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.

Highlights and takeaways from the sessions at the 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo

Attendees at the 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo had the opportunity to attend an array of sessions and educational workshops designed to help them increase their professional experience and hone their skills. The summaries below highlight a few of these sessions.

Fast, faster, fastest

View from the back of a meeting room with rows of people facing a panel and a projector

Kelly Shainline, Jason Meadors, and Keith Lemons present “Fast, faster, fastest” to a full house

One of the first sessions to kick off the 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo, “Fast, faster, fastest” with Kelly Shainline, RPR, CRR; Jason Meadors, FAPR, RPR, CRR, CRC; and Keith Lemons, FAPR, RPR, CRR, was packed with standing room only. The nuts-and-bolts realtime session went through step by step how to set up for good realtime. “My first page, I just consider it a sacrificial goat,” Meadors said to laughter, but the presenters emphasized the importance of good preparation as the key to strong realtime. For example, for legal work, the presenters said to get the appearance page ahead of time and use that to do some research. “Let’s say there’s a doctor,” said Lemons. “Look up online what kind of medicine they do — such as obstetrics and gynecology — and use that to build specific words in a dictionary.”

“I won’t be mean,” Meadors said, “but I will be firm to get what I need,” especially for CART or captioning work.

The presenters all said that they do prep the night before — although the length of time varied a bit based on how important the trial was, how many people would be seeing the realtime, and if there would be a rough draft, for example – but also emphasized the importance of arriving early to the job. Shainline said that while she often prepares brief forms the night before, after she sets up at the job, she does some practice with those briefs to help get them into muscle memory.

Gadgets and gizmos

Merilee Johnson, RDR, CRR, CRC, and Micheal Johnson, RDR, CRR, lead a session filled with dozens of specific gadgets, gizmos, and app recommendations to make life easier both on and off the job. For example, for the office, Merilee and Micheal shared:

  • a few types of charging stations, including the Satechi USB Charging Station, which charges up to six devices at a time, and the EZO power desktop, which Merilee says she’s brought on jobs as a value add to help attorneys plug in their devices;
  • second monitors, including the Duet Display app, which turns an iPad into a second screen (currently only for Apple products), and the Mimo, which is a small second monitor – both Micheal and Merilee said they’ve found it helpful to use a small second monitor to free up real estate on their laptop and move over, for example, BriefIt on a second screen; and
  • cable management gadgets, including the Baltic Sleeve, which is a Velcro sleeve that wraps around a bunch of cables, and the Safcord, which is also a Velcro solution that performs the same function as gaffer’s tape, except it’s reusable.

How to compete with some of the best

In a session that was part of the Student Learning Zone at the 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo, Chase Frazier, RMR, CRR, CRC; Tami Frazier, RMR, CRR; and Ron Cook, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC, gave concrete tips to students on improving their writing while getting through school. The three presenters came from a variety of perspectives: a captioner, an official, and a freelancer.

Chase had strong realtime skills coming out of school, but he didn’t have his state CSR. Because of this, he went into captioning. Tami started as an official out of school because a job opened up at the right time. She said that while court work can be a little faster than depo work — and trials are more controlled — new professionals shouldn’t avoid going right into court after school. And Ron cited the freedom and money potential as perks to freelancing, but he admitted that one downside is the lack of benefits. (He is also a partner in a firm.)

Tami taught both of her sons (Chase and brother Clay Frazier) to write steno, and she did so paperless. She also emphasized perfection. When Chase was at 200 wpm, she saw that while he had the speed, he was writing sloppy and with no punctuation. She had him go back to 160 and work back up while also working on writing perfectly. Chase attributed this experience to his strength in realtime.

A woman speaks into a microphone. She is sitting amongst rows of people at a conference session.

An attendee shares her thoughts during a session at the 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo

“A lot of people don’t emphasize the mental part of practicing,” said Ron. “If you don’t think you’re going to get it, you won’t get it.” He provided a couple metaphors for practicing, including “slow things down” — meaning to slow things down mentally, stay relaxed, and go with the flow.

Tami recommended practicing about 10 percent faster than her goal speed (which was a technique that she used to get through school). “You always want to be pushing yourself,” she said. Pick tough dictation, she suggested — “and I’m a real believer in lit — it makes you write; there’s nothing easy about lit,” she said. She also suggested practicing a five-minute take at least ten or fifteen words per minute faster than the goal speed. But since she also emphasized aiming for perfection, repeating a take until writing it perfectly will clean up a reporter’s writing and also gives the reporter an opportunity to work in briefs and phrases. “The better writer you are, the easier the job,” she said.

Business of being a court reporter

Charisse Kitt, RMR, CRI; Jessica Waack, RDR, CRR; Mike Hensley, RPR; and Katherine Schilling, RPR, presented a mock deposition as part of the Student Learning Zone at the 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo. With Schilling playing the part of newbie reporter, the mock deposition went through a variety of typical situations that a new reporter may not have encountered before or covered in school. At each “freeze frame,” the panelists discussed how they would handle each situation. A few of the situations were:

Introducing yourself at the beginning of the deposition: Kitt said she makes a point of greeting all of the lawyers in the room with a firm handshake. Waack expanded on this by saying that she makes sure her ears are over her shoulders over her hips, so she’s standing with confidence and not hunched over.

Swearing in the witness: Waack suggested having a physical piece of paper with the oath to refer to. She also said to make sure to include “swear or affirm” in the wording, since some witnesses don’t want to swear, and to avoid the phrase “so help you God.” Hensley pointed out that reporters should always check with their state association or firm first to see if there’s a preset oath that the reporter should be using.

Using briefs for names, words, and phrases: For briefs, Hensley pointed out that they don’t have to make sense on paper as long as they make sense to you to write. Kitt said she likes to get to a job at least 30 minutes early so she can use the time to jot down some briefs. And Waack suggested using LinkedIn to find the proper spellings of witnesses, etc., although she added that this will likely lead to some odd friend requests. She also said that after she’s developed a brief for an acronym, if the speaker suddenly uses the full term, she simply writes the brief twice.

The witness is talking too fast: Kitt said, “Don’t ever depend on your audio,” stressing that it’s the reporter’s responsibility as the record-keeper to keep in control and stop any fast talkers to tell them to slow down. Waack says she likes to reset the speaker to the point where she lost the record by saying, “You were talking about [subject].” And Hensley favors using a visual hand signal – physically lifting his hands up off the machine to show the room that something is up with the reporter.

Hensley also emphasized throughout the session the importance of knowing your software.

Beyond English

Stanley Sakai, CRC, led a session that focused on captioning in other languages, especially Spanish. The discussion was guided partially by Sakai’s prepared presentation and partly by the audience’s questions.

Sakai has a working knowledge of eight different languages with varying levels of fluency, including Dutch, German, Japanese, Korean, and Spanish. Prompted by a question from the audience, he explained that one of the methods he uses to keep up with such a wide variety of languages is to have different devices set to different languages (for example, his tablet set in one language and his mobile phone in another). He also takes the opportunity to look up words he encounters on the fly and to read articles, etc., in a language other than English so he learns content and vocabulary at the same time.

The session description specifically highlighted Spanish, and the growing need for Spanish captioning came up in the discussion, both domestically and abroad. Sakai talked a little bit about the differences between baseline speeds in English and Spanish and how Spanish is at a slightly slower speed. He also discussed his methods for doing CART work in German and how steno systems work in Korean and in Japanese. Sakai had to adjust his steno theory in order to provide CART, which was for a German language class, and he even had to be prepared to jump between German and English. Similarly, in the discussion, he pointed out that the Korean and Japanese languages toggle between different writing systems based on the specific words, and reporters and captioners in those countries need to have keyboards that are set up to quickly switch between the writing systems at the speed of spoken language.

Read all the news from the 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo.

Perpetual student: The joys of CART captioning in higher ed

Two women stand side by side, one in a graduation cap and gown

Ellen Heckle, on left, with her newly graduated student

Ellen L. Heckle, RPR, CRR, CRC, of Archer City, Texas, recently reached a milestone in her career: “After years of working with hard-of-hearing students, I experienced the culmination of seeing a hard-of-hearing student through her higher-education learning to receiving her double majors including a Bachelor of Science in dental hygiene and a Bachelor of Arts in sociology,” she said. She says that she is very excited for the graduate, who plans to obtain a Master of Education degree.

Heckle, who has been a court reporter for 28 years, has worked seven years as a CART captioner for higher-learning institutions. In that time, she has worked with seven students over three locations: South Plains College, Levelland, Texas; Vernon College, Vernon, Texas; and Midwestern State University, Wichita Falls, Texas. “As an added benefit, I work with some amazing people, both peers and mentors, who keep me motivated and constantly wanting to learn and hone my skills.”

Ellen Heckle's CART captioning setup for a nursing class

Ellen Heckle’s CART captioning setup for a nursing class

As much as she loves providing CART captioning, the job has its challenges. She is currently captioning for a nursing student, and one of the classes is pharmacology. “One challenge has been, of course, the technical terminology,” Heckle says. “Students are required to be familiar with the longer generic designations for drug names rather than the more common trademark or brand names. Though it has taken much homework on my part in prep time, I resolved this issue by defining drug prefixes and suffixes and spending many, many hours inputting drug names.”

Heckle emphasizes the perks of CART captioning at the college level. “It is just fun to be with the students and to be in the college setting for the second time around,” Heckle says. “I don’t remember it being this much fun when I attended college.” Heckle earned a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration in 1985. “It is rewarding to be on a student’s journey for a future goal. Really nothing compares to helping someone reach their dreams,” she says.

“There is no substitute for how rewarding it is to caption for the hard-of-hearing students in higher education. I wish more court reporters would take the challenge to become realtime ready for the future of our profession,” Heckle says. “I believe it is the solution to the longevity and future of our profession.”

NCRF hosts a second Hard-of-Hearing Heroes Veterans History Project

The National Court Reporters Foundation hosted a second Hard-of-Hearing Heroes Project initiative on June 23 at the 2017 Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) Convention held in Salt Lake City, Utah. Volunteer court reporters, captioners, and interviewers turned out to help chronicle the service experiences of seven veterans, which will be transcribed for the U.S. Library of Congress Veterans History Project (VHP).

Four people sit around a table in a hotel conference room. Two women, in the back, are concentrating intently (while transcribing). In the foreground, two men are in conversation. The man on the right has war injuries, primarily seen on his face.

Retired Staff Sgt. Shilo Harris (front right), who received life threatening injuries while serving in Iraq, is interviewed by retired Lt. Lynn Hinckley (front left). Cecilee G. Wilson (back right) provides CART while Amber Fraass (back left) transcribes.

Among those interviewed was HLAA convention keynote speaker retired Staff Sgt. Shilo Harris, who served in the U.S. Army during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He suffered severe third degree burns on 35 percent of his body after his armored vehicle was struck by an IED in February 2007.

Harris’s injuries also included the loss of both ears, the tip of his nose, three fingers, and numerous broken bones. The devastating injuries required that he remain in a medically induced coma for 48 days; after, he spent nearly three years recovering and undergoing intensive physical therapy at the burn unit of the Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) in San Antonio, Texas. Harris received numerous awards for his service including a Purple Heart, Meritorious Service Medal, and the Army Commendation Medal three times.

While at BAMC, he was the first soldier to participate in cutting-edge regenerative stem-cell research to regrow his fingers and later received prosthetic ears. His recovery has involved more than 75 surgeries. He also has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, also known as PTSD. In 2010, Harris was medically retired from the Army. He is now a motivational speaker and author of Steel Will: My Journey through Hell to Become the Man I Was Meant to Be.

“If it isn’t written down, it did not happen,” said retired Lt. Lynn Hinckley, who served 26 years with the U.S. Army National Guard and volunteered to interview Harris. “My personal takeaway is that stories are important and allow us to pass on our heritage. Personal stories are just that, personal; they carry a power that nothing else can match,”

Hinckley also had the opportunity to interview Randal “Randy” Nelson, a retired U.S. Army Colonel who served during both Gulf Wars including deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq. Nelson earned many awards over the course of his service, including two Bronze Stars and three Legion of Merit awards. Originally from South Dakota, Nelson now resides in North Carolina. During his interview he shared how he lost his hearing in his left ear during a Jet Ski accident, but was allowed to continue his military career by overcoming balance issues and learning to rely on his right ear.

During the interviews, the two veterans were able to connect having both served in the same locations in Iraq, a connection that appeared to help the interviewer and interviewee draw upon a camaraderie that is inherent among veterans.

Four people sit around a table in a hotel conference room. In the back is a middle-aged woman concentrating while transcribing on a steno machine. On the left and right are two men -- one younger, one older, in conversation. In the foreground is the back of a yong woman; her steno machine is in front of her and a laptop is on the table with the spoken words appearing on the screen in real time.

Retired Marine Corp combat veteran Don Doherty (left) is interviewed by Patrick Holkins (right). Amber Fraass transcribes (middle), while Phoebe Moorhead (far right) provides CART.

“This project provides an opportunity for nonveterans to get a feel for what military life is like. This is information that would have died with the veteran if not for this project,” said Hinckley.

Other veterans interviewed during the event included:

  • Don Doherty, a retired Marine Corps combat veteran, who lost his hearing during the Vietnam War and has worn hearing aids since 1970. Over the course of his service, Doherty earned the Combat Action Ribbon, the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, the Navy Commendation Medal, and the Presidential Unit Citation. He has worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs for more than 20 years and currently serves as the vice-chairperson for HLAA. He resides in Moyock, N.C., and was interviewed by fellow HLAA board member Patrick Holkins, an attorney from Washington, D.C.
  • Mike Wehman, a Radioman 2nd Class and Shellback, who served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War. He served on the Charles S. Sperry destroyer ship, the Wright communications ship, and the Benewah – floating command center in the Mekong Delta. Wehman earned the Vietnam Service Medal and National Defense Service Medal. He resides in Des Plaines, Ill.
  • Retired Lt. Commander Ron Tallman, who served 22 years in the U.S. Navy. He served during the Vietnam and first Gulf War and was awarded the Navy Achievement Medal, Navy Commendation Medal, and Meritorious Service Medal, among others He is a board member of the Sun Lakes, Ariz., HLAA chapter and co-chair for the Arizona Walk4Hearing. He is originally from Seattle, Wash., and resides in Arizona.
  • Gerald “Jerry” Hutch, who served in the U.S. Air Force during the Cold War/pre-Vietnam era as an Airman 1st Class E-4. He was born in McKees Rocks, Pa., and served his entire tour of duty in Texas. He currently resides in Helena, Mont. Hutch is legally blind due to age-related macular degeneration has severe hearing loss in both ears, and uses digital hearing aids.
  • Louis Shaup, who served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War as an SP4 and E-4. He served in the Military Assistance Advisory Group Vietnam, conducting top-secret Army intelligence. Shaup earned several awards for his service, including the Vietnam Service Medal. He was born in Ashland, Penn., and now resides in California.

“This interview opportunity was an incredibly profound experience for me,” said Matthew R. Barusch, NCRA’s Manger of State Government Relations, who volunteered to talk with U.S. Army veteran Louis Shaup.

“The opportunity to hear a firsthand account of Louis’ wartime experience was both moving and humbling, and for me, reinforced the necessity of the Veterans History Project. These veterans, who sacrificed a lot to serve our country, deserve to have their stories heard and preserved, and I was honored to be a part of that preservation,” Barusch said.

Interviewers and captioners from Utah who also volunteered their time to support the NCRF event included NCRA members:

  • Amber Fraass, RPR, a freelance reporter from South Ogden
  • Heidi Hunter, RPR, a freelance reporter from Salt Lake City
  • Kristin E. Marchant, RPR, a freelance reporter from South Jordan
  • Phoebe Moorhead, RPR, a freelance reporter from North Ogden
  • Rossann Morgan, RPR, a freelance court reporter from West Jordan
  • Ariel Mumma, RPR, a freelance court reporter from Salt Lake City
  • Michelle Naert, RPR, CRR, CRC, a CART captioner from Saratoga Springs
  • Lindsay Payeur, RPR, a freelance reporter from Grantsville
  • Laurie Shingle, RPR, CMRS, from Pleasant View
  • Cecilee G. Wilson, RDR, CRR, CRC, a broadcast captioner from Kaysville

NCRF’s Hard-of-Hearing Heroes Project initiative specifically seeks to interview veterans with hearing loss with the help of CART captioning. Hearing loss is among the most common service-related injuries due to constant exposure to loud noises in training and in combat, and it tends to worsen over time. In addition to preserving these veterans’ stories for the VHP, the Hard-of-Hearing Heroes Project introduces CART captioning, which is a service that may benefit these veterans in their daily lives.

NCRF launched the Hard-of-Hearing Heroes Project at HLAA’s headquarters in Bethesda, Md., in February, where five veterans with varying degrees of hearing loss chronicled their service experiences.

NCRA members have been listening and taking down veterans’ stories since NCRF partnered with the Library of Congress in 2003 to have court reporters transcribe veterans’ stories from their collection of now more than 100,000. In 2007, members were asked to preserve the stories of veterans who hadn’t yet recorded their histories through personal interviews and VHP Days. To date, NCRF has submitted more than 4,100 transcripts to the Library of Congress.

NCRF’s Hard-of-Hearing Heroes initiative is supported by an Innovation Grant from the American Society of Association Executives Foundation. Two more Hard-of-Hearing Heroes events will take place at the Military Order of the Purple Heart National Convention being held in Dallas, Texas, in August, and at the Association of Late-Deafened Adults annual convention being held in Orlando, Fla. in October. NCRF is currently seeking volunteers to participate at both of these events. For more information, please visit NCRA.org/NCRF, or contact April Weiner, Foundation Manager, at aweiner@ncra.org.

Disability on campus: ‘Deafness creates certain preconceived (and rather shallow) notions even to this day’

JCR logoOn May 17, Times Higher Education published its first of a series of stories about life on campus with a disability. Author Brenda Jo Brueggemann, professor and Aetna chair of writing at the University of Connecticut, addresses hearing loss and discusses her use of a realtime captioner.

Read more.

The art of it: Providing mobile CART at the Art Institute of Chicago

Cathy Rajcan, RDR, CRR, CRC, understands the importance of access in all situations. One of her regular assignments is providing CART for lectures at the Art Institute of Chicago.

The Art Institute recently offered a tour to a group interested in accessibility and asked Rajcan to provide CART for the group. Since tours do not stay still, neither could Rajcan. The JCR talked to Rajcan about how she handled this mobile CART assignment.

How did you get the assignment to CART an art museum tour? How often have you done an assignment like this?

I have been providing CART for lectures at the Art Institute of Chicago for a few years. The lectures are offered to members and the general public. This was the first time I have provided mobile CART at the Art Institute, and it was a lot of fun. The event was organized in conjunction with the Chicago Cultural Accessibility Consortium, a nonprofit volunteer organization that has been facilitating various cultural venues in Chicago to create welcoming environments for people with disabilities. This particular event was focused on making visual art more accessible to people who are blind or have low vision, and participants were learning how to audio-describe the artwork they were observing. The Art Institute has WiFi throughout the building, which is very helpful in making communication access available to large groups.

Does the Art Institute offer CART regularly for tours and other events, or was this organized separately?

The Art Institute of Chicago has been providing ASL-interpreted tours for a couple years, and I have been discussing with their education department making the mobile CART available for the tours specifically for people who have hearing loss but do not use ASL. CART captioning has been made available particularly to mature audiences, who have a higher incidence of hearing loss.

Cathy Rajcan, on left, writes on her steno machine, which is strapped to her with a harness. At right, a tour guide talks about a piece of art for a museum guest.What is your setup for mobile CART?

For mobile CART, I loaded my CAT software onto my tablet and Bluetoothed my Diamonte to the tablet. From the tablet I sent my realtime stream to an Internet platform, and then provided the URL to the tour attendees so that additional people could view the CART stream from their handheld devices and smartphones. The setup with the mobile table is quite different ergonomically. I practiced on several occasions in advance prior to providing mobile CART to become comfortable writing while standing and getting my steno machine situated in the best way possible. I also told the docent in advance to please only speak while stopped rather than while walking, which would maintain a high degree of accuracy — I told them, “This is much more difficult than walking and chewing gum!” My steno machine was attached to the mobile table with a large commercial strength Velcro circle as well as a small stabilizing strap for extra peace of mind — it is, after all, a $5,000 piece of equipment!

What were some of the words and phrases you made sure you had in your dictionary for this assignment?

This was literally “thinking on my feet” as far as consciously recalling the unique dictionary entries I have created for art-related names and terms. I have approximately 200 specifically unique job dictionaries that I use according to the topic and setting. My Art Institute dictionary is approximately 400 entries; however, I always request in advance of a CART assignment prep materials for that particular day, and then I study those entries prior to the event. This tour was in the Modern Wing, which currently houses the Edlis/Neesen Contemporary Art collection, a gift from Stefan Edlis, a Chicago-based art collector and philanthropist, and his wife Gael Neesen. In addition to the donors’ names, I included in my dictionary the names of artists who created the pieces — e.g. Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, Katharina Fritsch, and Jasper Johns — and the names of some of the pieces, such as Liz # 3, Target, and Woman with Dog (Frau mit Hund).

Was this assignment related to your personal interests at all?

I have a true appreciation for visual, musical, and performing arts. Other than my unique skill as a court reporter and captioner and some domestic textile talents, I am not gifted in the arts. Although several years ago a friend of mine who is a master violinist explained to me that we all have various talents, and those with skills in the performing arts and fine arts are grateful for those of us who appreciate their talents and are audience members and enthusiasts. Having provided realtime captioning at performing arts events, I have gained a great appreciation for the abilities of performers to memorize and perform the dialogue and lyrics in plays and musicals. They are truly amazing!

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

Providing access in a crisis: Captioning with FEMA

By Deanna Baker

Sheri Smargon, RDR, CRR, CRC, has shared her experiences on social media working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and I thought everyone would enjoy hearing more about these adventures.

Sheri, tell us a little about your background as a CART captioner, I know it’s extensive.

I started captioning directly out of court reporting school in 1992, working for our local county commission. We were the first county in the nation to caption its government meetings, and it was in an open caption format, which means that anyone turning to the channel could see the captions, whether they wanted to or not. In the early days, it probably was more of a “not” situation. The people in charge figured if you could write “on that machine,” you must be able to caption. Boy, we proved them wrong!

After two years, I moved from Florida to Pittsburgh, Penn., and went to work at VITAC, the country’s largest captioning provider. I loved the job, but hated the weather. I’m from Massachusetts originally and thought I missed snow and seasons. Not so much! So after two years, I moved back to Florida and started freelance work for the local court reporting firm who had the contract with the county courthouse for court reporters.

During that time, even though we had a seniority system, I was the only one with any realtime or captioning experience, so I was given the opportunity to realtime a vice presidential debate with Al Gore and Jack Kemp. I was realtiming, and a transcript of my work was being printed every 15 minutes for the hundreds of national and international media that were in attendance. It was quite the experience.

I only did court reporting for a short time because then I got a job with Caption Colorado, captioning from home. I worked there for seven-and-a-half years. During my time with Caption Colorado, I captioned a lot of news, baseball games, and the Olympics a few times.

Then the opportunity to caption in Sydney, Australia, popped up. So I moved to Sydney to work for the Australian Caption Centre. While there, I captioned everything from news and reality TV to sports, like cricket and rugby. It was quite a learning curve because I had to adjust my dictionary to true English spellings (colour, favour, etc.) I worked there for six months and moved back to Florida, picking up with a few captioning companies and a court reporting firm.

I went to an NCRA Convention & Expo in New York City and ran into my old boss and former NCRA President Kathy DiLorenzo. She told me VITAC was hiring, so I should apply again. I did apply because now they were allowing people to work from home, versus having to move to Pittsburgh. I was hired on by VITAC in 2007.

While there, I captioned everything from CNN to the Stanley Cup Finals to the Olympics. I also captioned a couple of musicals on NBC: “The Sound of Music” and “Peter Pan.” Never having seen either the movie or the stage production of either tale, there was a bit of a learning curve for sure!

I left VITAC in January of 2016 to strike out on my own as an independent contractor, trying to find different CART and captioning experiences. My final job with VITAC was captioning the Golden Globe Awards. So I think I went out on a high point.

(August 18, 2007 Denver, Colorado)  FEMA's Denver based MERS leave for Texas to support operations ahead of hurricane Dean. Photo: Michael Rieger/FEMA

(August 18, 2007, Denver, Colo.) FEMA’s Denver-based MERS leave for Texas to support operations ahead of hurricane Dean.
Photo: Michael Rieger/FEMA

How is it you started working with FEMA as an independent contractor? What was the hiring process like?

I am the administrator of a group on Facebook called The Captioning Klatch. I started it a few years ago, just as a place to come and talk about all things captioning and CART related. One of our members posted that FEMA was hiring for CART writers, so I looked at the job description and decided to apply.

The hiring process involved a lot of paperwork … reams, it seemed like at times. Eventually, I was given an interview, but no one told me it would be a Skype interview. So I was in my pajamas, with no makeup on, because I was in the middle of my captioning day. I kept my webcam aimed pretty high that day for sure!

I was asked a lot of questions by interviewers, both hearing and Deaf, and then I was given a practical examination, where the interviewers could see me caption. The clip they played for me was a press conference from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Luckily, I had captioned the news from Louisiana during that time, so I had all of those cities and parishes in my dictionary.

A short while after the interview, I was offered the job, contingent on a thorough background check and security clearance. While I have nothing to worry about, having the FBI contact friends and family is kind of freaky!

You were deployed to an assignment in North Carolina. What was an average day, the good and the bad, and how you were helping in this emergency situation? How much notice did you have beforehand?

When there’s a disaster and the Joint Field Office (JFO) is opened, that becomes the hub in the state for FEMA employees to go and work. They go out in the field to different locations, called Regional Field Offices (RFOs) but in general, the main administration and IT, etc., are located at the JFO. They work a minimum 12 hours a day, seven days a week, in the first couple of months, just because of the sheer number of things that have to be accomplished to help the disaster survivors.

When I arrived at the JFO, the disaster was so new that in the first few weeks of the aftermath, staff was in a temporary location while they looked for a permanent location. FEMA remains on-site, with a state presence, for quite some time. There is still FEMA staff in Louisiana working on Katrina, if that gives you a timeline. So I was with everyone else in the temporary offices, basically, just finding a spot to sit where I could.

My first day at the temporary JFO, I was issued a FEMA computer, signed paperwork, got login information. All of the usual boring, but necessary, aspects of being on a temporary assignment with the government. I then had to be issued a projector and a portable screen for me to take to any realtime jobs that may be scheduled. When all was said and done, between my personal equipment, a FEMA computer, a projector, and a screen, I had more than 100 pounds of equipment to carry with me.

There are no average days when it comes to a disaster. The slogan is “If you’ve been to one disaster, you’ve been to one disaster.” Every day is different. I would go into the office at 7 in the morning, and see what the schedule was like for the day. If a disaster site wanted or needed sign language interpreters, they would put in a request and that was added to the interpreters’ schedule. And almost always, the meeting was at 5 or 6 at night with a couple hours’ drive to get to the location. Because I was the one and only realtime reporter, I was assigned to larger events, so that we could reach more people. Sometimes, it was a gymnasium with 200 people; sometimes, it was a city council chamber with 30 people. Every day was something different.

There were also days where we had no assignments to cover, but I would still go into work at 7. I would work on my dictionary, go through a recently written file to add acronyms or anything I may have gotten wrong. Eventually, on days where I didn’t have a meeting, I decided to hook up my projector and aim it toward the wall and practice to whatever I could find on the Internet.

I believe you were gone for two weeks. How were you able to manage your own clients and regular work at home?

Because I work with a great court reporting firm, they were able to take me off the books the week before I deployed. I was initially supposed to deploy to a staging area in Atlanta, Ga., because of the fact there was no office set up in North Carolina yet. So I was already off the books for my court reporting firm and wasn’t accepting or bidding on any CART or captioning work. I ended up not going to Atlanta and just having my deployment delayed a week, which was great for me because I had a court reporting training class in Washington, D.C., that I had scheduled months previous to my deployment. Gratefully, scheduling worked out for me.

Were you using your own equipment? What was your setup? Were you working with any other CART captioners?

I was mostly using my own equipment, yes. So I brought my Luminex, cables, cords, extensions, laptop, and cool table with me. FEMA provided the projector and the screen. I wrote a proposal for FEMA to buy everything they needed for the CART project, but as of this time, it’s still bogged down in purchasing … or somewhere governmental.

FEMA wants to hire 37 more CART captioners over the next three years. So far, they have hired myself and one other reporter in Ohio, Molly Adams. We both deployed once with the caveat we will use our equipment one time, and then FEMA would have to purchase what we needed. Our concern was if our personal equipment breaks while in the field, we can’t work while deployed and we can’t work when we get home. It’s not like you can go buy most of our gear at Best Buy. So, Molly and I continue to wait.

Are there any unique skill sets that are needed for this type of work?

You have to be okay with not being home for an extended period of time. I did 30 days, and that was a lot. Most people do 60- to 90-day deployments and can rotate home for two weeks at a time.

You have to be okay with being in a strange place and not having your creature comforts of home, potentially. I was in a rural area, and I’ve never traveled behind so many tractors! You’re staying in a hotel, most likely. And while the hotel I was in was nice, there was no oven. It had a stovetop and a fridge and microwave, but no oven. What I wanted most was a roast. I learned tips and tricks on how to find rooms with full kitchens, so next time I get deployed, I am hopeful a roast will be in the offing.

Would you recommend this type of work to other CART captioners?

I would totally recommend this to CART captioners. While there were never any people who were Deaf or hard of hearing at any of the meetings I went to, I was thanked quite a bit by people in attendance, who either were taking notes and missed what was said or just thought it was nice to have access. Most didn’t even realize how the “words were getting up there” on to my screen. They didn’t realize it was a real person. So the education aspect was especially nice.

Is this a long-term assignment?

We have a two-year contract, which may or may not be renewed when that time comes. Hopefully, I will be able to report a positive update in the next few months regarding our equipment. Obviously, if you get deployed, it means someone, somewhere, is having the worst day of their life. You wouldn’t want that, but you also want to be there to be helpful, if you can.

I wouldn’t want this to be my full-time job due to the traveling and being away from home, but branching out and helping people, actually one on one, is quite a rewarding experience.

 

Deanna Baker, RMR, is a broadcast captioner in Flagstaff, Ariz. She can be reached at dpbaker@mindspring.com.

NCRA’s 2016 Convention & Expo: Something for everyone

Convention-JCRcom-BoxAdOnline registration for NCRA 2016 Convention & Expo happening at the Hilton Chicago, Chicago, Ill., Aug. 4-7, closes July 29, so hurry and register now to participate in the vast array of continuing education sessions, networking opportunities, certification preparation workshops for the Certified Realtime Reporter and the Realtime Systems Administrator, and, of course, all that’s new on the Expo floor.

Whether you are an official, freelancer, broadcast or CART captioner, legal videographer, educator, student, or legal services provider, this year’s schedule has something to help you be the architect of your future. Plus attendees who need CEUs can earn up to 2.45 of them with a full registration and optional workshops.

Among the educational session highlights are:

Freelancer business 101. Presenters: Lisa DiMonte, RMR, CMRS; Jan Ballman, RPR, CMRS; Marjorie Peters, RMR, CRR; and Dave Tackla, CLVS

Compassion fatigue and job stress. Presenter: April Kopp, LCSW, MFA

Your cloud-based office. Presenters: Nancy Bistany, RPR and Kim Neeson, RPR, CRR, CRC

The secret business of court reporting. Presenter: Debbie Bridges Duffy, RPR

Beyond the captions:  Captioner roundtable. Presenters: Merilee Johnson, RMR, CRR, CRC; Bill Graham; and Deanna Baker, FAPR, RMR

90 apps in 90 minutes. Presenter: Sara Wood, CAE

Tax tips for court reporters. Presenter: Charlotte Ogorek

Best practices for realtime reporting. Presenters: Jason Meadors, FAPR, RPR, CRR, CRC; Christine Phipps, RPR; and Sandy VanderPol, FAPR, RMR, CRR

Anywhere, anytime:  Online testing. Presenter: Marybeth Everhart, RPR, CRI, CPE

Are you an independent contractor or an employee? Presenter: Chris Wojcicki

Video equipment configuration:  Real world equipment setups. Presenters: Richard Hayden, CLVS, and Jason Levin, CLVS

In addition, students, educators, and school administrators will enjoy a selection of sessions tailored specifically to their interests and needs.

Other highlights for the 2016 NCRA Convention & Expo include professional speaker and humorist John Wagner, who will address the topic of “Pride in the Profession” when he takes the stage as the keynote presenter during the Premier Session; the national Speed and Realtime Contests; the installation of NCRA’s 2016-2017 Officers and Board of Directors; and the presentation of the Distinguished Service Award, the highest award bestowed by NCRA. Networking opportunities will include receptions, the annual awards and NCRF Angels luncheons, and the President’s Party.

Remember, the deadline for online registration is July 29. For more information and to register for the 2016 NCRA Convention & Expo, visit NCRA.org/Convention.

Captioning the moment: UTRGV spring grads will see their names on the big screen

An article posted by the Valley Town Crier on May 12 about the spring commencement ceremonies at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley showcases how CART providers will make the experience more fulfilling for visitors who are deaf or hard of hearing by ensuring each graduate’s name appears on the big screens during the event.

Read more.

SCOTUS ditches cell phone ban to swear in lawyers who are hard of hearing

An article posted April 25 by GCN reports that the U.S. Supreme Court set aside its policy against cell phones in the courtroom recently when it swore in 12 members of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Bar Association into the Supreme Court Bar on April 19. The Supreme Court provided a limited WiFi signal so the lawyers could use their mobile devices to receive a realtime transcription of the swearing-in ceremony through CART.

Read more.