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.

Bringing captions to Coachella

Stan Sakai and Isaiah Roberts

By Heidi Renner

When Isaiah Roberts, RPR, Magnolia, Ill., thought he wrote the word lemon while captioning Ariana Grande’s performance at Coachella, he was a little concerned. Did she really say lemon? It turns out he was captioning the moment when someone in the crowd threw a lemon and hit Grande, which became a well-known moment at the music festival.

“I remembered writing lemon during Ariana’s performance and definitely thinking I misheard something,” he posted on Facebook. “Then my cab driver in LA today asked if I saw her get hit by the lemon, and instantly I felt a relief knowing why I did, in fact, write lemon followed by a bunch of expletives.”

Roberts and Stan Sakai, CRC, New York, N.Y., had the unique experience of captioning Coachella, an annual music festival in Indio, Calif. It is one of the biggest music festivals in the world. Then the next weekend they captioned Stagecoach, another music festival held in the same location. Roberts posted a video from Coachella that has been widely shared.

Roberts had looked at the ADA section of Coachella’s website and noticed it told people to reach out if they needed ASL or closed captioning. He sent an email asking if they offered captioning and who provided it? Coachella responded on a Monday saying they wanted to have a meeting to talk about it on Friday. Roberts called his friend Sakai, and they prepared for the meeting. Sakai had already built a website that allowed captioning to be accessed through an app. Sakai worked on making changes to his program to make it work with Coachella. Roberts said the two worked late into the night every night that week. They gave a demonstration Friday to the Coachella representatives over a video call.

“They were blown away,” Roberts said. The representatives recorded what they were seeing on the screen and then showed it to the festival directors. “We were on cloud nine,” Roberts said.

Sakai described it this way on Facebook: “After hundreds of hours of work, the Coachella and Stagecoach captioning systems are online and (nearly) ready to go! A five-server monstrosity spread across New York and California able to serve at peak 29,000 connections per minute, averaging 2,000 connections served per minute at saturation. This will be woven into their existing web and mobile platforms available to their 130,000 attendees, who will all be able to access the live captioning of mainstage performances right from their phones. As a team, Isaiah and I will be tag-teaming, between feeding out pre-scripted lyrics and live stenoing, handing off the baton depending on what’s thrown at us. And when people ask if technology will replace us, my answer to that is: no, we harness technology to keep us going!”

Because the captions were available through the festival app, they were available to everyone. All audience members were required to download the app to activate their wrist bands.

Isaiah Roberts

Roberts saw it as an opportunity to spread the word about court reporting and captioning.

“This is the thing I’m most excited about,” he said. “In trying to grow the profession, I speak to students, but does it really make the profession look appealing? Being at the major music festival really meant something.”

Rachel Meireis from Placentia, Calif., appreciated the captions. She had requested captioning at Stagecoach.

“I am late deafened,” Meireis said. “I lost my hearing in my 20s and wear bilateral cochlear implants to help me hear. But it can be iffy and makes it quite hard to know what’s going on at times. That situation gets complicated because I can sign but I am not fluent in ASL at all. Having access at the concert was amazing. I could keep up with what the performer said between songs and understand lyrics I have been hearing wrong on the radio. Having the captions stream to my phone was great too. It made me able to leave the ADA riser freely and move about the concert but still follow along. Stanley and Isaiah were so helpful and friendly though the whole process. I am very grateful they were able to make this work.”

Roberts said he had wondered who would be benefiting, and he was happy to meet Meireis. During Coachella there were 500 unique visitors viewing the captions. At Stagecoach, there were 400 on the first day. By the end of the weekend they had reached about 1,000 people.

“Hands down the best part was meeting Rachel and getting to meet a consumer of [the captioning],” Roberts said.

For the actual captioning, Roberts and Sakai would usually get a set list so they would look up lyrics ahead of time when possible. They had headphones directly hooked to the singer’s microphone. Sometimes the performer would start talking about other performers or the other people on stage with them, so Roberts and Sakai tried to prepare ahead of time for those things as much as they could. They worked together, captioning on both of their machines at the same time. Sometimes one person would write and the other would look up lyrics.

“It was as cool as I wanted it to be,” Roberts said. “I don’t know what could have gone better.”

Roberts urges other court reporters and captioners to make more of these opportunities happen. Coachella didn’t offer captioning until Roberts reached out to them.

“My takeaway is whatever event you are into, realize that under the ADA they need to offer this service,” Roberts said. “Advocate for yourself.”

Sakai and Roberts are hoping this is a beginning, and there will be more music festival work for them.

Sakai summarized the experience on Facebook: “COACHELLA RECAP: Between shoddy internet connections, knocked-over equipment from dudes getting tackled backstage, my laptop getting nailed by a flying rogue water bottle, or minor software issues, providing live captioning at Coachella was a resounding SUCCESS. Isaiah and I powered through and got the app online on all the monitors at the ADA platforms and on the official Coachella mobile app, captioned Spanish-language performers, and even spared a few moments to visit our friends. I’m still gobsmacked and star-struck by the weekend but can’t help to think that this is the beginning of something huge. We all worked hard but we’re both forever grateful for having had the opportunity to pioneer live-event captioning on this scale. A HUGE thank you to Isaiah for making this all possible, and as I’ve said before, I remain humbled and excited for what’s to come.”

Local television news station commended for providing captions during tornado

The State Journal Register, Springfield, Ill., posted an opinion piece on Jan. 4 that commends Channel 20 TV news for providing captioning services during the recent tornado crisis that hit its viewing area.

Read more.








Earn Professional Development Credits by offering pro bono CART services

NCRA members have the opportunity to earn Professional Development Credits (PDCs) by providing pro bono CART services under a collaborative program agreement with the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) that began in February. The program is intended to help HLAA chapters across the country provide quality CART for their monthly meetings in a more affordable way. The agreement will also help increase the awareness of CART captioning and its benefit for people with hearing loss.

Under the agreement, NCRA-certified captioners can earn 1.0 PDC as part of the 3.0 Continuing Education Credits required every three years. NCRA members who participate in the collaborative agreement program will be reimbursed the fee assessment by the HLAA chapter to register the PDCs.

“This partnership is another step that NCRA is taking to help people with hearing disabilities have their accessibility needs met. Captioning services provided by a certified captioner are the best and only product for people with hearing loss to be able to fully participate in HLAA chapter meetings,” said Matthew R. Barusch, NCRA’s State Government Relations Manager.

“By partnering with HLAA and offering NCRA-certified captioners this additional member benefit, we not only continue our support of our captioner membership, we can help provide this amazing community with a service they need and help one of our long-standing organizational allies grow and prosper,” Barusch added. “I would encourage all of our certified captioner members to reach out to HLAA and find a local chapter near you.”

Under the agreement, the HLAA national chapter coordinator will connect NCRA captioners to local chapters.

For more information about the collaborative agreement program or to sign up, contact Matthew Barusch at mbarusch@ncra.org.

 








NBC Olympics selects VITAC Closed Captioning Services for its coverage of the winter games

JCR: Journal of Court Reporting, TheJCR.com, JCR WeeklySportsvideo.org posted on Feb. 9 that VITAC Closed Captioning Services was chosen by NBC Olympics, a division of NBC Sports Group, to provide closed-captioning services for its production of the Winter Olympics, taking place in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Read more.

TribLive.com also posted an article on Feb. 15 about the captioners who work for VITAC who are assigned to caption the Winter Olympics with the headline “Closed captioning live sports is an Olympic task for Pittsburgh-area firm.”

Read more.








2018 Court Reporting & Captioning Week kicks off in just over a week

NCRA’s 2018 Court Reporting & Captioning Week, Feb. 10-17, kicks off in just over a week, and state associations, individual members, and schools around the country are finalizing their plans to celebrate. From contests to open houses to showcasing realtime at courthouses and at career fairs, the quest is in full swing to raise awareness about the career opportunities available in the court reporting and captioning professions.

Students go for the gold

In celebration of the week, NCRA’s Student/Teacher Committee is sponsoring an Olympic-themed speed test open to all students at varying test speeds. The tests consist of five minutes of dictation at a speed level that each individual student is either currently working on or has just passed. In order to be eligible to win, students must pass the test with 96 percent accuracy. One Literary and one Q&A test will be offered, and the faculty at each school will be responsible for dictating and grading the material.

All students who pass a test are eligible for prizes; winners will be drawn at random for first (gold), second (silver), and third (bronze) prizes. Prizes will include a copy of NCRA’s RPR Study Guide ($125 value) for the gold medal winner, a choice of a one-year NCRA student membership ($46 value) or one leg of the RPR Skills Test ($72.50 value) for the silver medal winner, and a $25 Starbucks gift card for the bronze medal winner.

All students who participate in the contest, even if they don’t pass a test, will have their names and schools published in the Up-to-Speed student newsletter and the JCR. For more information about the rules and registration, please contact Debbie Kriegshauser or Ellen Goff.

Events around the country

To mark this year’s event, the Texas Court Reporters Association (TCRA) is hosting its second annual virtual run, which is themed Peace Love Steno. The run is open to all court reporting and captioning runners, walkers, and exercise enthusiasts. Once participants sign up and register, they can plan their 5K walk/run, which can be completed on a treadmill, around their neighborhood, at a local park, or at the office. TCRA asks that all participants post pictures of themselves completing their walk or run on its Facebook page. The cost to register is $25, and those who complete the 5K earn an antique gold medal with bright psychedelic colors and a purple ribbon.

Theresa Reese, RMR, Honolulu, Hawaii, an official court reporter for the First Circuit Court, will be hosting an event that will include an information kiosk at her courthouse to raise awareness about the profession and the role court reporters play in the judicial system.

In Kansas City, Kan., a court reporter shortage at the Wyandotte County Courthouse has prompted official court reporter Rosemarie A. Sawyer-Corsino, RPR, to plan a meet-and-greet at the courthouse to raise awareness about the need for qualified professionals.

Members and states compete in the annual NSCA challenge

Everyone who participates in an event to celebrate 2018 Court Reporting & Captioning Week is also encouraged to enter NCRA’s National Committee of State Associations (NCSA) fourth annual challenge.

The aim of the challenge is to encourage working professionals to spread the word about what viable career paths court reporting and captioning are. NCSA will review and tally all submissions by members and state associations, and all entries will be eligible for prizes ranging from free webinars to event registrations. More information about the NCSA Challenge is also available at NCRA.org/government.

Still planning? Check out NCRA’s resources

Be sure to visit NCRA’s 2018 Court Reporting & Captioning Week resource center at NCRA.org/Awareness. The site provides numerous resources including:

  • press release templates that state associations, schools, and individuals can use to help promote the week and the profession
  • media advisories to announce specific events
  • talking points
  • social media messages
  • a guide to making the record
  • information on NCRF’s Oral Histories Project, including the Library of Congress Veterans History Project
  • downloadable artwork, including the 2018 Court Reporting & Captioning Week and DiscoverSteno logos
  • brochures about careers in court reporting and captioning
  • a quick link to NCRA’s DiscoverSteno site that includes more information about the free A to Z Intro to Machine Steno program
  • and more

In addition, the 2018 resource center includes an updated, customizable PowerPoint presentation. The presentation is geared toward potential court reporting students and the public in general to bring awareness to the ample opportunities available in the profession.

Remember to share how you celebrate the week by sending information about and photos of your event to NCRA’s Communications Team at pr@ncra.org. Everyone is also encouraged to share his or her activities on social media using the hashtag #DiscoverSteno.








Arizona legislature adds services for the deaf, hard of hearing

JCR: Journal of Court Reporting, TheJCR.com, JCR WeeklyThe Associated Press reported on Jan. 16 that the Arizona legislature is providing a live captioning service and looping technology for committee hearings for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. People can request captioning in advance through the Arizona legislature’s website.

Read more.








Starting out in captioning: An interview with Chase Frazier

Chase Frazier placed in two legs of the 2017 National Speed and Realtime Contests

Chase Frazier, RMR, CRR, CRC, started out as a captioner, although his mother and brother, both already court reporters, were in the legal arena. Some recent graduates find going into captioning right away to be a good first step in their careers rather than spending time freelancing or interviewing for open officialships. The JCR Weekly asked Frazier to offer some thoughts on what is different if you plan to consider this option yourself.

What made you decide to go into captioning right out of school?

My realtime in school was exceptional for still being in school. I was realtiming qualifier-level tests for California while still in school. (The California realtime test presents four-voice 200 wpm for ten minutes.) Also, my teacher was kind enough to let me take normal tests as realtime tests. I would immediately email her my test while still in class, and she would print it at home and grade it. Getting that kind of feedback made me love realtime and love the challenge of trying to get every test even more perfect than the last. I still, to this day, try to get each captioning session better than my last.

What kind of equipment did you need to get to start out?

I needed my captioning software, a professional machine, and a modem. I was fortunate to have my parents give me the professional software and a professional machine as a graduation present.

Did you get any additional training before you started captioning?

I didn’t have any training. I researched on my own how to caption TV, the equipment needed, and what tweaks I needed to do to my dictionary. I googled captioning agencies and sent them all an email to try to work for them. None of them responded, except one. But that’s all I needed!

The one that responded vetted me by watching me caption to live news for 30 minutes a day for about a week. After that week, they said that I was good to go live and caption news.

What was challenging for you the first few times you captioned? What did you do to overcome that challenge?

Getting over my nerves was hard for me. It took me a week or two to not be nervous the first few minutes of the broadcast.

What advice would you offer to someone who wants to start captioning from school?

I wouldn’t recommend intensely working on your realtime while in school. Focus on your speed. Your realtime will come with speed. If you can write 200, try to realtime a 160. There are a lot of tricks to improve your realtime.

Also, you don’t have to write out to caption. You can write however you want and have perfect realtime for TV. Just make sure to also have a strong group of prefixes and suffixes. People on TV make up words all the time.

If you want to get your realtime up to par, find a captioner and see if he or she will help you and watch you write once or twice a week. You can share your screen on Skype, and the captioner can watch you write to news. Have that person tell you everything that you can do to improve your realtime. It’s going to be damaging to your ego, but it’s great for your writing.

Chase Frazier, RMR, CRR, CRC, is a captioner in Murrieta, Calif. He can be reached at chaselfrazier@gmail.com.








Pepsi Center will provide captioning after Denver woman’s lawsuit

JCR: Journal of Court Reporting, TheJCR.com, JCR WeeklyThe Denver Post reported on Jan. 3 that the owner of the Pepsi Center Arena will begin providing open captioning during non-concert events including major league teams in the fall. The decision follows a lawsuit by a woman who is deaf who claimed the lack of captioning at the venue violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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College football coach talks so fast, watching closed captions try to keep up is exhilarating TV

JCR: Journal of Court Reporting, TheJCR.com, JCR WeeklySBNation.com posted an article on Dec. 29 that interviews Kristen Humphrey, a captioner with ASAP Sports, about what it was like to caption Jimbo Fisher, the new coach for Texas A&M football, who was interviewed recently on ESPN.

Read more.