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.”

Making connections with HLAA

In 1992, Deanna Baker, FAPR, RMR, was first introduced to Self Help for Hard of Hearing, the precursor of the Hearing Loss Association of America. “I started volunteering my realtime services to this organization at that time, as they were not aware of CART captioning services,” said Baker. ”That was 24-plus years ago, and I have been involved ever since.”

Rear view of a dark conference room filled with people looking toward two screens; one has the speaker with captions overlaid on top and the other has a slide from the presentation

Plenary session at the 2016 HLAA conference

Since first getting involved, Baker has evolved with the organization. Her first experience was organizing the CART and captioning services for all breakout sessions and plenary events for the June 1993 conference. “Back then we used overhead projectors and panels on top to display our realtime from our notebook computers,” Baker said.

Baker has gone on to serve on the HLAA Board of Trustees and currently contributes as their CART captioning professional advisor. “I try to keep HLAA and NCRA connected on a variety of levels and am thrilled with their collaboration on the legislative level. I have also asked many HLAA members to be on various NCRA committees, as their input is vital with much of the work those committees are doing.” She also notes that since HLAA does a lot of work on a more regional level, she would love to see more individuals and state associations work with and support local HLAA chapters.

As part of her evolving role, Baker was invited to speak about CART captioning starting in 1996 and since has presented on related topics many times at the HLAA conventions. She spoke again at the HLAA conference in June and offered some thoughts on how to approach this topic.

What topics do you speak about for HLAA?

I explained what CART captioning is and how it works, and I also explained what credentials are available and offer some ideas for the resources. This year, I handed out the new NCRA Code of Professional Ethics for CART captioners.

Rear view of a conference room with a man and woman presenting at the front. On the left is a screen with the PowerPoint presentation and captions overlaid on top.

Breakout session at the 2016 HLAA conference. NCRA member Darlene Parker is presenting.

Also, at times, I’ve reviewed the various new sections of the Federal Communications Commission’s guidelines, explained how to complain about poor quality TV captioning, and showed the audience some of the best practices that have been developed. I often share with them NCRA’s captioningmatters.com website and go through the benefits that site offers consumers. When new technologies are introduced, I’ll keep the HLAA membership up to date on how they can benefit from that.

My co-presenter this year was Michele Michaels from the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. As a consumer, she explained various settings where remote CART captioning can be used such as sporting events, theaters, and mobile CART captioning. She also went through the process for requesting services, who pays for the services, and the relevant ADA regulations.

Do you suggest the topics, or did the organizers ask you to do this? What has the feedback been like?

Sometimes HLAA has a specific topic they want me to talk about, but otherwise I come up with the topic that I see as relevant at the time. All the various talks I have given I have had very positive feedback. The members always have excellent questions. Many are not familiar with NCRA and have many questions regarding certification and especially the high demand for services now.

A group of smiling people

At HLAA 2017
Front row (l->r): Lisa Johnston, Bob Branigin, and Diane Humphrey
Back row (l->r): Kimberly August, Scott Smith, Deanna Baker, Jim Vivian, and Sharon Vivian

Do you have advice for other CART captioners who want to provide services for accessibility for conferences on how to explain those services?

For the CART captioners out there, I would highly suggest contacting your local HLAA chapters or other groups serving the hard of hearing, either state or local, and give presentations regarding the “how” of CART captioning. They usually are always looking for speakers at their meetings. Possibly partner up with another CART captioner for a live demonstration!

The national HLAA group had terrific questions, especially around credentials. They were amazed at the variation of credentials and also what it takes to maintain them. They also really appreciated the explanation of the writer and how we “make” words. Also I explained how bloopers happen, using the example of the words part and fart, and how easy it is to have mistakes happen, which had them realizing how talented CART captioners really are!

After the hour presentation, the audience truly enjoyed our conversation and had a copy of the NCRA Code of Professional Ethics for CART captioners to share with others. [Ed. Note: Promoting court reporting and captioning to external audiences is eligible for PDC credit toward your NCRA certifications. Contact ContinuingEd@ncra.org for more information.]

NCRA member’s CART work featured in local paper

JCR: Journal of Court Reporting, TheJCR.com, JCR WeeklyOn July 11, the Northwest Boomer and Senior News posted an article featuring NCRA member Elizabeth Archer, a CART captioner in Portland, Ore. Archer is the owner of Archer Captioning.

Read more.

Kaplan sued under ADA

A Florida student who is deaf is suing Kaplan Educational Centers for refusing to provide an interpreter for the LSAT preparation course, according to a Sept. 18 article in the Daily Business Review based in South Florida. The student filed the suit in Fort Lauderdale, claiming Kaplan’s refusal violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.

According to the article, Kaplan offered the student access to an online LSAT course, which included captions, but the student informed Kaplan that he learns better by taking courses in person. He requested an American Sign Language interpreter and a note-taker to make the course accessible.

“NCRA strongly believes that accommodations made under the Americans with Disabilities Act should meet the needs of the person with the disability, whether that person prefers an American Sign Language interpreter or a CART (Communication Access Realtime Translations) provider or another type of assistance,” says Adam Finkel, NCRA’s Assistant Director of Government Relations.