a ton of confidence in my writing and my ability to stay cool under pressure.

In 1994, I was asked to participate in a training conference held by NCRA. Over the next few years, I traveled the country as part of a team of NCRA members who trained even more people to become great realtime writers, and many of them joined the world of live captioning. The people I taught with inspired me to keep working on my writing, and still I consider them mentors who could help answer my questions about so many topics relating to captioning. I have benefited greatly from the training, the certification, and the networking I have found through NCRA.

Captioners were a part of NCRA from the beginning

A meme going around the social media world of live captioning asks: “What has NCRA ever done for captioning?” Trust me, a great amount of energy and hard work on behalf of NCRA leadership and members built the foundation for the field of professional, certified live captioners.

Marty Block, RPR (Ret.), then of the National Captioning Institute, provided the first live captioning on live television in the world for the 1982 Academy Awards ceremony. No faxes or emails were sent with prep material. Someone from NCI flew to Los Angeles to pick up — literally — the Oscars’ script for Marty. Marty went on to become president of NCRA and one of the founders of VITAC. Other past presidents of NCRA who are or were captioners include Joe Karlovits, RDR (Ret.); Judy Brentano, RPR (Ret.); Kathy DiLorenzo, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC; and Karen Yates, FAPR, RPR, CRR, CRC.

Karlovits became the first person to caption for a deaf lawyer when that lawyer argued a case before the United States Supreme Court in 1982. His work received a great deal of publicity across the country. Many firsts in captioning were celebrated by the community of people with hearing disabilities as more and more TV programs and other live events became accessible.

Advocating for captioning

In the early 2000s, NCRA helped obtain funding for Mississippi State University to develop a workforce development program for captioning. Jan Bounds oversaw an excellent bachelor’s degree in a court reporting program at Ole Miss. The Mississippi Congressional delegation went to bat for a $500,000 grant to create this program to train court reporters to become live captioners. NCRA threw its weight behind this effort, led by Dave Wenhold, then our lobbyist, now our Executive Director. Ole Miss hired EduCaption, Inc., out of Atlanta, to create and implement the program. Past president Judy Brentano and current NCRA board member Heidi Thomas, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC, created the program and toured the country to train captioners. When I come across someone trained in this program, their résumé goes to the top of the pile. EduCaption has moved around over the years and is now known as Learn to Caption, which is run by NCRA member Anissa Nierenberger, RPR, CRR, CRC, CRI. NCRA has lobbied Congress for retraining funds year after year, funds which helped many realtime writing programs become established across the country.

NCRA develops a certification program for captioners

In 2003, the Certified CART Provider and Certified Broadcast Captioner program began by providing CRR holders with a written knowledge test that demonstrated the test candidate’s knowledge of working in the broadcast world and/or the CART captioning world. Many captioners quickly took both exams and obtained both certifications. By 2015 the CRR became a true judicial reporter exam by becoming a testimony-only skills test. The Certified Realtime Captioner program was launched in 2015, when the two written knowledge tests were combined into one exam, and the skills portion of the certification became a test at 180 words per minute with a 96 percent accuracy rate required to pass.

NCRA has worked throughout the years to raise awareness of our certification programs, including the CRC. As a result of that work, I have replied to several Requests for Proposals that specifically required captioners to be holders of our CRC as part of the contract.

NCRA building best practices for captioning

In 2012, the Canadian Radio Television Commission (CRTC) created a caption accuracy program that just about all live captioners — in Canada and the United States — felt was draconian and onerous. Just to state the obvious, live captioners do not control what is being said on TV. We cannot tell the weather guy to slow down. We caption what we are given. We all strive for 100 percent accuracy for 100 percent of the words. However, people talk over each other. Politicians yell at each other. It’s part of the job. The CRTC’s plan involved CRTC staff obtaining the actual audio file of a TV program and the captions that were created by the live captioner assigned to that program. The staff person then would evaluate the captioner’s accuracy rate compared against the actual words said. When I’m racing to keep up, I will drop “okay” or someone repeating themselves, those types of things. Those would all be counted as errors against my accuracy rate.

That same year, I was the chairperson of the Captioning Community of Interest. My fellow committee members and I agreed we did not want anything like the Canadian plan to come to the United States. We decided to take the bull by the horns and control our futures. We created a document that outlined the roles of everyone involved in bringing live captioning to TV. When I am working as a captioner, what are my duties and responsibilities? When I am operating in my role as a firm owner, what must I make sure happens to get my captioners’ captions to the program on time and as accurately as possible? What roles do my local network affiliates and local cable providers play in getting our captions delivered to the viewers without any technical errors? We even included a part in this process for the caption consumer to provide feedback to the FCC about their experiences watching captioned programming.

Once Adam Finkel, our then-government relations staff person at NCRA, had vetted our Best Practices with the national organizations for people with hearing disabilities, we were ready to take our best practices to the next level: the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Finkel made an appointment with the FCC to share our Best Practices. Their response? “We love this.” We did not ask the FCC to grade papers. Our best practices scenario let everyone know what part of the process they were responsible for. In 2015, the FCC’s Rules for Broadcast Captioning Quality were approved and made into law.

Is there anything else I should know?

NCRA’s current president, Max Curry, RPR, CRI, wants to bring as many captioners into NCRA as he can find. The more members we have, the more work NCRA can do on behalf of us all. I urge you, if you are a captioner and haven’t earned the CRC, put that on your to-do list and work hard to pass that test. If you have already earned the CRC, continue your education. There is always more to learn about this great, big world of ours, and you never know what will come up when you caption. If you work with other captioners, encourage them to become members of NCRA and to earn these certifications. Together, we can do wonderful things.

Carol Studenmund, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC, is a captioner based in Portland, Ore., and chair of the NCRA Captioning Regulatory Policy Committee. She can be reached at cstudenmund@LNSCaptioning.com.

Reps. Kind and Davis introduce bill to reauthorize the Training for Realtime Writers Act

Rep. Ron Kind of Wisconsin and Rep. Rodney Davis of Illinois introduced bipartisan legislation on Dec. 6 that will reauthorize a grant program to encourage careers in realtime writing and court reporting. In 2007, Rep. Kind introduced the Training for Realtime Writers Act, which was passed and signed into law as part of the Higher Education Act of 2008.

The grant program allows colleges and universities to apply for funding specifically to help encourage more students to pursue a career in realtime writing, closed captioning, or court reporting. Around 48 million Americans are deaf or hard-of-hearing, and many of them rely on captioning services for news and information.

“From maintaining the integrity of our democracy to ensuring every citizen stays up to date on today’s 24-hour news cycle, realtime writers are vital to folks everywhere,” said Kind. “Over the past decade, this program has encouraged a new generation of realtime writers to enter this vital field. I am proud to work across the aisle with Rep. Davis to reauthorize this program so we can continue to increase awareness and interest in this profession.”

“The Training for Realtime Writers grant is an important grant program that ensures we have the necessary resources to train court reporters and captioners for the estimated 48 million Americans who are deaf or impacted by hearing loss,” said Davis. “These funds have been incredibly successful in training the current generation of captioners and court reporters by modernizing curriculums, developing new captioning-specific programs, and increasing attendance at institutes of learning through student recruitment, scholarships, advertisements, equipment upgrades, and distance learning programs. I’m proud to be introducing this legislation to reauthorize this program with my colleague, Rep. Kind, and look forward to working to ensure it is included as the House tackles Higher Education Reauthorization this Congress.”

Read the bill text here.

Captioning the Mormon Tabernacle Choir

By Debbie Dibble


Sesame Street characters showed up for the Tabernacle Choir Show
Photo © The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

After a career full of unusual cases, including surfers in New Zealand, terrorists in the Philippines, and Saudi princes in Grand Cayman, I was sure I had done it all. But captioning the Mormon Tabernacle Choir — or The Tabernacle Choir on Temple Square as it is now called — is a uniquely gratifying and challenging experience, particularly when special guests, like the cast of “Sesame Street” or Frozen, pop in for a performance. Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Count von Count, Ernie, Bert, and Elmo were unbelievably challenging, but Rosita and Zoe just about did me in! Their quick-fire, Spanish-accented repartee can be a captioner’s nightmare — but make for great stories if you survive!

Since 1929 – nearly the lifetime of radio – the Tabernacle Choir has been a phenomenon of broadcasting. Its “Music & the Spoken Word” is the longest continuous broadcast on the air. This show is broadcast – and captioned – every Sunday morning at 9:30 a.m. Mountain Time. It is a half-hour show that is mostly music. As the captioner, I have the arrangements – with words – provided ahead of time for prescripting. It’s not a complicated broadcast to caption, but each show is different and has its own distinct challenges. The Christmas Concert each year, with invited celebrities and special themes, is always quite the spectacle. There are also periodic holiday specials as well as programs to honor dignitaries, veterans, historic events, and whenever else there is cause to celebrate with music. I find that each broadcast comes with new obstacles that require creative solutions, and I grow as a professional while I work with my team of engineers and producers to find ways to provide the best product for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community.

How did I end up with this dream gig? The simple answer is: Credentials! About 10 years ago, when the Utah state courts converted their entire system from official stenographers to electronic recording, it was obvious I needed to take steps to increase my skills and, therefore, my value in the freelance market, and to become proficient as a certified captioner. I educated myself and passed both of the NCRA captioning certifications offered at the time: the Certified CART Provider (CCP) and the Certified Broadcast Captioner (CBC). Within a month of receiving those two designations, I was informed of this opportunity and that they were only looking for those with my new credentials to fill the position.

Moving from depositions into captioning hymns and sermons required a substantial learning curve. Sure, I had captioned the news, but this was an entirely new environment. They used different software that toggled between live and prescripted work. I needed to learn about pop-on, paint-on, three-line roll-up, how to use musical notes, and so many new elements, like how to clear the screen in a hurry. I look back on how daunting it seemed to me when I started—during my first show I told them I quit three times—and now, seven years later, I can flip and fly between cells and programs seamlessly and without breaking a sweat!

The Tabernacle Choir with the Sesame Street characters. Photo ©The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

I work with a huge team of engineers, producers, and directors, and supervise a team of captioners that provide captioning in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and French. They have all helped in my journey of education and progress, and together we have created new solutions to provide a better experience for those that we serve. Sometimes we aid an even broader group than just the deaf and hard-of-hearing in the audience. During one broadcast, there was a speaker who was struggling with debilitating health issues. He was in a wheelchair and could hardly speak above a whisper. His voice was gravelly and very difficult to understand. I later learned that one of the dignitaries in attendance was struggling to hear and asked his grandson if he could understand what was said. The grandson began to repeat the words verbatim. Later, when the youngster was asked how he had possibly heard all that, his reply was, “I had the closed captions on!” This individual was a high-profile leader in the organization, and his experience spread like wildfire. It was great exposure for our unmatched skills!

This has been an incredibly fulfilling experience for me both personally and professionally. My skills improve with every broadcast, each new project, and every new challenge. I have learned so much from colleagues both in the court reporting and captioning industry as well as the engineers and producers on my team. They have taught me how my duties interact with their jobs, and we all have become more keenly aware of what a critical part the immediate access to captions play. One engineer, after hearing the story of the grandson reading my captions, decided that captioning should be offered to all attendees in the main hall. He worked with a caption delivery system to develop a new platform that would support simultaneous connections to 25,000 mobile devices, where the prior system had only been capable of supporting a few hundred.

While providing captions is itself a rewarding experience, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that this choice assignment has afforded me a front-row seat to performances by incredible talents such as James Taylor, David Archuletta, Donny Osmond, Gladys Knight, Kristen Chenoweth, Tom Brokaw, Walter Cronkite, and so many more. This profession, our profession, opens doors to learning and lifetime experiences unlike any other. It is truly the greatest profession on earth! Never stop learning and never stop working to improve your skills. You never know when the next great opportunity will present itself.

Debbie Dibble, RDR, CRR, CRC, is a freelancer and captioner based in Salt Lake City, Utah, as well as NCRA’s Vice President. In addition to the NCRA certifications listed above, she has earned NCRA’s Realtime System Administrator certification and the state certified shorthand reporter credentials for Utah, California, Nevada, and Texas. She can be reached at ddib06@gmail.com.

Captioner ready for supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

Cynthia Hinds, CRC, and her daughter Katie

Cynthia Hinds, CRC, a captioner from Mabank, Texas, recently posted the following on Facebook about an experience she had during a captioning job:

One of my favorite clients to work for was doing a college visit day for 1,300 families. With so many people, she had to keep talking while all those people filed into different places. So, she decided to have a little fun with the captioner. You know how hard it is to think of my answer and keep up with what she is saying? Nice light-hearted start to the weekend 📷

I also want to thank our realtime captionist.
How many of you have seen realtime captioning before?
Okay.
So, I didn’t realize before I started working here at [name of school] that the captionist is not sitting behind a screen.
They actually can be anywhere in the country.
So, captionist, welcome.
And where are you from?
>> Captioner: From Dallas, Texas.
The captionists are always from a warm climate.
Slightly warmer than what we have today.
What’s the forecast in Dallas?
>> Captioner: Around 60 and sunny.
I am jealous.
But I am headed down to Dallas later this month, so hopefully that warm weather continues.
Another fun thing about the captioning is that they have to type any word that I say.
So if I say, Supercalifragilistic-Expialidocious they have to type that on the screen.
>> Captioner: Very funny.
Wow, I’m impressed.
Thank you for being such a good sport.

The JCR Weekly reached out to Hinds to get more information about what was happening that day.

JCR | What is your captioning background?

 CH | I’ve been captioning since 1996. I was hired by the National Captioning Institute (NCI) while I was waiting on my Texas exam results. I packed up at 24 and headed to the Washington, D.C., suburbs, where they trained me thoroughly and put me on the air. I worked for them for 10 years, VITAC for five, and then began my independent career. I captioned broadcast in the beginning of my career until I left VITAC. Then when I went independent, I found so much work in the CART side of things, so I do mostly that and moonlight with a little broadcast captioning on the side. Truthfully, it feels like the lines between these two sides of captioning are more and more blurred, so I end up doing it all. In the past few weeks, I’ve done a tech-con, a college admissions pitch, a support group for students, a nursing class, a broadcast of a video game tournament, a few college district board meetings, several government meetings of different agencies and levels, a training webinar, several hours of Fox News, basketball game arena announcements, and a hockey game broadcast — all from my home. I also went recently to caption the Dallas Hearing Foundation’s Fundraising Gala event pro bono. My friend runs the charity, so I’ve done that for the last 11 years. That little job includes my fast-talking friend (she should know better; we met in court reporting school for Pete’s sake!) and, the golden jewel of the night – a live auction. Finger gymnastics! So, yeah, I caption it all.

 JCR | How do you feel when you are captioning and the speaker addresses you directly?

 CH | When they do start to play with us, the tangle of trying to think of the answer to the question and trying to remember what they said to write it becomes the new game. I have a few thoughts that can really turn the pressure up. One, try not to make it awkward by making them wait too long for a response; two, now all eyes are on your words, so don’t screw it up! Three, this is a chance for captions to be spotlighted, meaning, not just the words, but the incredible service it is for so many people.

I love it when people “play” with us. I really do. But the pressure increases and then that magic thing we do where the words stream through our ears, almost seemingly to bypass our brains and emerge from our fingers gets interrupted. When I had to think of an answer, it now had to go through the obstacle course that is my brain. I’m a 48-year-old single mom! Entering the brain forbidden forest could mean the words wouldn’t make it out to my fingers. 

When she started talking about the captioner, my ears perked up. Here’s what I know: If they want to show off captioning, which I actually like since so many folks think artificial intelligence is putting those lovely words on the screen, they almost always play with words, and of course they’re never normal, everyday words. And one word they love to say is supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. The job had been fairly easy. I hate to say auto pilot, because, well, they’re never that easy. But cruising along and it was wrapping up. I was in my robe, and I forgot my fuzzy socks. It was Saturday morning and as soon as I finished that job, I had to get ready for the gala job, including really dressing and getting all my equipment there. So when I got out of bed that morning, I just threw on the robe. My toes were cold. In Dallas, we had a cold blast, but I could see the sun through my window, so I could tell it was nice and bright. I usually throw my curtains open, but, for whatever reason, I didn’t that morning. So when she asked what the weather was, I had to rely on some distant fuzzy memory of it being a nice weekend, even though clearly, it was cool. My toes were cold! I ended up guessing pretty accurately … 60 and sunny.

Most of my captioner friends have a brief for supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. I don’t. I don’t know why, my brain just likes the clear path from hear the word to send the word to the fingers. It works for me. So I write it out in squeezed parts – SUP/CAL/FRAG/EXP/YAL/DOSHES. In captioning to an encoder, you have 32 character spaces across a line of text. That’s it. So at NCI, Darlene Parker, FAPR, director, steno, captioning & realtime relations, and Karen Finkelstein, realtime manager, had me put it in hyphenated in two parts so it could go partly on one line and partly on the next and still be readable since the word is 34 characters. So that old outline was in there and I was feeding an encoder, so I knew it had to have a break in the middle. Good ole NCI training saves the day again.

I would never ever interject unless I was being directly addressed. There’s so much thought in those moments. So many consumers want you to sort of be the fly on the wall, a simple conduit of communication. They want others to see them and interact with them, not the captioner. It’s not my role to speak for them or do anything else but convert the spoken word (and sometimes ambient sounds) to the written form so they can receive what they need to get through their day. So, it is odd when we are called on to “speak” for ourselves. But I knew what she was doing; she was playing with me and trying to be entertaining while she waited for hundreds of people to scatter and go in different directions. And I am a jokester. Sincerely, I love to banter. So I saw my chance in the right place and went for it. I could hear the laughter in the crowd.

Albuquerque City Council approves closed captioning ordinance

Albuquerque, N.M.,  businesses will now face a fine if they don’t turn on the closed captioning on any TV that is open to public viewing, according to an article posted Nov. 18 by KRQE Media.

Read more.