REALTIME: Taming your fears

By Kathy Cortopassi

The worst fear, believe it or not, was the first time I ever captioned the Business Meeting for the NCRA Annual Convention. Not captioning the speeches of the President of the United States. Not captioning any live U.S. Senate or House speeches. Not providing CART for hundreds or thousands of people for hundreds of events over these 30+ years I’ve been doing this job.

The NCRA. My peers. Fellow captioners. Fellow realtimers. Fellow CART providers. People who could “read through” my mistakes. People who could understand when I fingerspelled or when I had a phrase pop up (Oh, she must have a brief for that!), people who would be “air steno’g” what I was writing, people who would be able to tell how fast/slow the speakers were speaking.

But I prepped. And prepped. And prepped some more.

I had Pat Graves by my side to help point out people or names or slip me her own brief for something.

So I began writing. Nervous as all get out, but I began. I got into a rhythm.

As I always do, I “zone in” on the speaker at the time. And hence comes my Lesson #1 for others on overcoming their fear. Think of yourself as a camera. “Zoom in” to the speaker. When a camera zooms in, it “blocks out” much of what is in the room, in the area, around the subject and brings the focal point closer into view. Zoom in to the speaker’s mouth. “Focus” (another photography term) on what’s being spoken and “blur out” any extraneous thoughts or movements around you and the subject. Anticipate what will be said next and be ready for it. The phrase, “Do I have a motion?” would probably be followed by “Yes. Motion by ____.”

So, back to the NCRA Business Meeting. Lesson #2. Imagine yourself in a war zone. You are a soldier with a rifle. You are in your “zone.” Call that zone your “groove,” a safe spot where you are comfortable, sheltered, protected from attack. Soldiers may be in a trench. Prepare that trench ahead of time. Align yourself where you can see and hear the best and see all parties necessary. Get as comfortable a chair as possible and set your prep and gear where you need it. For me, I’m blind in my right eye, so all prep is to my left. All liquids are in cups — with lids — to my left. I think we can all relate to the reason for the lids! But pens, markers, and protein snacks would be to my right since I’m right-handed. When you’re comfortable and prepared, it is easier to get into your groove and out of the Fear Zone, to relax and do the job you are trained for and that you prepped for.

Was I still scared? Of course! But how did I overcome this, my greatest fear? NCRA members themselves. When they started shouting from the audience, “Slow down! You’re going too fast!”, I knew they had my back. They were helping me. They were encouraging me. They wanted me to do a good job and to have an easier time doing it!

The funny thing is it seemed fast to them, but I was not struggling at all or felt they were going fast at all. Captioners can attest to this. We write at such high speeds for such long periods of time that it becomes natural for us. We don’t even notice that it’s 280 or 300 words per minute. We just do our job. We listen. We write what we hear. Rinse, repeat.

When I knew they “had my back”, I could feel the stress level go down. I had been tensing my neck, shoulders, and jaw. I was able to take a deep, cleansing breath and smile, inwardly and outwardly. Knowing me, I probably teared up (like I’m doing now as I write this) knowing that they cared about me.

So, I survived it and evn went on to caption/CART other NCRA events. Do they still scare me to that same level? No. Now I go into them knowing that my audience – my peers, my friends, my cheerleaders! – will have my back again. But it doesn’t mean I don’t prep like crazy, make lists and briefs, prepare my trench, get into my groove, zoom in on my speakers and focus on the words and their mouths, and blur out the distractions. It doesn’t mean I don’t tense up and need to remind myself to relax and breathe. But my NCRA peeps helped me through my most fear-filled captioning event ever, and this is only one of the thousands of reasons I love NCRA and my NCRA peeps. So if I get asked again to caption anything for NCRA, if I’m still alive and able to, my answer will be yes!

Kathy A. Cortopassi, RPR, RMR, CRR, CCP, CBC, who has also earned NCRA’s Realtime Systems Administrator, is president of Voice to Print Captioning and QualCap. She is based in Crown Point, Ind., and can be reached at

LAST PAGE: The alleged testimony

What more is there to say
Q. Okay. How did you come to have a daughter?
A. The usual way.
Mary Seal, RDR, CRR
Albuquerque, N.M.

Full disclosure
THE COURT: Before counsel asks you another question, where did you receive your bachelor’s in history?
THE WITNESS: University of the Pacific.
THE COURT: Do you have a brother Ross?
THE COURT: Have you ever worked with my wife?
THE COURT: Okay. She’s not the accountant for —
THE COURT: We’ve never met though, have we?
THE WITNESS: We were in a class together, but you wouldn’t remember it.
THE COURT: I won’t take that personally. There’s a lot of college I don’t remember. What class was that?
THE WITNESS: Constitutional law.
MS. BROWN: “Constitutional law.” That’s classic. Well set up.
THE COURT: I remember that class. I don’t remember you in that class. I remember your brother. Okay. But we don’t know one another.
THE WITNESS: That’s right.
THE COURT: As you were testifying, I recollected I’d heard your name in conjunction with accounting stuff. So I just want everybody to know about that. Perhaps we will find out about it later. I didn’t realize we were in class together.
MS. BROWN: I just hope we have no constitutional law issues in this case, Your Honor.
THE COURT: Yes. And that was only a couple years ago that we took that class. All right. With that trip down, memory lane, Ms. Brown.
MS. BROWN: Thank you, Your Honor.
Jan Hunnicutt , RPR, CRR
Santa Rosa, Calif.

Butt out
A. No. I’m not aware that I’m limited to that. But —
Q. Are you seeking — well, go ahead. Were you going to say something?
A. I withdraw my “but.” From the room.
Q. The “but” is withdrawn.
Jennifer Honn, RPR
Phoenix, Ariz.

Easy come, easy go
Q. Then we can move on to income. Do you know how much you make in a year average?
A. I just work.
Q. Yeah.
A. I’m a guy.
Elsa Jorgensen
Birmingham, Mich.

The (non) retirement plan
Q. Before this incident happened in January of 2015, what was your intention in terms of your remaining work life? How much longer were you going to go?
A. Oh, up until lunch time at my funeral. I mean —
Q. When was your funeral going to be?
A. Exactly. Exactly. As long as I could.
Sarah J. Dittmer, RPR
Centerville, Iowa

Lost in translation
The witness is being deposed about a car accident through a Spanish interpreter.
Q. Can you compare the impact to anything else you’ve felt in your life?
A. No.
Q. Sometimes people will tell me they played sports growing up.
A. No.
Q. How about did you ever go to the fair and do the bumper cars?
A. I’ve never been on them.
Q. There’s nothing you can think of to compare the forces to?
A. No.
Q. What about have you ever been on a roller coaster?
A. No.
Q. Mierda? Does that mean scared?
MS. JONES: No. It means shit.
MR. SMITH: I didn’t know that. That’s funny.
Here, let’s go off the record for a second.
(Discussion held off the record.)
BY MR. SMITH: (continuing)
Q. Now that I’ve shown you how poor my Spanish is, I’ll keep speaking English.
Juliane Petersen
Beaverton, Ore.

The true cost of your time
There were 13 attorneys in attendance at this deposition of an expert witness:
Q. And then the total repair cost of 13,241
MS. WHITE: 13 million.
Q. (BY MR. BLACK) Let me try that again. I like my number better, but let’s go with the 13 million.
A. I think 13,000 is the hourly cost of this deposition.
Carrie Arnold, RPR, CRR
Arvada, Colo.

That’s a new tactic
WITNESS ATTORNEY: Same objection.
THE WITNESS: Objection.
Q. BY TAKING ATTORNEY: You — I’m not asking you about what you talked about with your attorney. I’m just asking if you talked to anybody else about the lawsuit.
A. Objection.
Q. You’re –
A. I don’t know what I’m doing.
Q. — required to answer.
Sarah Fitzgibbon
Seattle, Wash.

CART CORNER: CART captioning en français


By Jean Whalen

« Le fou se rue là où le sage n’ose mettre le pied » . . .

(“Fools rush in where angels fear to tread . . .”)

In January 2014, I accepted a gig at a local university, providing CART captioning for a student in a French immersion class. When the disability services coordinator and I first communicated about the possibility of my covering this class, our conversation went something like this (or at least this is how I remember it):

Me: “Well, I might be interested in providing CART for the Fren-” –

Her: “That’s great! Thanks so much! We’ll be in touch shortly with all the details.”

Gloup. (Gulp.) What just happened? And why am I left with the distinct impression that I was the only CART captioner who expressed an interest in covering this class?

First of all, you must understand that I had no background in French. So to say this was a bit of a challenge would be an understatement. I was exposed to the French language when I worked for the United Nations at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, but just being semi-aware that French was being spoken in the same courtroom in which I was working was as close as I had come to French at that time, aside from saying “Bonjour” to the French court reporters as we passed each other in the hallway.

Little did I know then that my voyage français would last for four semesters! It was a wild ride. It was by far the hardest work-related assignment I’ve ever undertaken, but I don’t regret it for a second.

Here are some of the challenges in providing CART dans une classe étrangère (in a foreign-language class):

  1. There is a language barrier! (Rire.) (Laughter.) If you ever are “courageous” (a.k.a. naïf) (a.k.a. naïve) enough to take on an assignment like this, be prepared to shift your obsessive-compulsive disorder into overdrive! The reason your OCD will be an asset rather than a liability is because when you’re not in class, you’ll be either: a) studying the foreign language in print format; b) listening to the oral language and trying to “get your ear on”; c) trying to think in the new language; or d) creating entries in your steno dictionary, imagining how that word will sound when somebody who actually speaks the language couramment (fluently) enunciates the word — and chances are, it won’t be pronounced the way you’ve been pronouncing it dans votre tête (in your head). I can’t speak for other languages, but the French oral and written languages are two different types of animal. And the way a French word is pronounced is dependent on the words that come before and after it in any given sentence, so its pronunciation changes like a caméléon.
  2. Accent marks are not a luxury in foreign-language classes, they’re a necessity. In English transcripts, no one really puts up a fuss if you leave off the accent mark in words like café or résumé. But in French, if you don’t use the accent mark correctly, it’s just plain wrong. One *must* distinguish, for example, between e and é and è and figure out a way to finger-spell them differently.
  3. I figured out how to use the U.S. International keyboard on my computer and would activate it when I was providing French CART. Most of the letters are the same, so it really wasn’t that difficult to adjust to.
  4. Homophones! If you’re providing French CART, you had better get used to them, because French is full of them. Just as one example, the words parler, parlé, parlais, parlait, and parlaient are all pronounced the same way (PAR-LAY), but one must know which mot (word) is correct for the particular context. And it’s like that for almost every verb you can think of en français. Luckily, Eclipse software, which I use, has a French version. I was able to import the French Eclipse settings into my English version of Eclipse and use the software in a franglais (think Spanglish) sort of way so that some of the verbs and adjectives would auto-conjugate for me.
  5. Reference materials! My BFFs during these classes were:
    1. an electronic French-English dictionary, complete with audio pronunciations and conjugations.
    2. Google Translate – even though Google Translate sometimes gives an “icky” translation that I know is not quite right, it at least gave me a springboard from which to start researching a word or phrase.
    3. an app called Speak & Translate – it can be a real time and finger saver if you have an approximate idea of what you’re looking for. It uses voice recognition and often saves having to physically type in the word or phrase. However, my French accent was not yet good enough for the software to understand my spoken French and translate it into English; it only understood my English and translated it into French (although my accent seems to be getting a little better!). One time, the French teacher was talking about breakfast foods and said what distinctly sounded like “NUTE-eh-yah.” I became obsessed, when preparing the transcript after class, with figuring out what that word was. I repeated it, with the best French accent I could muster, over and over and over into the Speak & Translate app: “NUTE-eh-yah! NUTE-eh-yah! NUUUUTE-EHHHH-YAHHH!!!” I burst into laughter when the software finally understood me and spit back the answer: Nutella! Miam! (Yum!)

Speaking of transcripts, I was required to prepare and email a transcript to the student within two days after each class. This is where the rubber met the rue. Although the transcripts didn’t have to be verbatim, I did my best to give the student a very useable, correct transcript. If I had a question, I would email the instructor. I really tried to restrict the number of emails I sent to the instructors, though, respecting how busy they all were and the limited amount of time I had within which to complete the transcripts.

The different instructors I worked with over the course of the two years would switch back and forth between English and French at the drop of a chapeau, so, with the help of Jeremy Thorne, chief programmer at Advantage Software (Advantage is the parent company of Eclipse), we were able to come up with a one-stroke steno macro that would allow me to flip my French dictionary off and on. This helped tremendously. It also made me realize how far I’d come when I’d glance over at my screen from time to time and realize, Mon Dieu! J’ai oublié (I forgot) to hit my macro! C’est chaos! I am so glad the student I worked with was patient with me and had a sens de l’humour! I would hear her chuckling softly to herself.

Also, at times the instructors would challenge the students by speaking above their heads, which of course was also above my tête. When that happened, I would once again rely upon the student’s sense of humor. (Are we detecting a pattern here?)

Some of my best bloopers during this French odyssey were: phlegmish (Flemish) (I loved that one and still do), and that perennial French classic, The Petite Principal. (Yes, he was a very small principal indeed).

There were times during class when I would literally just be writing sounds I’d hear when the instructor was speaking French (I always wrote what I heard, even if I knew it was coming up as gobbledygook), and I would look at my screen and realize the words were miraculously coming up correctly because I had already programmed them in during a prior class. That was fun.

Numbers were also kind of a riot. Because Eclipse has automatic number conversion, and because I had imported the French settings into my software, when the teacher would say in English, for example, “Turn to page one hundred twenty-seven,” and I would steno “127” on the number bar, it would translate as “un cent vingt-sept,” which is French for 127. I’d think, Oh, so that’s how you spell out 127 in French. So, yes, there were more times than I care to admit when the software was smarter than me.

As a result of providing CART for this class, I am now on my way to becoming a francophone – I still have a long way to go, because it takes about eight years to become fluent in a language. But for two years, instead of paying to take French classes, I got paid to take French classes! And that was fantastique! I have to confess, I placed a giant carotte (carrot) in front of my eyes, and just out of my grasp, to help coax me along when the going got tough (which was often): I booked a two-week trip to France a year ahead of time, complete with a home stay in Nice that included a week of tutoring. And since learning French had already been on my semi-serious bucket list of “things to do when I retire someday” anyway, I am ahead of the game. I continue to study French, and I’m currently participating in a French book club. Ironically, we just finished reading Le Petit Prince. And a principal of small stature wasn’t mentioned in this book, not even once. How very disappointing.

If you ever have the opportunity to caption in a foreign language, I would definitely suggest giving it a whirl, as long as it’s a beginning level class and the people you’re working with understand that it’s not a perfect process. You will need to make a serious commitment, both to yourself and to the student, to stick with it, because you’ll be developing a very unique skill set. There won’t be another CART captioner who will be able to pinch-write for you if you’re sick or want to take some time off. One must plan one’s life around the class schedule.

If you have the desire to learn a new language and are willing to spend the time it takes, give it a try, and bonne chance (good luck)!

Jean Whalen, RDR, CRR, CRC, is a CART captioner based in Apple Valley, Minn. She can be reached at


Currently resides in: Arvada, Colo.

Carin Geist, RDR, CRR

Carin Geist, RDR, CRR

Employment type: Freelancer with Hunter + Geist, Inc.

Member since: 1985

Graduated from: Mile Hi College

Theory: Forrest Brenner

What are your favorite briefs?

SPOET (as opposed to)

OFD (off the top of my head)

RO*UF (which translates to *CHECK, and I can quickly and easily scan for all of my *CHECK portions and make corrections before submitting a rough draft)

Why did you decide to enter this profession and how did you learn about the career?

As a senior in high school, I was researching all the various options for my future education and career path, but was not sure which route I wanted to take. I always had an interest in the law and was captivated by the courtroom dramas I would watch on TV, but the prospect of many years in college did not appeal to me. I was employed as a hostess at a local restaurant during high school and met another employee who was working her way through court reporting school. I learned of the opportunity to work within the legal profession, being an integral part of the justice system as a court reporter. After a visit to a local court reporting school, I knew this would be the career for me!

What has been your best work experience so far in your career?

I was fortunate enough quite a few years ago to work on a case that took me to Osaka, Japan, for five weeks of depositions. It was a rewarding and challenging experience professionally to work with interpreters, attorneys, and witnesses from all over the world providing realtime translation. I also truly loved the experience of spending time in another country and being able to travel to different sites in Japan and soak up a little of the culture.

What was your biggest hurdle to overcome, and how did you do so?

My first court reporting job out of school was with a small freelance firm that had contracts with the State Board of Medical Examiners and a division of the federal government that prosecuted Superfund cases, which were lawsuits involving companies in the chemical and petroleum industries that had released hazardous materials into the environment. Being a small firm, there was no real mentorship program in place for recent graduates, and I was immediately thrown into reporting depositions in these cases. While I would not recommend this “baptism by fire” for a new reporter, I did learn quickly that my confidence in my abilities was a very important part of how well I could do my job. I continued to work to increase my speed and strived to pass the RMR. Knowing that I could write efficiently at 260 words per minute gave me the confidence to report depositions that required a high level of skill.

What surprised you about your career?

I have to say that 33 years after entering court reporting school, I am pleasantly surprised that I am still reporting today and thoroughly enjoying the choice I made to be a court reporter. In 1984 when I began school, there were rumblings at that time that soon this job would be obsolete, and tape recorders would be performing our work. I am grateful I decided to ignore those warnings; and when I hear the same things today, I just have to smile.

Is there something else you would like to share – a hobby, special interest, personal accomplishment, etc?

As court reporters, we unfortunately do a great deal of sitting during the course of our daily work. I try and make sure to spend as much of my free time as possible in more active pursuits. I am an avid runner and skier; and I have recently taken up cycling this summer, riding in the Courage Classic and raising money for our Colorado Children’s Hospital. The 84-mile route took me through the beautiful Rocky Mountains, and it was a new challenge I truly enjoyed.

Thanks to the leaders who have already hosted A to Z programs

Who is the leader in your state? Help us cover the country by hosting an A to Z program in your area!

Kerry Anderson, RPR, Atlanta, Ga. 6/27/17
Lori Baldauf, RMR, Appleton, Wis. 4/12/17
Douglas Bettis, Canton, Ohio 8/23/17
Sandra Boe, RMR, Genessee Co. N.Y. 6/3/17
Meredith Bonn, RPR, Rochester, N.Y. 6/27/17
Vonnie Bray, RDR, CRR, Billings, Mont. 9/23/17
Misty Bubke, RDR, CRR, Sioux City, Iowa Fall 2017
Cayce Coskey, RPR, Wichita Falls, Texas 9/12/17
Kim Farkas, RPR, CRR, Henderson, Nev. Fall 2017
Theresa Fink, RMR, CRR, Rapid City, S.D. 8/1/17
Allison Hall, RMR, CRR, Tulsa, Ok. 11/1/16
Yvette Heinze, RPR, Great Falls, Mont. 9/23/17
Lorreen Hollingsworth, RPR, Wellesley, Mass. 4/30/17
Debra Isbell, RDR, CRR, CRC, Mobile, Ala. 6/3/17 and Birmingham, Ala. Fall 2017
Andrea Kingsley, RPR, Easton, Conn. Fall 2017
Cyndi Larimer, Claremore/Pryor, Ok. 3/7/17, 10/18/17
Donna Lewis, RPR Washington, D.C. 9/9/17
Kathy May, RPR, Memphis, Tenn. Fall 2017
Lois McFadden, RDR, CRR, Hamilton, N.J. 9/1/17
Patricia Moretti, RPR, CMRS, Detroit, Mich. 3/25/17, 8/5/17
Tami Morse, RPR, Tulsa, Ok. 1/24/17
Shelley Ottwell, RPR, Muskogee, Ok. 6/20/17
Lynn Penfi eld, RPR, CRR, Rhinelander, Wis. 8/1/17
Angela Ross, RPR, Sacramento, Calif. 9/16/17
Leslie Ryan-Hash, Wichita Falls, Texas 9/12/17
Janette (Jan) Schmitt, RPR, Vancouver, Wash. Fall 2017
Nancy Silberger, Lynbrook, N.Y. 6/28/17
Kathleen Silva, RPR, CRR, Andover, Mass. 5/1/17
Margaret Sokalski, CRI, Chicago, Ill. 7/1/17, Fall 2017
Darlene Sousa, RPR, Stoneham, Mass. 1/24/17, Fall 2017
Doreen Sutton, FAPR, RPR, Phoenix, Ariz. 2/16/17
Rivka Teich, RMR, Brooklyn, N.J. 4/1/17
Donna Ulaub, RMR, CRR, Chicago, Ill. 6/10/17 and Elmhurst, Ill. 7/1/17
Nativa Wood, FAPR, RDR, CMRS, Harrisburg, Pa. Fall 2017


A to Z: Recruiting the next generation

Creating our own success


A to Z: Creating our own success

A group of students sit in a circle

You don’t need to take Nancy Varallo’s word for it. We have heard from several of the A to Z program leaders about their experiences.

“It is my very strong opinion that this program is the key and the missing link to the shortage of students in our schools. I believe our Steno A to Z students will be strong, successful students who start way ahead of the game. Whatever needs to be done to expand the number of attendees needs to be done. It is purely a numbers game. Only a percentage will go on, so the higher number of people that participate, the better,” says Meredith Bonn, RPR, who is an official in Rochester, N.Y., and was recently installed on NCRA’s Board of Directors.

Bonn has taught three groups of trainees, about 25 people, so far. “The one high school student I have had so far, who is a musician, was able to learn it the quickest and fastest,” she says.

“Two out of our seven participants have now enrolled in accredited court reporting programs in Wisconsin! Another person is very seriously looking into signing up for fall classes,” says Lori Baldauf, RMR, an official reporter based in Appleton, Wis. “All seven students arrived on time and attended each class — with just a couple excused absences — and obviously worked hard to learn the material.”

“I think this A to Z program is one of the best projects NCRA has shared with its members and I’m grateful to have had this opportunity to lead a group in the Fox River Valley area of Wisconsin,” continues Baldauf. “I’d like to personally urge other reporters across the country to get more sessions started in their area as well!”

Kathy May, RPR, a freelancer and agency owner based in Memphis, Tenn., has only just begun recruiting trainees but considers what they have accomplished so far a success. “We set up a booth at our court reporting conference in June promoting the program, and from that we received donations of paper as well as the offer to loan machines,” says May. “We even had a reporter express an interest in putting together a program for her market.”

When asked for advice for other program leaders, Baldauf says: “Simply share your enthusiasm and sincere adoration for your profession! It’s contagious and will motivate your students to succeed in the program.”

“Set the expectations for the participants so they understand they cannot miss a week with lots of notice before they begin and so they can plan. Make-up sessions are too difficult and time-consuming,” says Bonn.

“Surround yourself with great reporters to help,” says Lois McFadden, RDR, CRR, an official from Marlton, N.J. “The volunteers who helped were so great. They really committed themselves to the program, and other reporters jumped in to fill in for vacations. Without the support and commitment of the instructors and the reporting firm that lent us office space, it would not have been possible.”

Rivka Teich, RMR, a freelancer based in Brooklyn, N.Y., says: “Accept more than the recommended 10 students, because just like real court reporting school; there is a drop-out rate. I had 12 people sign up, 10 people show up, and 4 people finish.”

“Start planting the seeds well in advance of offering the program. We have prepared flyers that are letting our markets know that there will be a free program coming soon. We have already gotten several names of people who are looking forward to the program,” says May. She adds that program leaders should understand that it’s important to talk about what you are doing and leverage the power of word of mouth. She says: “You never know who might know someone who knows someone who would be perfect for this profession. We just have to
find them!”

The Wisconsin Court Reporters Association used Facebook as one means of reaching potential participants. The organization also contacted the guidance offices of local high schools and emailed blasts to members asking them to reach out and network in their communities, according to Baldauf.

McFadden agrees that using Facebook is key but adds: “We have gotten leads from NCRA [and from] calls to our executive director. We also had success posting flyers in local courthouses.”

“Talk about A to Z with everyone! Your friends and family can be great A to Z messengers. Before your first class, practice on friends or family members. I had two high school seniors in my office for four days of immersion/mentoring/shadowing in a professional office. In addition to taking them to court to observe, they became my first A to Z students. Have fun rediscovering your early days of the wonder and newness of steno,” says May. “It’s infectious.”


A to Z: Recruiting the next generation

Thanks to the leaders who have already hosted A to Z programs