Captioning offers a new opportunity to connect with fans and grow the audience

JCR: Journal of Court Reporting, TheJCR.com, JCR WeeklyThe Sports Video Group posted an interview on Dec. 8 with VITAC’s Chief Marketing Officer John Capobianco, who explained the benefits of captioning, which is mandated by federal regulations.

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Captioners incorporates both CART and broadcast in terminology

At the Nov. 3 NCRA Board of Directors meeting, the Board adopted the term captioners to describe any person practicing broadcast or CART captioning in the field. This change came on the recommendation of the CRC Certification Committee and the Broadcast and CART Captioning Committee. The proposal was part of the committees’ long-term strategy to aid practitioners in the marketplace by using the terms most understood by the people using the service.

The co-chairs of the Broadcast and CART Captioning Committee (Steve Clark, CRC, and Cynthia Hinds, CRC) and the co-chairs of the CRC Certification Committee (Karyn Menck, RDR, CRR, CRC, and Carol Studenmund, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC) proposed the change in a letter, explaining: “Twenty years ago, most captioners did either broadcast work or CART captioning. … Over the past five years, we have recognized that the overlap between the two groups was broad enough that we merged the two committees into the Broadcast and CART Captioning Committee.”

The letter to the Board noted that maintaining the distinction between broadcast and CART captioning also leads to confusion among consumers, placing additional barriers to finding someone who can provide the correct service.

“I know to most people, this change is pretty subtle,” said Studenmund after the Board adopted the change in terminology. “Some of us had legitimate concerns that when someone went to find a captioner, they would only see people who chose to be identified as CART captioners and didn’t realize the person was fully capable of working in the broadcast world. I can’t tell you how many times I have tried to explain to people who need our captions what CART captioning is as opposed to broadcast captioning, only to then see them look at each other and say, ‘It’s captioning.’”

Many captioners already provide a wide range of services, using the necessary devices for the assignment, providing CART services when asked and signing up for captioning shifts through one or more captioning companies. In addition, many captioners find new ways to offer their services that use a combination of technologies available. “Captioners don’t get up and say, ‘Today I’m going to be a broadcast captioner from 10-11 a.m., then go work as a CART captioner from 1-3 p.m., and later go back to broadcast captioning when I cover the 11-11:35 p.m. local news,’” Studenmund said. “We are all captioners, and we love what we do.”

This change in NCRA usage is only applicable to the overall categorization. “We are still going to talk about CART captioning to our friends in the hearing disabled community in the work NCRA does for us in Washington, D.C.,” explained Studenmund, “and we will still talk about broadcast captioning when communicating with the Federal Communications Commission.”

Following through on this change, as the Association updates the language from CART captioners or broadcast captioners to captioners in the print and online NCRA Sourcebook, NCRA members affected by the change will be contacted by email about making sure that their information is accurate.

On receiving thanks

By Cathy Rajcan

Working with intelligent, pleasant adults is a joy. As a seasoned court reporter in the 1990s, I expanded my skill set to provide Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART). At that time, I remember arriving at a high-level medical conference to provide CART, and let me tell you, it was the most daunting assignment I had undertaken up to that time. The majority of terms were between three and seven syllables and in an area of medicine with which court reporters are not regularly exposed to: neurofibromatosis.

A bouquet of thanks

In my 33-year career, I have discovered that of the professional hats I wear – as both court reporter and captioner – by far the role within which I receive the most appreciation and recognition is on-site CART captioner. We provide a critical link for people who are deaf or have hearing loss to the world around them. And in the consumers’ professional settings, our skills have a powerful impact on their success. I believe that the most significant effect these services have is in a person’s professional life and in and medical and health settings. Perhaps this is why, when I arrived at the above-mentioned conference decades ago, the organizers gave me a corsage as an expression of their appreciation.

As a captioner, I spend a large part of my time focused on obtaining in advance as much prep materials as possible. Often this is like pulling teeth, as many invited speakers and lecturers are well-seasoned experts in their careers and, due to busy schedule, unfortunately put off preparing for an engagement until the 11th hour. Understanding their professional demands, I keep in regular communication with the event organizers to receive prep materials. When all is said and done, I am consistently emotionally moved and positively affected by the work and efforts of these organizations and their undeniably honorable influence on our world.

When preparing for a recent celebratory event for a different nonprofit, the point person at the organization provided me materials piecemeal as they became available. As the event drew closer, the materials grew to be more extensive, and some earlier versions of scripts were replaced with updated versions. I was also provided the event rundown, which is a timeline of when each piece of the show is to be cued up. Even on the day of the event, some of the moving pieces are morphing; and as I was on my way to downtown Chicago, there was a change in a song selection and thus lyrics, so I asked the organizer to print out the lyrics for me and bring them on-site to the venue.

Once on-site, I was provided the updated lyrics in hard copy form, and I plugged the pages into my 30-some page aggregated script. I explained to the organization’s point person that constructing the entire script, ready to go live, was like working on a jigsaw puzzle.

The event was a wonderful amalgam of an instrumental percussion piece, an instrumental work on piano, a moving vocal blues number, and an upbeat, fun, stylized rap about Chicago; the music was interspersed with congratulatory speeches, presentations of awards, and expressions of appreciation. During the speeches, a speaker apologized directly to me in advance for going off script, but I was mesmerized by the joy and excitement of the occasion and didn’t miss a beat. The awards and recognition portion of the event was followed by a mix and mingle, including open bar and hors d’oeuvres.

Reconnecting with acquaintances in the arts and disabilities communities and making new friends from among this talented, passionate, and compassionate group is adequate recompense in and of itself. However, in addition to being paid for my professional captioning services, my client followed up with having delivered to my home a few days later a beautiful bouquet of flowers! It is sure nice to be appreciated – and it’s a blessing to work with such a giving, thoughtful, and supportive organization.

 

Cathy Rajcan, RDR, CRR, CRC, is a captioner and agency owner based in Wheaton, Ill. She can be reached at efficiencyrptg@cs.com.

Captioning Awareness Week 2017

By Leah Willersdorf

Captioning Awareness Week is an initiative of Stagetext, a registered British charity that provides theater captioning and live subtitling in cultural venues so that d/Deaf, deafened and hard-of-hearing audiences can access live events, including at museums, galleries, festivals, and collections.

Be a caption heroIn the United Kingdom, we use the term speech-to-text reporter (STTR) to refer to someone who is providing live subtitles or captions (captioner in the United States). In-house at Stagetext, however, the term captioner has an altogether different meaning. A captioner is someone who prepares the text in advance and then cues them live as the production is ongoing. The text scrolls up on a captioning unit and appears at the same time the words are spoken or sung.

Stagetext’s Captioning Awareness Week covers both forms of output, whether the text appears on a captioning unit or appears live via a STTR. It is all about being accessible. In fact, sometimes the two are used together, for example at festivals and concerts.

An example of a captioning unit

Captioning Awareness Week was prominent in a lot of our social media feeds over here during the week of Nov. 6-11. Live performances and events were happening around the nation, and everyone was tweeting or Facebooking about being a Caption Hero. To start the week off, there’s a Thunderclap. Thunderclap is a crowdspeaking platform for social media that is similar to a virtual flash mob. One message can be shared en masse so it will be more prominent in social networks for a length of time and others can join in.

In amongst all the performances and events of the week, Stagetext held an Open Day at the notorious Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. I was honored to be asked to provide the live subtitles to an audience of venue owners and event organisers. The Open Day was to help the attendees to become more deaf aware and provide them an understanding of how everything works. My co-worker, Louise Pepper, and I were also asked to take part in a different way — by stepping out from behind our machines and actually talking about what we do as STTRs and how we see the profession moving forward.

Stagetext have been instrumental in making performances accessible even at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. The individual screens are only provided in the slightly darker Upper Gallery. Why? Because the theater prides itself of replicating the era of Shakespeare in every way possible, and the viewing devices may project too much light if seated down in the lower- or ground-level areas.

Louise Pepper gives a flash talk on captioning

And so, with Captioning Awareness Week having completed a third successful year, I’m sure it will gather momentum with each passing year and continue to be a victory for promoting accessibility in theater and the arts. Next year is bound to be bigger and better!

In addition to Stagetext’s Captioning Awareness Week, the British Institute of Verbatim Reporters (BIVR) hosts an Awareness Weekend in the summer. This event is akin to a cross between the NCRA’s Court Reporting & Captioning Week and the national convention, but on a much, much smaller scale. The BIVR Awareness Weekend promotes all genres of the profession, whether reporting in court, U.S. depositions, arbitrations, regulatory proceedings, or captioning and speech-to-text. Our members cover it all, as do the NCRA’s. We will continue to work together with the NCRA in the promotion of all things stenography, and we are looking forward to Court Reporting & Captioning Week 2018 in February.

Leah Willersdorf is a freelancer in London, England, and the president of the British Institute of Verbatim Reporters. She can be reached at lmwillersdorf@yahoo.com.

Montana court reporter earns national certification

JCR: Journal of Court Reporting, TheJCR.com, JCR WeeklyThe Sidney Herald reported on Nov. 21 that NCRA member Emily Niles, RMR, CRR, CRC, from Bozeman, Mont., recently earned the Certified Realtime Captioner certification. The article was generated by a press release issued on her behalf by NCRA.

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8 questions for the winner of the Kindle Fire 8

Amanda Marvin, RPR, CRC, from Tomahawk, Wis., won the drawing for a Kindle Fire 8 by renewing her membership in October. A new professional, Marvin graduated from court reporting school in 2015 and has been working as a captioner for nine months, currently doing remote CART work “for several different college classes including biology, statistics, psychology, criminal justice, and commercial irrigation.”

“CART captioning was always my ultimate goal, and I am so happy that with the help of the Certified Realtime Captioner certification, I was able to start my career helping others and doing what I wanted to do,” she says. “I continue my membership in NCRA because it has given me a big advantage in employment for companies who hire captioners. They consider the certification as a standard of professionalism and proof of the skills needed to do a quality job.”

The JCR reached out to Marvin with eight questions to get to know her a little better.

  1. What is your favorite thing about doing remote captioning?

My favorite thing about doing remote captioning is the fact that I can stay at home and have a flexible schedule that allows me to get my kids to school and their after-school activities.

  1. What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned while captioning for college classes?

I have learned that there are an enormous amount of biology terms that can be pronounced several different ways. I learn something new in that class every single day.

  1. What is your most memorable moment from court reporting school?

My most memorable moment from court reporting school was probably when I passed my first 225 test. School was a long, hard road, and that was a very exhilarating experience.

  1. What was the biggest challenge you’ve overcome so far as a working professional, and how did you do so?

One of my biggest challenges is numbers and fingerspelling. Practicing, along with writing a statistics course and fingerspelling pop-up biology terms, has made me a better overall writer.

  1. What do you always include in your “elevator pitch” when you tell people what you do for a living?

I tell them I do CART, which most people aren’t familiar with. So then I tell them that it’s captioning what the professor says for students who are deaf and hard of hearing. I also make sure to tell them how there are many more people needed in the field, so if they know anyone who may be interested to let them know about it.

  1. What is your favorite benefit of being an NCRA member?

My favorite benefit of being an NCRA member is reading JCRs and the great wealth of information that is included in them as well as being able to list my certifications on my résumé.

  1. Before I became one, I never knew that captioners …

… had to put so much research and prep into doing a good job.

  1. What is your dream reporting or captioning assignment?

I would love to caption somewhere locally so people can see and understand what I do for a living.

 

Haven’t renewed yet? Members can take advantage of Black Friday discounts and giveaways, including purchase of membership renewals. Mark your calendars for Nov. 24.

Website accessibility an issue for colleges

JCR: Journal of Court Reporting, TheJCR.com, JCR WeeklyThe Oct. 26 Retriever, a publication of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, published an article that stressed the importance of making college websites accessible to all interested parties, including using closed captioning for people with hearing impairments or audio descriptions for people with vision impairments. The article referenced a recent lawsuit won by plaintiff Emanuel Delacruz, who is blind, and noted that colleges are violating the Americans with Disabilities Act if they are not providing such accommodations on their websites.

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America’s first national deaf television network relaunches

JCR: Journal of Court Reporting, TheJCR.com, JCR WeeklyThe Silent Network, the nation’s first national television network geared to viewers who are deaf and hard of hearing, announced in a press release issued Oct. 26 that it has relaunched its television service. The Silent Network will present all programing in sign language, open captioning, and full sound, granting accessibility to everyone. The revival is the result of a new partnership between the Media Data Network (Las Vegas, Nev.) and the Deaf Television Foundation (Austin, Texas), which operates The Silent Network.

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Debilitating disease no deterrent for dedicated Astros fan

JCR: Journal of Court Reporting, TheJCR.com, JCR WeeklyAn Oct. 19 article in the Houston [Texas] Chronicle spotlights Victor Lombrana, a Houston Astros fan who is blind and deaf due to Type 2 Usher syndrome. The article mentions NCRA member Susan Henley, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC, a freelancer in Houston, who captions the Astros’ and Rockets’ home games.

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Captioning at the Fringe 2017

By Claire Hill

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the largest arts festival in the world, which celebrated its 70th anniversary this year. The Scottish capital hosts more than 3,000 performances each August, featuring theater, music, comedy, dance, physical theater, circus, cabaret, children’s shows, musicals, opera, spoken word, exhibitions, and events.

Accessibility has always been difficult to achieve at the Fringe. Tight budgets and the use of historical and found spaces generally mean that people with sensory and mobility impairments are not well catered to. However, the Fringe Society is committed to increasing accessibility at the festival, with guides for performers and venues on how to put on accessible performances and generally make their shows more inclusive.

Having visited the festival for a heady 36 hours in 2016, I knew I wanted to work there the following year, and I set about approaching venues, artists, production companies, and agents to offer live captioning in 2017. Initially, I was met with silence or a regretful: “That would be lovely, but there’s no money to pay for it.” But the Pleasance Theatre Trust responded positively to my call and suggested to all their companies that they program a captioned performance. As they run 23 venues with about 10 shows per day in each venue, this is a significant number of people reached! The result was that I was booked for 21 performances, one of which was a live comedy Accessibility Gala, and the remainder were scripted or semi-scripted plays. I’d hoped for more live comedy take-up, but for whatever reason, that wasn’t forthcoming. I knew I would have to manage the scripts and make sure I got recordings in advance to try to output accurately.

Tech set-up

I used a 55” LED screen on an adjustable stand for all the captioning. Having LED rather than plasma meant there was less risk of stage lights washing out the screen and making the captions unreadable. Having an adjustable stand meant the screen could be higher or lower depending on the size of the venue. Being on wheels meant it could easily be moved from venue to venue (however, stairs and cobbles were a challenge!). A traditional three-line caption unit needed to be flown or rigged above the stage, leading to longer set-up times and more rigging than is generally available in Fringe venues.

I used Text on Top for software, which is designed for providing subtitles at conferences. It also has a full-screen and scripting functionality so that I could format the scripts and then output them a clause at a time. The LED screen was connected via HDMI to a laptop running the Text on Top display software, which could sit on the legs of the adjustable stand. My connection to that setup was wireless, so I could sit wherever was most convenient in the auditorium. Usually this was at the front, because of the need for a table, but it could also be at the back by the sound desk, if the show was mic’ed. Although we used the full screen for the bigger venues (displaying about eight lines of text), the display could also be confined to the top of the screen (displaying five lines of text) if there were likely to be issues with performers obscuring the screen.

I brought all the equipment with me to each venue: two laptops, power brick, battery-powered light, and Text on Top radio dongles. The Pleasance A/V team brought the LED screen and the table and arranged for the power in each venue.

In most venues, we had 15 minutes between shows to get in and set up while working around the companies moving sets in and tech changing lights or clearing up debris from the previous production. It was a quick turnaround, but no show was delayed because of the captioning!

Prep

For prep material, I asked for an up-to-date script from each company, sometimes more than one version, and a video, ideally from a previous performance during the festival, or older if no changes had been made. The Pleasance gave me contact details for each company, and I emailed each one direct requesting the script and a video if already existing. Most replied in a timely manner, but scripts were still being sent during the Festival run! The videos were either taken by Pleasance for archiving or shot by the company themselves on a GoPro. Having a recording is essential, so for one show I provided a digital audio recorder, which sat next to the tech team, to get an audio recording to compare against the script. To prepare the script for captioning, I stripped out all the stage directions, made the speaker labels consistent, clearly and concisely labeled the sound effects, and inserted regular punctuation, if not already present. I checked song lyrics, which aren’t always included in a script, as well as spellings of proper names or technical terms. This takes four to five hours per script, including watching the video.

There are quite a few subjective decisions involved in creating a captioning file, like captioning sound effects. You always have to keep the audience in mind, so if a sound effect is obviously caused by an action on stage, it wouldn’t necessarily be included. However, if it’s off stage and then the characters go on to react to it, it should be included, like an explosion or a gunshot.

Describing music is also quite hard. If it’s very much in the background, it should usually be left out, especially if there is speaking over the top. The Stagetext style guide talks about omitting music that has a subliminal effect. However if it’s in the foreground, it needs to be described, usually in two words, which can be tricky. One word conveys the tone or emotional effect, and one word identifies the instrument. If it’s a recorded song, the artist and the song name should be displayed. Caption users are often deafened or hard of hearing, so they might remember the song or can hear enough of the frequencies to recognize it. If the lyrics are clear and relevant, I output them if there’s no other talking going on onstage. For example, Me and My Bee used the songs “Only the Good Die Young” and “I Believe I Can Fly,” so the lyrics were definitely important.

In my experience at Fringe 2017, when the writer of the show was talking about something personal to them, they used broadly similar but slightly different words in each performance; this came up in, for example, Perfectly Imperfect Women by Danyah Miller and Testosterone by Kit Redstone. I wrote the monologues live, but then when other actors joined in, I reverted to scripted material so the script could be output line by line. Post Festival, I developed a checklist to try to identify at an early stage which performances might need a stenographer and which could use a theater captioner [Ed. note: In the U.K., a theater captioner performs a similar role as an offline broadcast captioner in the U.S.].

How it went

Generally, the captioning went really well and was positively received by the companies and the technical staff. Everyone was aware of his or her captioned show and happy about the opportunity to provide access. The screen was always set up with welcoming text before the audience started coming in so that caption users could work out the best place to sit so they could read the captions and see the actors. The Pleasance A/V team did most of the hard work of finding the power and positioning the screen each time. My job was just to set up the two laptops and make sure the text was a good size for the venue; that my setup was okay, with a small light to make my notes visible; and that the laptop was at a comfortable angle. Although there were slight deviations from the scripts, usually it was transposition of two phrases, in which case I outputted the two phrases one after another. If words were added, I had the option to write on the steno machine or type into the text window.

A few shows at the start had some unexpected issues:

On arrival at the first show, Once Were Pirates, the director came over and said, “Oh yes, it’s our captioned performance, did you get the new script I sent you, we’ve changed most of it!” Of course, I hadn’t received it, so I wrote that one completely live on the steno machine, as the scripted material previously formatted didn’t match up with what was being said on stage. This was one of the performances that no video had been received for, so it really made the point of how important it is to get a recording.

The Young Pleasance production the Curse of Cranholme Abbey highlighted some weaknesses in the software when it came to multiple characters speaking quickly one after another. This was an extreme example, as there were 27 performers all keen to get their words in, but it led to some changes in the script formatting for future shows. I realized that each script file in Text on Top needed to be much shorter. After approximately 700 words, the output would start slowing down and the cursor would lag behind the text being output. After the first day, I made sure each script was split into at least 12 sections and that I had a full job dictionary ready to go for each show, with speaker names and special terms. Also, Text on Top has a Text Finder function, so as you type a word into the output window, it simultaneously searches for it in the open script. So if I missed words, I could use this to get back on track in my script. I wrote out the key sequence to escape from one script file and open the following one (Esc. – down arrow – right arrow) on a Post-it and put it on the laptop screen to remind me.

On the set of “Snowflake”

At the performance of Snowflake by Mark Thomson, the screen was plugged into a non-hard power source. As the performance began, the power block we were plugged into, which also controlled the neon sign at the back, was switched off as a lighting effect! Luckily, it came back on again, but the screen size had reset and there wasn’t an opportunity to change it, so the text was a bit small throughout. To be fair to the crew, they appreciated the importance of this and didn’t turn the neon sign off again, even though I think they were supposed to at a couple of points. After this, I made sure that each display laptop had a wireless mouse attached so that I could adjust the font size without having to crawl around on the floor!

Next year

Next year I will have a theater captioner on board to split up the shows between scripted and non- or semi-scripted. Then the captioner can prepare and output the scripted shows, leaving me to work on semi-scripted or comedy shows. This would mean we could do two captioned shows at the same time and work at a larger variety of venues. In 2017, I covered up to four shows per day, and this worked fine. The set-up would be the same, as Text on Top proved to be a very reliable system, once the speed issue had been worked out.

Getting a recording of each show, ideally in its Edinburgh run, proved to be essential, and the only shows where unexpected things happened were the ones where a recording hadn’t been provided. Two staff members in Edinburgh would enable us to visit venues on previous days and audio-record shows in order to check the script and run a dummy output to check speed.

I’ve already booked the accommodation for next year and started contacting venues. Once bitten by the Fringe bug, you’re never the same again!

Claire Hill, RPR, CRC, is a freelancer in London, England. She can be reached at mrsclairehill@gmail.com. This is a revision of an article that originally appeared on her website under the same title.