StreamText and Zoom

By Teresa Russ

Since the pandemic, Zoom and StreamText are as popular as peanut butter and jelly.

End users to first-time users are asking questions or offering suggestions on how to best use these two platforms. The developers of StreamText have listed on their website many frequently asked questions, such as, “Can screen readers read my realtime text in the player?” to “This is a long event and another realtime writer is going to help me. Can we switch writers without interruption?” And the answer is, “Yes! You can seamlessly change writers during a live event. For events that span long periods of time, you can easily pass control to a new writer. Just click on the event control and select the new writer for the event.”

Here is one discussion that appeared on Facebook. I myself had a question on how to prevent losing captioning while using Zoom. The question was asked on June 7, 2020, and Nicole Terlizzi Kochy, RPR, CRR, CRC, a CART captioner in Edison, N.J., said, “Did you try just straight into the box without StreamText? It’s a little more of a pain for the captioner, but it looks nice for the consumer with no delay. I find with StreamText only one line pops on at a time, and then it disappears, or if they are sending the Zoom to Facebook Live, the captions seem to disappear regardless. My personal preference is to give them a separate StreamText link, but I find consumers like it best directly into the box.”

As the discussion continued, more Facebook users chimed in. Mike Rowell, RDR, CRR, CRC, a freelance captioner in Placerville, Calif., shared this when someone asked about paragraphing: “Every time you send through a new paragraph, it wipes the subtitle box for the other viewers. If you’re fairly new to captioning directly to Zoom, I recommend setting up a test session using two devices and two separate Zoom logins. Caption from one and view subtitles from the other. I’ve seen some advice that you should include a new paragraph with every period or question mark in order to avoid accidentally filling up the box, but this is very problematic for a reader relying on subtitles who has a different view of the subtitles than the captioner.”

Rowell is very comfortable with the various platforms. When I contacted him and asked about the various platforms, he said, “There’s also Blackboard Connect, which works a lot like direct to Zoom, and there’s a way to do direct into Zoom with StenoKeys while also sending a separate stream to StreamText in a standalone window. Using multiple outputs in CaseCAT translation settings, you can write StenoKeys to Zoom and ASCII to StreamText at the same time.

“Still another option is to set it up so everything from StreamText flows into Zoom. It involves telling StreamText which Zoom URL to use, using something called an API token that you can pick up in Zoom once the host uses the ‘Assign to Type’ function.”

Denise L., a CART captioner, when asked about using the two platforms said, “The tough part about breakout rooms is you have to be assigned a new API token to embed the captions on the breakout room and do it again when going back to the main room.”

Nicholas Wilkie of StreamText said he gets a variety of questions on Zoom. I asked Wilkie whether there will be any update to the API token, and he said that Zoom has not released anything as of today. He said “Zoom is not really a CART platform.” However, what he likes is its “ease of use.” It’s remarkable that we have this technology available, especially now. Wilkie shared that users can find summary tools on Facebook, YouTube, as well as on their website to learn the different functions of using Zoom and StreamText.  

It’s always nice to have options. Wilkie said that StreamCast is used a lot. StreamCast is an application designed to allow you to overlay captions onto any application that does not have native captioning support. The application is similar to Text On Top but allows a direct feed from StreamText.Net. You don’t need to do anything special to the event when you schedule it. Just start the application and set the event name to the event you want to StreamCast

You can find information on how to use StreamCast on StreamText.Net. One really nice feature about StreamCast is that it stays on top, and you never lose the text, and it “looks great.” He said he does not get a lot of questions because users can learn how to manipulate the features. Another nice feature is that the user can use StreamText along with StreamCast at the same time. This allows the client to pick what they prefer.

(Excerpts taken from StreamText.Net)

Teresa Russ, CRI, is a CART Captioner and freelance reporter in Bellflower, Calif.

Behind the tech of captioning for Coachella and Stagecoach

By Jackie Hippolyte

NCRA member and captioner Stanley Sakai, CRC, helped us delve into the technical aspects of his collaboration with captioner Isaiah Roberts, RPR, on the Coachella and Stagecoach captioning projects.

Stan’s friendship with Isaiah began on Facebook and later blossomed when they met at an NCRA Convention & Expo. The Coachella and Stagecoach projects in early 2019 were their first work-related collaboration.

Stan’s background

Much of Stan’s background is self-taught. In 2011 when Plover was in its infancy stage, he purchased a Gemini machine of eBay and took it to class. From there, he started to build his dictionary and the beginning of his captioning career.

As with captioning, Stan was also a self-starter with regards to software programming. It was actually his frustration with an experience that led him to pursue this arena, and his skills developed from there. Stan wanted a better way to live stream captioning — something that was clean and worked on the web where he could stream text on a web platform versus asking the user to download the software on an application.

In 2015, after facing some challenges with the equipment he was using while serving as a live cap- tioner in a web development course, he reached out to the course instructors and used their feedback and instructions, along with some of his own research, to teach himself how to program.

 The Coachella and Stagecoach projects … the beginning

In 2018, Isaiah had approached Coachella and in- quired about captioning services for their audience, and soon learned that no such services were current- ly being offered. Coachella admitted that previous captioning requests went unfulfilled as they were not familiar with the service and had not known where to begin.

In learning this, Isaiah offered his services and mentioned that he knew of someone with the techni- cal expertise (Stan), who could fulfill their captioning requirements. In a short amount of time, Stan had developed some code to match Coachella’s website branding (incorporating the use of his app “Meow”) and pitched a demo to Coachella’s team who were soon sold on the idea.

This solution basically paved the way for Coachel-la to provide captioning services to their audience via their app. The solution was perfect as it provided universal access to all, whether attendees needed captioning services or not as all attendees were re- quired to download the Coachella app.

For the full background story, read the first article on TheJCR.com titled Bringing captions to Coachella.

Stan explained a little more about some of the technology behind the projects.

The Skills

Soft skills

Although the success of the projects was obviously in part due to the combination of technological and live captioning skills, Stan admitted that soft skills also played an essential role in the project’s success.

Stan notes that although there are definitely other stenographers out there with the right skills to caption live concerts, it requires a certain personality and level of flexibility to perform captioning services in such an unpredictable and less than “calm” environment, and he was grateful that both he and Isaiah had prior experience with music festivals.

Teamwork

Stan also credits teamwork as being a key reason for the success of this project and says that Isaiah was definitely the mastermind behind the strategy and planning of the projects, while he, Stan, fulfilled the role as the technical guru, which made for a perfect tag team.

Technology:

Start of Coachella project

The initial calls with Coachella began in late 2018, and the official work phase began in January 2019. It took Stan and Isaiah approximately four months to complete the apps for Coachella and Stagecoach.

Stan did not have access to the back-end code of Coachella’s site to mimic their website branding, but he was easily able to develop the code from scratch within his app, Meow. With regards to Stagecoach, the app User Interface was different and required additional customization to match their website branding.

Steno/typing and editing software

Stan used Plover, an open source User Interface (UI) controller — from the Open Steno project — where a user can type into any window, using a keyboard as a steno machine. For web editing, he utilized Upwordly, a web interface editor which displayed directly in the clients app, like the ones for Coachella or Stagecoach.

Servers

The expected traffic for the Coachella app was approximately 130,000 attendees, which used a total of five servers — two in New York, two in Los Angeles, and one in San Francisco. Having multiple servers running the same app simultaneously ensured there was back up in place at all times, in the event one of the servers were to fail. The servers served over 1000 connections per minute (per server). A load test using utility called Artillery JS was conducted to simulate 10,000 users on the app at the same time.

The load on Coachella’s platform was approximately 700 connections per day and approximately 1,200 per day for Stagecoach.

Live streaming the lyrics

Stan and Isaiah were normally given the scripts to the songs twenty minutes beforehand, but in the usual fashion, they found a way to streamline the process to make it easier and more efficient. They created a large text file of all the songs beforehand (when possible). In typical tag team fashion, one would write the lyrics as they heard it to figure out what the song was playing, and when that was determined, the other would search for the lyrics online and would then copy and paste into the text file for upload to the app. If an artist ad-libbed, however, they would then caption the song live.

Some may be wondering how they handled lyrics in a foreign language? Well, there just so happened to be an artist who sang in Spanish  — J. Balvin — and fortunately Stan happens to speak fluent Spanish and had a Spanish dictionary.

Summary of technology used

■   Meow: JavaScript-based app created by Stan that displays live captioning. It buffers events from a local port that CAT software communicates on, and then translates them to object-based instructions that are rendered as text on website.

■   App plugin: Stan built a custom plugin to allow a connection between the app and Eclipse,

and the app and Catalyst. (See YouTube.com/ watch?v=PtlriHufTBA&t=2s for more informa- tion.)

■   Plover: Part of the Open Steno project, which is an open source stenography engine written in Python that allows users to use their keyboard as a steno machine.

■   Upwordly: A realtime transcription delivery tool and a content management system (CMS) for realtime stenographers.

■   Angular and React: Front-end development framework that allows the creation of dynamic web pages.

■   Web sockets connection: Communication pro- tocol that transmits the live text to the server to be sent out to the web page, without refreshing or pinging the server.

■   Artillery JS: A utility used to conduct load test- ing on the servers, simulating a specific amount of traffic/users.

■   Servers: Five servers managed using Docker swarm.

■   JavaScript: A programming language mostly known as the scripting language for web pages. It also works in some non-browser environ- ments, like Apache CouchDB and Adobe Acrobat.

■   Python: Another programming language often used to develop web pages and apps, Python is particularly helpful when building prototypes.

Finding his “sweet spot” and giving back

We asked Stan if he ever considered pursuing a career field as a software developer full time, and his response was that he has found the perfect “sweet spot” where he can use his assets both as a live captioner and program/software engineer to not only fulfill his career aspirations but also promote caption- ing through the use of technology.

In addition to finding that “sweet spot,” Stan says it was gratifying to be able to give back and showcase what is possible with captioning and technology.

Project Takeaways

Stan and Isaiah have created their own niche for captioning and hope to get others excited about the profession and its possibilities. This project with Coachella and Stagecoach was not only a rewarding and fun experience but has opened the door and created a variety of inquiries about the Open Steno Project, Plover, and ways to secure captioning jobs like Coachella.

Stan hopes that projects like Coachella and Stagecoach can put a modern take on the captioning profession and showcase it in a space beyond just depositions, by demonstrating both the collaborative and technical aspects of bringing a project together. Since this project launched, the duo team have been asked via social media if they planned to cover more stages in the future, which Stan says is definitely a possibility.

Stan’s thoughts and takeaways on how other professionals can find and seize opportunities:

• The key is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Always ask how the captioning community can assist with a venture.

 • Insight: Only a fraction of the hard of hearing community uses sign language, and captioning is not something many think about, so making others aware is vital.

• Partner with someone who has skills that you may not have. Be strategic and harness the strengths of the people around you. Stan said: “You cannot do everything on your own.”

• Think beyond your comfort zone — and take action beyond that vision.

Summary

We asked Stan about opportunities for future music festivals and he noted that since the main legwork is already developed, it would be easy enough to reproduce what he needs by just creating the front interface coding and formatting to match the branding of any client’s website.

With regards to his day-to-day, Stan admits he always looks for an easier way to do things and has created other shortcuts and plugins to streamline his daily work routine — such as emailing  files/transcripts, and more.

 Partners and Thanks to…

•   Ten Fifty was quite instrumental in this project and helped Stan and Isaiah connect with Coachella and also arrange all of their housing and other logistics.

•   Stan and Isaiah were fortunate enough to work with the digital production manger of Golden Voice, which produces Coachella.

•   Mirabai  Knight, RDR, CRR, CRC, is Stan’s mentor and the person who taught him steno.

Jackie Hippolyte is NCRA’s Web Communications Manager. She can be reached at jhippolyte@ncra.org.

Caption Masters program offers new opportunity for experienced CRC candidates

NCRA has announced that the Caption Masters program is now a prequalified training course for the Certified Realtime Captioner (CRC). For certification candidates who are experienced in the field, the addition of the Caption Masters program as an alternative to NCRA’s mandatory CRC workshop offers a new learning opportunity in meeting the requirements to earn the nationally recognized professional certification. Candidates completing the Caption Masters Training program from 2018 forward are eligible to take advantage of this new opportunity.

“NCRA is happy to announce this new opportunity for aspiring captioners pursuing the CRC credential. We recognize that the Caption Masters program provides training that further expands a candidate’s captioning skills,” said Cynthia Bruce Andrews, NCRA Senior Director of Education & Certification.

“At a time when professionally trained captioners are in extremely high demand, I’m excited to help reporters transition into captioning with LearnToCaption.com’s 16-week Caption Masters course. Taking and passing the CRC exam after the course will open doors to endless opportunities,” said Anissa Nierenberger, RPR, CRR, CRC, CRI, a captioner from Boise, Idaho, and owner of Caption Masters.

To earn the NCRA CRC certification, candidates must either complete the CRC Workshop or take the Caption Masters training program, as well as pass the NCRA Written Knowledge Test (WKT) and an online skills test for the CRC, which consists of literary matter at 180 words per minute.

The NCRA CRC Workshop is 10-and-a-half hours of online captioning education and is designed to prepare candidates relatively new to the captioning field for the CRC Written Knowledge Test, while the Caption Masters program provides a more intense curriculum of learning geared toward more experienced candidates.

Learn more information about the CRC certification and its requirements at NCRA.org/certification.

NCRA members share insights about captioning with the NGA

Karen Yates, FAPR, RPR, CRR, CRC

NCRA past President Karen Yates, FAPR, RPR, CRR, CRC, a captioner from Minden, Nev., and Carol Studenmund, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC, a captioner from Portland, Ore., and president of LNS Captioning, recently spoke via conference call with representatives from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) about court reporting and captioning and the challenges of creating transcriptions of audio events.

NGA is a combat support agency under the U.S. Department of Defense and a member of the U.S. intelligence community with the primary mission of collecting, analyzing, and distributing geospatial intelligence in support of national security. It was previously known as the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) until 2003.

Melissa J. Dicker, a researcher with NGA’s Imagery & Video Pod, reached out to NCRA to learn more about captioning as her team continues to work toward providing realtime captioning or transcription in support of the agency’s employees with hearing disabilities. NGA is working to ensure compliance with Section 508. Section 508 is an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which requires that information and communication technologies are accessible to employees and members of the public who have disabilities in a comparable manner to the access experienced by employees and members of the public without disabilities. Under Section 508, federal agencies provide accessibility for employees and members of the public when “procuring, developing, maintaining, or using information and communication technology.”

Carol Studenmund, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC

According to Yates and Studenmund, the call was fascinating and included at least five representatives from NGA, including staff from the IT, research, and reasonable accommodations departments, as well as a representative from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory (MIT-LL).

“NGA Research has been working on understanding how to comply with Section 508 for several years. They’ve evaluated multiple automated speech recognition (ARS) programs. The NGA contracted with an ASR research group at MIT Lincoln Laboratory (MIT-LL). MIT-LL knew quite a bit about voice writing and what we do with our machines. They had even checked out Eclipse and Stenograph’s programs and wanted to know why we didn’t use them both or why we picked one or the other,” said Studenmund, who chairs NCRA’s Captioner Subcommittee on Captioning Inclusivity, Captioning Regulatory Policy Committee, and also serves as co-chair of the Certified Realtime Captioner (CRC) Certification Committee.

Yates explained that the programs are expensive and complicated. The captioner doesn’t decide today I’ll use Eclipse and tomorrow’s job would be best captioned in Stenograph’s BCS. Studenmund shared her perspective that “Eclipse is the PC model of captioning software, with lots of options for completing a task. And Stenograph’s BCS is like the Apple of our industry. Stenograph will take a request and create one perfect solution for it. Just one solution but it’s great,” she explained.

 “It’s fair to say they were impressed with our certification programs for both court reporting and captioning,” Yates said. “We explained the technical side of each of our tests – Registered Professional Reporter (RPR) and CRC – and then explained the entire program, including the continuing education component and the ethics oversight.”

The NGA representatives asked many questions about the differences between court reporting and captioning and wanted to know about how quickly the captions display for viewers. Studenmund and Yates also explained to the group how captioners can’t tell speakers to slow down or speak up, especially when captioning a live TV show originated on the other side of the country. In contrast, they also explained how the court reporter is obligated to control the proceedings and tell people to slow down or speak one at a time.

“It was so cool to feel these smart, smart folks just soak up our information. They even asked us about our resilience, and how do we do it? How do we maintain our accuracy, etc.?” Studenmund noted.

“They used their in-house ASR program to caption some of their monthly employee meetings. They found their ASR system had 20 to 30 percent errors. They then had a transcriber create a final transcript from the ASR generated file. They knew that was not a good process. When we explained Eclipse’s new technology that allows AI to follow along with our audio and our steno notes to fix errors in process, the person from MIT – I think he gasped. He said that was amazing. He totally understood what we were talking about and understood how awesome that new feature is.”

Studenmund and Yates said the group expressed some concern about how to scale out to provide all the services they need to meet their mission. In response, Studenmund shared the story about the city of Portland’s history with captioning and how the services her company provides have grown in the 20 years since it began working with the city.

“When we started captioning for Portland City Council, we only captioned the official council meetings. Over time, the city understood they needed to expand the services. We now caption for about seven different bureaus and departments in the city, in addition to the council itself. We’ve watched with great interest our client expand the services without inundating itself with new workflows and procedures. It’s reasonable to roll out the services over some period of time. Inevitably lessons are learned that make the next expansion run more smoothly. The NGA group was really glad to hear that,” Studenmund said.

In the end, Studenmund and Yates said the representatives from NGA were pleased to learn more about NCRA and even asked for a history of captioning. A copy of our recent JCR article called “What’s NCRA ever done for Captioning?” has been sent to Ms. Dicker. She and her team were impressed with NCRA and all it has done for captioning.

“Yes, we have done quite a bit for captioning. And, yes, we’re professionals. I really hope good things for our profession result from this. Let’s get those students in the programs and out in the world of captioning,” Studenmund added.

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.