Food for thought: Is there court reporter DNA?

I graduated from high school at age 18. I entered reporting school at age 18. I commenced my own reporting career at age 18. I had no predecessor relatives in our chosen profession. I was fortunate to be in the next crop of reporters to follow the legends prior thereto. These luminaries included Bill and Arnold Cohen, Nat Weiss, Nathan Behrin, et al. That same generation of reporting teachers included Jesse Benton, Paul Simone, Manny Grodsky, Nancy Patterson, and many more, all of whom were somewhat accessible to me for guidance and coaching. While Bill Cohen is just about retired from active reporting, he continues to teach and mentor. Chronologically speaking, I entered my first National Speed Contest in 1965 at the then–National Shorthand Reporters Association national convention in Atlantic City, N.J. I was at that time reporting five years at the ripe age of 23. Bill Cohen chaired the Speed Contest Committee.

Approximately 30 years thereafter I stopped competing, and I chaired that same Speed Contest committee. Bill was my right arm. It was all about Bill; what a thrill!

This past year I attended my 48th consecutive NCRA Convention. When I observed Bill in the corridors of this annual event, there were no less than a dozen or more neophyte and seasoned reporters surrounding him. I made my routine beeline for Bill, almost rudely leaping over everyone else, merely to continue showing my enormous respect for this unique professional. Bill is the consummate reporter, possessing no noticeable ego, only inimitable talent.

So if you’re getting the feeling this article is all about Bill Cohen — wrong; it is not. Bill took the time to introduce me to two of his current students at that time in August 2013 in Philadelphia. It should be noted that a great teacher, operating in an eleemosynary environment, can afford to pick and choose his students, almost analogous to a great trial attorney picking to try only cases he or she cannot lose. One such student is the reason for my writing: Noah Collin. While I have now maintained closeness to Noah for the past six months, it was only recently that I acquired the knowledge that Noah is Bill Cohen’s great nephew. So why do I highlight Noah at the possible risk of insulting the hundreds of other young reporters whom I have coached to success? Because I am extremely curious to see if DNA truly has an application to reporting greatness. Noah already and obviously has the practicing habits of Bill: practice ‘til you drop; the longer you write, the longer you write; and pay close attention to other successful reporters from whom you may learn. “Achieve, succeed, persevere, never panic, do not ever be intimidated.” So easy to say; so difficult to maintain. Almost immediately after meeting Noah and prior to learning that he and Bill were related, I began to evaluate where Noah “was” and where I thought he should be. Then I wanted to figure out the plan to take Noah where I believe he needs to be in order to enter this wonderful world of reporting. This plan all began to take root while Bill continued his daily mentoring of Noah.

My fear was that Noah should not become confused. To my pleasant surprise, Noah was both a quick learn to adapt to my speedbuilding techniques and Bill’s methodical persistence. After explaining the many choices from which to choose, Noah agreed to at least see if he felt comfortable commencing his career in the CART arena. Being one of the first CART reporters, it warmed my heart to see a young (27-year old) reporter follow in my footsteps and my daughter Lauren Schechter’s footsteps, and enter CART reporting, by far not the simplest of realtime endeavors.

After only a few months, I only half-gambled and exposed Noah to his first college course to CART, ‘’Teaching Deaf/ HoH Students To Teach Hearing Students.” Of course, Noah sat in with many different CART reporters before I permitted him to fly solo. I was delighted to know that Noah felt nervous. My dear friend and speed champion Chuck Boyer always said, “If you’re nervous, stay nervous; don’t fight it. It will win.” Noah feeling nervous was a good sign. He knew this was an important day. Frankly, I didn’t know who was more nervous: Noah or me. I also realized that if your first “outing” is a poor one, your self-esteem is shot; you feel you failed your self-esteem, and I failed my student. Not good!

Noah’s style of self-critique, I have learned, is to be tough on himself, while always protecting the valuable service a CART reporter is rendering a deaf student or deaf professor. To my pleasure, Noah’s self-analysis was: “I felt nervous, but the student thanked me.” I then checked, ORTING somewhat surreptitiously, with the student, as well as the Dean of Student Life at this famous New York university. How great! Noah did well and was requested to return.

Only six months later, Noah is carrying a full load of college courses at more than one school of higher education. I have never been requested to hold him back. As you know, perception has so much to do with pleasing another individual. Some of the best writers have been told not to return. In the CART world, we are dealing with the deaf and disability cultures. It’s not always a walk in the park. Noah has what it takes to be a first-rate CART provider, I am so proud to say.

To be a great realtime reporter, one must possess many components successfully, i.e., speed, accuracy, realtime skills, consistency, fingerspelling, and — not to be forgotten — attitude. Noah is on his way, and we have Bill Cohen to thank. Whether through DNA, avuncular respect, or a need to follow in his family of reporting greats, I am adjectivally challenged to describe or express why I feel Noah will ultimately be a legend, just like his Uncle Bill and other family members.

Noah will be a man of letters. Possessing a bachelor degree in Business Administration from Guilford College in North Carolina or becoming an RPR or CSR will never suffice. I predict he will someday be sitting in the speed contest room as a writer, not an observer.

To more fully prepare himself for his reporting career, Noah taught English and economics in South Korea. And, just like Uncle Bill, he was awestruck at the beauty of language and he often challenges me, politely, on English usage. “Bill, like white on rice, you’re all over Noah. You both respect and practice the mandate of discipline.” Perhaps if I had adopted said mandate, I would have won a national speed contest instead of just placing. And if there is a god of reporting, perhaps he already knows that Noah shall follow in Uncle Bill’s professional footsteps. Whether via DNA or Bill’s discipline, maybe one and the same, there is a winner screaming to surface in my young protege, my friend, my CART reporter, Noah Collin.

Captioning corner: Lessons learned from a captioning fail

In this age of social media, it doesn’t take long for a captioning blooper to be tweeted, Facebooked, or turned into a viral video, much to the chagrin of the individual reporter and broadcast captioner community at large. We’ve all been there, done that, wished we could crawl into the ground and disappear.

However, if we do not think about our bloopers as learning experiences, we are all at risk of them happening again. We, as a community, should take the necessary steps to avoid making mistakes and, when they do happen, know what to do to mitigate the errors as much as possible.

As a new captioner, I misstroked a brief during a basketball game and a celebrity name popped up instead of a player. I was mortified. But because of that experience, I can count on one hand how many times it happened again. I worked really hard to keep my briefs organized and took great care and put much thought into creating safe briefs and figuring out ways to write names out whenever possible, saving briefs for times when I really needed them.

Yes, captioning is a hard job sometimes. The speakers can go fast, and you can’t slow them down as you would if you were working with them in person. Yes, too many people don’t understand that captions are created by real people, not computers, much less the process that every single word must go through to get from the speaker’s mouth through our ears, brain, and fingers, and then to our computers, the modem, and back onto the television broadcast stream.

But before we educate the public, we need to first put our money where our mouths are. I’m not just speaking to individual captioners. I also direct this to every captioning company: How many of us have the CBC? How many of us have the RMR? And what about the RPR?

To cite one example that is outside of our industry, let’s look at news reporting. During the Boston marathon bombings in April, news reporters were trying to get information out fast (just like we do). But when one of CNN’s reporters covering the marathon incident said someone had been arrested and identified the suspect as a dark-skinned male, he made a mistake. And guess what? His mistake became news. Why? Because we expect CNN to get it right, and they have a responsibility to get it right. I’m sure he and everyone else behind the mistake were mortified. I’m sure his colleagues all said, “Been there, done that.” But I’d bet you any amount of money the higher-ups at CNN didn’t care about the circumstances surrounding that mistake. I’m sure they didn’t coddle the reporter and tell him not to worry about it.

So please, I beg of you, don’t miss this wake-up call. Comb through your dictionaries for old briefs, and create job-specific dictionaries if you haven’t already. Analyze how you brief, and seek help if you need a better system. Captioning companies, even the little guys, should demand certifications, and they should test captioners, not only before hiring them, but periodically throughout their employment to ensure high quality.

If you’re at a loss as to where to start, here are three places I suggest you begin: Your prefixes, suffixes, and word roots; your briefs and phrases; and your dictionary as a whole.

Use prefixes, suffixes, and word roots

The goal of every captioner should be to strive for clean, accurate captions and to be secure in the knowledge that your dictionary and writing style will back you up. To achieve 99 percent accuracy or better, a good place to start is to examine your steno theory and modify it so that each and every stroke is uniquely defined. In other words, avoid using a single stroke in multiple circumstances. For example, if the stroke PWAOEU is defined as BUY, then avoid using that stroke as a prefix or suffix. Create a unique stroke to use in those situations. Likewise, the stroke OR should never be used as anything but the word OR. Adopting this philosophy will greatly reduce the risk for word-boundary issues. Note: You may use a stroke as a prefix as long as the next stroke is a clear suffix but do not define the first stroke as a prefix.

Prefixes and suffixes play an enormous role in captioning. One of the first steps of transitioning from court reporter to realtime writer and/or captioner is distinguishing between prefixes and suffixes. Although you may encounter a few word boundary problems while court reporting, they seem to be ever-present in captioning unless the necessary changes are made to your writing. One of the first word-boundary problems I encountered while on the air, unfortunately, was POP ICONS, which translated as POPEYE CONS. I used AOEU for both prefixes and suffixes and thought if I globaled the stroke with another stroke, all would be fine. Obviously, that is one of the great misconceptions of realtime writing. You can’t simply global your way out of any situation. Captioning (and realtime in general) is really about writing your way out of any situation, using prefixes, root words, suffixes, and special characters like the delete space and space functions as well as fingerspelling.

Limit briefs and phrases

Achieving the necessary accuracy rate can also mean limiting the use of briefs and phrases. For example, instead of SERT for CERTIFICATE, either write it out or insert an asterisk into the original stroke or modify the stroke to something safer, like SOEURT. The asterisk, while foreign to many court reporters, can be a valuable tool in realtime. If you find it awkward to stroke the asterisk within another stroke, use the “half tap” method. To use the same example, stroke SERT and, while holding down the keys, simply reach over with your index finger to the asterisk key and press it down. After some practice, it will come more naturally, but for some strokes, the index finger just isn’t available and the half tap comes in handy. The primary reason to write out briefs and phrases is to avoid them appearing in a multi-stroke word if that word is either not in your dictionary or one of the strokes is misstroked. TETRACYCLINE could translate as AT THE TIME RA PSYCH LEAN. A much cleaner mistake would be TETRA PSYCHLINE (because I used my RA suffix and LINE suffix).

There is much controversy swirling around in the field about briefs. Some believe briefing as much as possible will increase your speed. While I will not dispute that general premise on its face, I would argue that briefing as much as possible will not increase your accuracy as a captioner. If you strive to write at an accuracy of 99 percent or better every day on any type of programming, it is my opinion (and the opinion of those who trained me) that a solid realtime theory devised of prefixes, suffixes, and root words is the best approach to consistent, accurate captions. I strongly believe you must first be capable of writing anything and everything without relying on briefs, artificial intelligence, or any other shortcut that may be invented in the next century. Once that happens, then briefs and some basic intelligence can be used as a tool, not as a crutch. The question is — and this has happened to me — what happens if you load the wrong job dictionary for a show? You write the brief that contains the show’s title in quotes. It does not translate. Before you can load the dictionary at the first commercial break, you must get through the first segment; i.e., writing out the title surrounded by quotation marks as well as any other show-related briefs. If you never mastered doing that, simply creating a brief every time at the first sign of difficulty, then you will surely run into trouble.

Here’s another example of something that has actually happened to me. I was captioning a dog competition, and a dog jumped off the dock at 21 feet 9 inches, which should appear as 21’ 9”. Unfortunately, and unbeknownst to me, my CAT software’s intelligence was only designed for single digits in the “feet” portion of the figure. So what translated was 2’ 19”. I quickly had to improvise and chose to write 21 feet 9 inches the next several times. If I had been really slick, I would have written 21, my stroke for single apostrophe, 9, end quote. Now, that’s the work of a truly talented captioner. If it happens again, I’ll be ready for it.

Know your dictionary

Changing your writing is only half the battle. It is imperative that you remember how you changed your writing. Make use of sticky notes or cheat sheets anywhere and everywhere until you have memorized the new theory. Review transcripts and steno notes often for errors, and keep lists of problem areas. Purge your dictionary of word-global entries. For example, if you have the word-global entry MARTIAL ARTS with the steno PHAR/SHA*UL, which you have defined alone as MARSHALL, create a new and unique way to write MARTIAL, like PHAR/SH*EUL, and delete the word-global (crutch) entry. Practice writing sentences with the different versions of MARSHALL in them, including MARSHAL (which I write PHAR/SHA*L). Before you know it, you will “hear” MARTIAL instead of MARSHALL. It helps to visualize it. One of the ways I remember MARSHAL is having seen it on the back of Tommy Lee Jones’ character in The Fugitive. Jones played a “U.S. MARSHAL.” Whenever I hear FIRE MARSHAL, U.S. MARSHAL, and so forth, I see that actor running to some big emergency.

Beyond the comfort zone: The final frontier: Nolo contendere

Court reporters listen with laser focus. As I move through my world, when medical speakers finish long sentences often I am asked, “Questions?” Often, I shake my head. Not often, the specialist asks, “How’d you do that?”

Rarely will I share, “Degree in listening.” Often, I reply, “I listened.”

I was encouraged to write this as I trolled this topic past court reporters and students I am tutoring and coaching. Guilty.

The final frontier is the late chapter in my mother’s life. Professionals repeatedly prep me for the inevitable as Mom’s repeatedly gone to death’s door. Recently, white coats, “She’ll die if she doesn’t have surgery; she may die from surgery.”

Mom, in southern drawl, “I know I’m going to die; I’m not ready. God’s my roommate. He’s here all the time; my husband is with Him.” I maintain my reporter posture as others gasp. (I gasp in my car, sans witnesses.)

Dad’s health failed after taking care of Mom. I stepped forward and listened (on Dad’s path) as Dad worked to live, was not successful, and died. Meanwhile, Mom worked to live.

Now, as Mom’s guardian and following her path, I am asked to sign documents that require a witness 99 percent of the time. When I request a copy, I hear, “It’s for our file.” I do not sigh, and I do not bang my head on their counter. I count and say, “Attorneys prepped this. You require my signature and a witness. I request a copy.” Then I wait while a committee is formed to decide if I should get one. Guilty.

The phrase “not guilty, guilty, nolo contendere” has imprinted my thinking.

When Mom had her latest surgery, I witnessed the quickened pace of the O.R., then frantic ICU staff. I selected the teams; I had to trust them do their job.

After my mother’s complete deterioration from MRSA bacteria, the surgery became the least of our worries. Mom was abruptly discharged. (That was code for: “Medicare won’t pay.”) No facility wanted Mom’s required isolation. “We’d need to pull a bed. That reduces income.” I replied, “You’re kidding?” Nope.

Hours later, the surgeon opened a room. Hospital social workers spoke off the record. “You need to contact the county ombudsman. It’s against the law to tell you …” I focused on another gurney in Mom’s room.

Hindsight is a wonderful gift. Realtime is a shock, day after day.

Once the ambulance arrived, Mom, on oxygen, was crying. I needed to sign documents. Head down, I read the first paragraph. My first reaction? Deep sighs. Then I heard, “Just sign it. It’s important.” I pointed to “Patient Arrested.” EMTs who were gowned for isolation abruptly inhaled.

Me: “Arrested? Define.”

EMT: “We’re in a hurry.”

Me: “I can’t sign. I’m a court reporter. When I see ‘arrested,’ it’s for court exhibits. I’m not signing until the word is defined.”

EMT: “She arrested on the table. You’re not supposed to know. We must transport now.”

My court reporter discipline appeared again. Guilty. I will not be hurried when asked to sign documents. I read every line. I sat tall. Everyone was sighing, shifting posture.

Then I said, “Patient arrested? I am not to be told?”

“We have another ambulance on standby due to her arrest. We could get sued for telling you.” I signed — after I read every line.

The final frontier involves deciding when to stay on the sidelines and when to step forward. I listen to doctors, then write three words. Many ask, “Why only that?”

I softly say, “Data driven.” Thus far, that stumps everyone working to blow out of the room onto the next patient. Guilty.

Data driven. I listen to “we need to up meds” or “we need to wing-down.”

During symptom spikes, doctors do not return calls, and nurses are in report. “It’s being monitored” means “we’ll tell the next shift.”

Like many, I have marked many exhibits. Details are important, yes? I have found multiple incorrect confidential documents for other patients and incorrect lab reports with Mom’s papers. I am not stunned anymore. I simply hold up the document(s) — which I was encouraged not to take the time to read. Guilty.

Recently, I focused on professionals taking Mom’s blood pressure. When it reached 186/90, and a specialist said, “She’s just upset,” my focus shifted.

Thus, I phoned a cardiologist for an outside visit. Reactions were swift. Big mountains were moved within 24 hours. People were not happy. Oh well.

Perhaps the D.O.N. phoned, “Perhaps you’re not satisfied with our care here.” Perhaps I only listened. (Often, I choose when to word engage. I chose not here. That call told me more about them than me.)

Nurses and staff, “You really want to help your mother.” I avoid replying “gah” and am convinced it is our discipline. Guilty.

We are disciplined from school, work, and with each application using our skills. Individuals whisper, “You’re what we’re taught. You’re a textbook problem.” Me: “How so?”

“Patients with family members who ask questions and want answers are problems. You want questions answered. You listen and listen while they talk themselves blue. You don’t interrupt. You listen.” Guilty.

Professionals whisper, “You help me do a better job. Most people don’t ask questions. Your mother is alive because a family member picked up symptoms and med reactions quicker than staff.”

The final frontier involves many reporters, CART providers, captioners, and students telling me that they will not sign anything without reading every line. They insist on a copy of everything they sign, too. When they read documents, everyone sighs — while they read.

A high-profile official, “I took many hours to read mortgage papers. When I bought a car on installments the dealer closed at 8 p.m. I left at 9:30 p.m. Drives my family crazy.” Nolo contendere.

We are not rattled when we ask for information at work or regarding a family member. We have no shortcuts to listening. Guilty as charged.

Update: The cardiologist, after listening said, “She really slipped through the cracks.” I replied, “Mea culpa.”

I sat tall, softly asked, “Will you be top dog? I want all the other dogs to report to you. Doable?” Wearing scrubs, the nononsense cardiologist said, “Absolutely! I’ll write orders for daily details.” I almost hugged him.

When “transport” returned my mom to her room, I watched the scampering. “We sent wrong paperwork again? The doctor wants what? Really?”

I listened, softly said, “That specialist is now top dog. Thank you for making this possible.”

Now I have a top dog helping Mom. The final frontier necessitates continued attention to detail, continued focus, much listening. Guilty without an explanation.

The day after submitting this, a “care nurse” phoned to schedule a meeting. Me: “Sure. I request a list of all Mom’s diagnoses and meds.”

Voice pitched, she was off to the races. When she refused to give me this, I listened, believing I was not going to win this battle on the phone. She ended with, “This meeting is just for you to come and listen. It is not for chit-chat.”

We had our meeting. At the end, with my copy of meds and diagnoses, they asked me to sign a document.

Me: “I want a copy.”

Multiple people: “It’s for our files. Sign here.”

I leaned in: “If I sign, I get a copy.”

They actually said, “That’s okay, then.”

In a poker move, I put my hand on it, pulled it toward me. Court reporter here read each line with speed-reading skills. Then I lifted my hand. I stood, departed document-less, knowing they remain signature- less. Nolo contendere.

PDC Corner: Can we try that in B flat?

You can earn 0.25 PDC by passing the exam for this article, which has been approved for publication by NCRA’s Council of the Academy of Professional Reporters. The exam is available on the NCRA website, or a hard copy is available by calling 800-272-6272. The questions are based on the material in the article, but some may require additional research.


A/D: analog to digital

baffle: a partition that prevents interference between sound waves in a loudspeaker

dB: decibel

DSP: digital audio processor

frequency: also called pitch; a measure of how many vibrations a sound creates per second

HLAA: Hearing Loss Association of America

intensity: how small or large the vibrations that are produced by sound are, as well as their relationship to each other

RMS: abbreviation for root mean square; used as a way to measure the intensity of pressure

temporal pattern: how a sound relates to the musical attribute or rhythm

timbre: the combination of qualities of a sound that distinguishes it from other sounds of the same pitch and volume

One of the most common complaints from people with hearing loss is that while their hearing technology helps them hear speech well, music “just isn’t the same.” This column will discuss why music is such a challenge for people with hearing loss as well as some real-world advice on how to take proactive steps to reduce frustration and make listening to music more enjoyable despite your hearing loss.

Describing and measuring sounds

All sounds can be described by using a few characteristics, or attributes, that can be directly measured. These include intensity, frequency, and temporal pattern.

Frequency is a measure of how many vibrations a sound creates per second. We perceive frequency as pitch. Low frequency sounds like vowels, a tuba, or the piano keys on the far left have a great deal of energy and travel in all directions. High frequency sounds like consonants, violins, or the keys on the far right of the piano keyboard have less energy and travel only in a straight line.

Intensity, which we perceive as loudness, describes how much energy a sound has and relates to how large the vibrations are. A whisper, the rustle of leaves, or a single instrument playing music marked “pianissimo” all have very low intensities. A person shouting, construction noise, and a marching band playing the finale of a Sousa march all have very high intensities.

The temporal pattern of a sound relates to the musical attribute rhythm. If you’ve ever heard an infant babbling, you can appreciate that speech has a very specific and predictable temporal pattern. If the babbler is in another room, you might think that he or she is actually talking because what’s coming out of his or her mouth has the pattern of speech even though there are no words or sentences yet.

In the realm of music, we also describe the character of “voice” of a sound using the term timbre. Timbre is how we differentiate two instruments — say a flute and a trumpet — playing the same note. The frequencies (and pitches) are the same, but the way that each instrument creates that sound gives each a different timbre.

How speech and music differ

Whenever I talk about music and hearing loss, I check with my friend, colleague, and fellow musician Dr. Marshall Chasin of the Musicians Hearing Clinics of Canada ( He has spent many years researching and treating hearing loss in musicians. He reminds us that while music and speech both have the same measurable properties, they have some very specific differences. Specifically, speech and music differ because of the construction of the “instruments” and the maximum intensities they produce.

Reverberation, or the tendency of sound to bounce around a room, can be controlled by adding more sound-absorbing materials to the room, like carpets and drapes. The general term for this added sound absorption is “damping.” Sound systems with high damping create “smooth” sounds with very few “peaks” where the intensity exceeds the average intensity of the overall sample we measure (also known as RMS (or root mean square)).

Because the human vocal tract is coated with mucous membranes, it is a highly damped system. This makes speech and vocal music very smooth with relatively low, blunt peaks of energy. According to Dr. Chasin’s measurements, these are in the 12 dB range above and below the average intensity. Speech sounds also don’t generally get louder than about 87 or 90 dB.

By contrast, most musical instruments are, by design, very reflective. This makes them sound “bright” and produces sounds that travel quite a far distance. These sounds have peaks of close to 18 dB above the average. Depending on the genre, musical signals can be as intense as 110 dB.

These stark differences clearly make using hearing aids and cochlear implants designed for speech tricky with a music input.

How hearing loss affects music perception

Before we address how hearing aids and cochlear implants do and do not play nice with music, let’s take a bit of a look at why hearing loss messes up music so much. In the inner ear, we have two sets of sensory hair cells that, working together, allow us to hear and discriminate a wide range of pitches and intensities. The outer hair cells function like a pre-amplifier in a sound system, making very soft sounds loud enough for the microphones to convert to electrical signals. In the ear, the “microphone” is the inner hair cells. In addition to this pre-amplifier function, the outer hair cells work together with the brain to fine tune pitch perception.

When outer hair cells are damaged or missing, not only do we lose the ability to hear very soft sounds, but the sounds we do hear are not accurate. The pitches of similar sounds blend together and our ability to hear changes in loudness is distorted. Hearing aids can help with the soft sound audibility part and, to some extent, with the exaggerated loudness perception, but they really can’t help us regain our “fine tuning” pitch.

When hearing loss reaches the moderate to severe and worse range, not only are the outer hair cells affected, but also the inner hair cells, or the microphones of the sound system. When inner hair cells are damaged, even though sounds are loud enough to hear, they are often distorted, much like listening to a person speak into a broken microphone.

How hearing technologies interact with music

The fact that speech has a predictable pitch, loudness, and temporal pattern helps hearing aids and cochlear implants make decisions about which sounds in the environment might be speech and which ones might be noise. This really does improve the ability to understand speech in less than ideal settings, but this design “bias” can cause some issues when trying to use these technologies to listen to music.

At the very front end of both hearing aids and cochlear implants are microphones. The microphones used by both technologies can easily handle input levels greater than 100 dB; however, the next component of the system is often not so forgiving. All cochlear implants and digital hearing aids need to convert the analog sounds picked up by the microphones into digital ones and zeros in order to be processed by the digital audio processor (DSP). This analog to digital (A/D) converter often includes a feature called a limiter, which reduces the intensity of the signal from the microphone. The purpose of this limiter is to conserve battery power. There is some logic to this if we recall that speech signals usually don’t exceed 87 dB. Why would a designer waste processing time and power with sounds outside of the range of the signal everyone using the device wants to hear? The answer, of course, is that many people want to hear things that are not speech. The problem is that when hearing aids and cochlear implants apply front-end limiting, many people perceive a small amount of distortion. Because of the digital nature of these hearing systems, this distortion is faithfully carried throughout the entire audio processing pathway and is ultimately delivered to the listener. The degree to which this will impact a given individual will vary, but I’d like to share a story from my clinical experience that illustrates how significant this can be.

In 2001, I was an adjunct clinical supervisor at Northeastern University in Boston. One of my students referred a saxophone player in middle school who was hard of hearing to me for a consult. She had a severe hearing loss and was wearing digital hearing aids only a few years old. Her issue was that while she could play her saxophone well and in tune alone, whenever she was in a group, such as during band practice, she began to play out of tune. It was recommended that her parents buy her new hearing aids with a music program in them, but she wasn’t convinced that was the issue.

I had her bring her sax to the appointment, and I brought mine. She was able to play well enough, but as reported, when she tried to match her pitch to mine, she was off. As an experiment, I had her remove her hearing aids and, using the corner of the room as a baffle to acoustically amplify sound, I asked her to try again. This time, without the distortion of the front end limiter of her hearing aids’ A/D converter, she was able to match my pitch so well that I was able to teach her several songs “by ear.” My conclusion was that in the context of a full-sized concert band, the sound levels would be more than sufficient for her to hear and play. We arranged for a body-worn FM system with headphones that she would use only when the director was talking to the group.

Making it better

Since then, there have been some good efforts to make hearing technology more music friendly. Most mid- to high-end hearing aids have pre-sets for a “music” program that sets the amplifier’s characteristics to be more compatible with the acoustic signature of music. A few manufacturers have listened to the work Dr. Chasin and others are doing and are allowing the A/D converter to pass more sound intensity to the DSP. By the way, this not only helps with music perception but also with hearing very loud speech, such as when we are in areas with a great deal of background noise. If your technology doesn’t support these options, you can overcome the input limiter issue by turning down the level of the music if it is recorded or by moving farther away if it is live. Both of these techniques will decrease the amount of sound hitting the microphones, and they can prevent the input limiter from kicking in.

Technology aside, it is possible to practice listening to music — much like new hearing aid and cochlear implant users who undergo aural rehabilitation. Like speech-based aural rehab, rebuilding your musical sound vocabulary will take time, and it needs to be built from the ground up. Rather than listening to your favorite symphony the first day you get your hearing aids, listen to something simpler, preferably something more speech-like. Folk music is a great choice as are ballads with a small combo rather than a full orchestra.

When to find a different drummer

The hardest thing to come to terms with in the realm of hearing loss is arriving at a place of balance between hope for improvement and acceptance of realistic expectations. For some, advanced technology and hard work will allow them to enjoy most, if not all, of the music they enjoyed before their hearing loss. For others, however, it may be necessary to let go of the past and rediscover music from scratch. If your hearing loss prevents you from hearing fine gradations of pitch, try listening to music that has a simpler structure. Explore all the instruments both live and in recordings, and find the ones that fit your hearing loss rather than trying to squeeze the square peg of your hearing loss into a round musical hole.

This is, of course, much easier said than done. It requires creativity, time, and resourcefulness. Most of all, it requires a willingness to accept the fact that while music “isn’t the same” since your hearing loss, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Lean on the support of friends, family, and your local and national HLAA contacts. Above all, take a step back and ask yourself why music moves you. Is it the beat? The melody? The words? Once you find the core of your love of music, seek opportunities to experience that part of it with styles and instruments that you hear as well as possible. Then just listen, relax, and let the music move you. Dance to your own drum like no one is watching, and enjoy!

This article was developed under a grant from the Department of Education, NIDRR grant number H133E080006. However, the contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

This article is reprinted with permission from the March/April 2013 Hearing Loss Magazine. Visit the Hearing Loss Association of America at

The exam for this article is located on the NCRA website at By passing the exam, you can earn 0.25 PDC. The questions are based on the material in the article, but some may require additional research.

For additional information on music and hearing loss:

Dr. Marshall Chasin’s Blog:

Association of Adult Musicians with Hearing Loss:

By special assignment: Planes, trains, and automobiles — Just another adventure


CART: Communication Access Realtime Translation

CAT: computer-aided transcription

IPRS: Intersteno Parliamentary and other professional Reporters’ Section

STTR: speech-to-text reporter

Never did I imagine as a young court reporter that this profession would lead me to travel the world. I didn’t even know such possibilities existed as I was striving for that last 225 wpm Q&A test in court reporting school. As a reporter now for 20 years, I’m excited to see where this profession will take me in the decades to come.

I am a court reporter, CART provider, and captioner. I’ve done everything from daily copy trials to captioning onsite for large conferences. But in February, I had a new opportunity: I was given the chance to share this profession with others around the world. Those “others” were potential STTR reporters in the Czech Republic. STTR stands for speech-to-text reporter. It is the same as what we call CART here in the United States.

I was blessed with this opportunity by my good friend and colleague Karen Yates. She met some individuals at the IPRS (InterSteno) meeting in Prague last September. These individuals were from Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic, and they were putting together the Universal Learning Design conference in February 2013. The request was for me to speak twice: once to prospective STTR reporters and again during the conference at large.

Upon being asked to give a presentation, I said yes, not even knowing where Brno was. It was going to be quite the journey to get there. I flew from Phoenix to Dulles to Frankfurt to Vienna, took a cab to the train station, and then had a two hour train ride to Brno. After planes, trains, and automobiles, I arrived and was ready to meet some new friends.

This conference was very accessible be cause the modes of communication were limitless: translation from English to Czech and vice versa; interpreters in Czech Sign Language as well as International Sign Language; and CART in both English and Czech. I purposely slowed my speech down because there is nothing more annoying than a fast-talking presenter, right?

Not only did I get to talk about how the steno machine works, how we do our jobs, and how we serve so many deaf and hardof- hearing individuals in the United States, but I also was able to learn how it is done in the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, and Ireland.

In the Czech Republic, CART requests are increasing, and Masaryk University is looking for ways to expand the number of STTR reporters on staff. Currently, the STTR reporters use QWERTY keyboards to type the text. Masaryk University has developed a system to allow deaf and hardof- hearing students to view CART text on an iPad in a classroom. This system only works with the STTRs in the classroom and does not allow for remote services.

The Teiresias Center, the support center for students with disabilities at Masaryk University, is interested in creating a bachelor’s degree program for STTR reporters. At present, the STTRs are students who attend the university but who have had no formal training in providing such a service.

Within the country, however, remote services are provided for individuals at certain governmental offices. The remote CART services do not need to be prearranged. There are STTRs on call during business hours. The STTR will receive a notification via the computer that someone needs services, and everyone gets online immediately to accommodate the request.

In Ireland, the method is similar to the way it’s done here in the United States. They use steno machines and the same CAT software. Services are expanding there as well, and the need for CART providers is growing. There are members of NCRA in Ireland. Don’t think for a second that we are limited by the East and West Coasts of our country. Our certifications reach across the pond as well!

In the Netherlands, most CART providers use a veyboard or a Velotype machine. On a Velotype machine, writers can type up to 1,200 characters per minute. How that translates to words per minute, I don’t know. When using a Velotype, it is an all-in-one kind of keyboard. You can plug into any computer and be off and running. Everything you need is in the keyboard itself. This is a very interesting concept. Also, in the Netherlands, the consumer gets to choose his or her CART provider, not the paying entity. I liked this model of acquiring services.

In listening to all of the presentations, my take-away point was that while the methodology of how we provide text to the consumer may be different, we encounter many of the same issues. No matter where you are in the world, CART services are needed. Firm owners want qualified writers who have had training in providing such services so they can hit the ground running with job assignments. For me, I discover something new every day in this profession, so it is a constant state of learning.

This visit to Eastern Europe was another way for me to see the world and experience a new culture, language, and currency. This opportunity was presented to me because I am a court reporter, CART provider, and captioner. While I didn’t work at this conference by writing, I had my steno machine in tow. It’s rare that I am not carrying my equipment with me, regardless of where I am in the world. I don’t pack a light suitcase, but I have gotten my steno briefcase down to a science so it easily fits in any overhead bin, even on small jets.

I heard about many American reporters who work in Europe doing CART as well as court reporting. If you want to get involved, I can’t say this enough: Network, network, network. Get involved with NCRA, Intersteno, and other organizations. Promote your skills and certifications. Keep your eyes, ears, and mind open to where this profession will take you.

NPR to caption radio

A May 28 piece on NPR Labs examined a NPR team’s plan to bring radio to people with hearing loss. The project, dubbed “Breaking the Sound Barrier,” converts audio from NPR programs to text so that it can be displayed in near realtime on captioning terminals. Further, the text can be transmitted to Refreshable Braille Displays, which can be read by the deaf-blind. The article was reported through WAMC Northeast Public Radio.

Reporter says career remains ‘good option for anyone’

Gloria Inman, RPR, told the Gadsden, Ala., Times that court reporting remains a good career, both because of the consistent work and the various options now available to steno reporters. The June 23 article reported that Inman has been a Etowah County court reporter for nearly four decades. Inman, who learned court reporting at Gadsden State Community College, said that she hopes others will consider court reporting in one of its many forms when choosing a career.

Denver resident asks for sign-language, closed captioning during emergencies

Following the fires in Denver in June, Monument, Colo., resident Walter Von- Feldt called for increased use of sign language and closed captioning for people with hearing impairments during emergencies, according to a June 18 article in the Denver Post. VonFeldt told the paper that the images on the TV screen left him uncertain whether he should evacuate during the fires.

Cuts mean attorneys must bring their own reporters to court

Kern County Superior Court in California will no longer provide court reporters for family, civil, and probate proceedings due to state budget cuts, according to a June 10 story aired on KGET TV 17 out of Bakersfield, Calif. Following the budget cut, parties to a proceeding or the attorneys who want a record of proceedings will have to hire and bring their own reporters. Some attorneys were unprepared for the change, and court reporting agencies set up in the hallway to offer their services as the parties were called into court. According to the news story, the courthouse is permitting the agencies to hang signs in the halls for the time being even though soliciting is normally not allowed.

Ontario union fights for accuracy in justice system

On May 30, the National Union of Public and General Employees, based in Ontario, published a statement on its website protesting the Ministry of the Attorney General’s plans to create a private regulator to control all aspects of court transcription. The union states that this change will not serve the administration of justice and will result in a loss of quality, transparency, and accountability.