We’re captioning for a deaf consumer to have access in the moment.
Regina DeMoville Owner, Heart Captioning, Inc.
A lot of people know court reporting as the lady sitting in the court with the little machine. A normal keyboard, the average is like 40, 50, 60 words per minute. On this, our average is 200 words per minute. In school, we start out in the beginning with theory and that’s where they teach you the keyboard. So, you notice that there’s no letters on the keys. The first thing that they teach you is which keys are what. They give you a little card stock picture of the keyboard that has the keys on it.
This is the left bank. This is the right bank. And then down here are the vowels. How it works is it’s phonetic, so the beginning sound of a word would be on the left side and then you have the vowel which would be like the middle part of the word. And then the right part would be the end. On here [regular keyboard], we would type cat, C-A-T. But there is no C on our keyboard. It’s K because it’s phonetic: it would be K-A-T. On here [regular keyboard], it would be three strokes. On here [steno machine], it would be one because we just do all three at once so it allows us to write that much faster — it’s called writing.
You are basically learning a new language; we call it stenography. The older machines were big and chunky. I actually learned on one of those. They have a paper tray in the back and it has steno paper and you feed the paper in and when you are writing on your machine, it comes out on the paper. In school, they want you to read the notes from the paper so you are learning the steno. When I plug in to the computer, it comes out in English — they want you to learn the steno so when you are writing and let’s say something doesn’t translate, you can pull up your steno notes and then read from there.
Every captioner or court reporter has a dictionary. We start off in school with let’s say 20,000 words in our dictionary and from there we build on it. There are different theories, which means just a different way to write things on the machine. Every person might not write the same way. In the end, it’s the same. You tell the software with your dictionary what you want it to say and so that’s why it’s not really something that I can just hand to my friend because we all write different. It’s truly individualized and based on how you write.
On the machine we use “briefs.” Let’s say I’m captioning and they say — which most of the time they don’t do this — but at the end they might say, “Let’s give a shout out for the captioner for the amazing captions.” And they might say, “Regina DeMoville from Heart Captioning.” I have my name as a brief on the machine so I hit one stroke and my whole name comes out. In school, they give you what’s called a family of briefs. The one example that I like to use is they gave me all of the drug briefs, like marijuana, cocaine, all of that. Well, they were all the same except for like two of them that were completely different than the rest. And I’m like, “But that doesn’t make sense. Why would these two have a different brief than the others?” I ended up changing those two to match the family of briefs. For example, marijuana on here would be MARN. The ARN would be the ending for all of the drugs, like marijuana and cocaine. Let’s say cocaine was one of the ones that didn’t match; I changed it to KARN so it would match that family so when I hear that, it just comes naturally to me.
When you first start, of course you are looking because you’re like, “Okay, wait, the F is here, the S is here…” and you have to look at it. Usually, you have that little card to look at. But now, and later on in your schooling, the point is to not look at the keyboard. Your fingers just know where to go so it comes naturally. If you hesitate, it makes you slower. If you have to think about, “What was my brief for that?” it makes you write that much slower.
I personally am what’s called a captioner. There’s official court reporting which is what you see on TV, the person in court in front of the judge and the attorneys and everything. Then there’s a freelance court reporter which does depositions. That’s where a court reporter would go to an attorney’s office and they have a meeting set up with a witness and they are taking the witness’s testimony before the trial.
So that’s the legal side of court reporting, and then the other side is the captioning side — CART captioning. CART stands for Communication Access Real-time Translation and we go to places like universities where there’s a deaf student in a college class and, let’s say they don’t know ASL, American Sign Language, we would go sit next to them with either a laptop or an iPad or something. We would take down what’s being said in the room by the professor or the students, and the student who’s deaf would be able to read the screen and participate. It’s required by law under the Americans with Disabilities Act so if the student requests that from the school, the school is obligated to provide that service to them.
I’ve captioned things for a deaf employee working in a prison. I’ve captioned deaf inmates. I’ve captioned big conferences. Those are still considered CART. It’s anything where the deaf community attends, to have equal access. Basically in CART, we are the deaf consumer’s ears. Whatever we hear, they hear. For example, if we’re in a college classroom and they leave the room to go to the bathroom, we stop writing because if we keep writing, they have an advantage and we’re not there to give them an advantage, we’re there to bring them up equal with their classmates. So that’s why I always say we’re their ears because if they leave the room, we leave the room. We’re captioning for a deaf consumer to have access in the moment. We have to be 99% accurate; we don’t have time to go back and edit. And there’s actually only about a two-second delay. We have two seconds to fix a mistake before it goes out and then it’s gone forever.
In court reporting, in a court room if someone’s phone rings, they don’t put that in the transcript. If someone sneezes, they don’t put that in the transcript. But in CART, we do every little thing. Whatever the deaf person is supposed to hear, we write that so they can hear every little thing that’s happening. If a fire truck drives by and someone makes a comment like, “Wow, that truck’s really loud!” Well, the deaf person’s not going to know what they’re talking about unless you put in a blurb: “fire truck driving by.”
I’ve had people test me when I’ve been in the classroom. A student saw that I was writing and he stood up in the class and said a cuss word so that he could see it come upon the screen. People don’t understand what it’s for and they think it’s funny to see something they say come up on the screen. One of the big ones is supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. I’m like “doot doot” and it comes out. Nice try! We always have a brief for that one.
Five years ago, I actually made my own company. My company is Heart Captioning, and within my business, I only do CART captioning. When you get into broadcast captioning, it’s a different realm because you have to have encoders and the broadcast software so I just stayed within the CART captioning within my business. But I do work as an independent contractor for other companies. I prefer it just because I can make my own schedule. When you’re an employee, they can tell you what times you’re going work and I’m like, “No, I’m not working at 2:00 in the morning.” With television captioning, it kind of comes with the territory because TV is 24/7/365. Christmas is not a holiday. Someone is captioning holiday parades and Thanksgiving parades and the football game on Thanksgiving Day. It’s straight through the whole year.
Court reporting is very expensive. The machines are not cheap. The old machines, you can find them all day long for less than $100, so those are not a big deal. The professional captioner models brand new are probably $2,000, $3,000. The ergo one, the court model brand new is probably $5,000. And then the software is $5,000. Broadcast software is another $5,000. So for me, doing television captioning, I had to buy that software because you can’t connect to the television stations if you don’t have it. There’s updates that they put out every year but you have to have a current support contract to be able to get the updates. They don’t just let you pay for the current version, they make you back pay for all of the other versions. So it’s better to pay yearly because then it’s smaller chunks. If I were to upgrade now, it would probably cost me $2,000–$3,000 to upgrade to the new version. It’s not a cheap profession, but we get paid a lot of money, so you’re making the money back; it’s worth it.
In the state of California, they don’t require a license right now, so you can work without a license. But me being on the board of directors with the California Court Reporters Association, I am the first designated captioner position and so I am really the voice for all captioners in the state of California. We’re trying to implement legislation where captioners have to be certified in California — it’s in the works in the moment. It’s a slow process… legislation doesn’t happen overnight.
In the state of California, if you work in the legal setting, you do have to be licensed which is the CSR and that stands for Certified Shorthand Reporter. Our committee actually implemented a captioning exam recently. It’s only about four or five years old. But the thing is, we’re still working on the legislation, so we’re trying to get people certified but it’s not law yet. So they can still work without their license.
There are state certifications and then there are national certifications. I hold my California CSR. I hold the California CCG [California CART Generalist], which is the captioning cert we implemented for California and I also hold my national CRC which is Certified Realtime Captioner, and that’s national so if I were to work in another state or work with another company, that’s probably the most popular caption certification that companies want to see. If you are a CRC, most companies will pay extra if you have that certification. Some companies contract with their clients where they only hire CRCs.
Many people get into school and find out you don’t have to be licensed to do captioning and they’ll say “I’ll just do that until I get my license.” Our field doesn’t get the recognition that it deserves because a lot of people look down on it because you don’t have to be certified. It’s not just a job to do until you get your license. This is a career. We’re writing in realtime, now. So if you are not good, then you are not going to thrive. You are going to be a disservice to the consumer which is not good because then it makes the rest of the field look bad. That’s why we’re trying to push for certification.
When I was in high school, you have that time period where they’re like, “You need to look for a career.” I looked into X-ray technicians and being a veterinarian and nothing really caught my attention. Back then was when AOL first came out, and I loved it. I was on my computer every day. I’d go to school, come home and get on instant message and message all my friends. I’d have six conversations going at once. My dad was looking on the internet back then for different careers for me and he came across court reporting. One of the things that one of the articles said was you type fast and make good money. He mentioned that to me and I said, “Well, I’m a fast typer so sign me up!” So we found a local court reporting school in Moreno Valley. I took their entrance exam and I graduated high school in June of 2003 and then I started court reporting school in February or March of 2004.
I didn’t even know what court reporting was until my dad mentioned that. And I actually didn’t even know about captioning until way into my schooling. One of my classmates saw me practicing and she said, “Wow, your realtime is really good, maybe you should do CART,” and I said, “Do what?” I had no idea what CART was. I sat out with a captioner and I immediately fell in love.
They tell you 2 to 5 years. For me, it took 3.5 to get completely done. Two years is pushing it because a lot of people don’t pass in two years. But, you know, I actually made it all the way to 200 in two years. But it took me a year and a half to pass that last little bit. At the time, the school that I went to they only offered what’s called the qualifier once a week. And when you go to court reporting school, it makes you a perfectionist because you have to be 99% accurate.
There are a lot of people that drop out late in the game. I try to encourage them to stay in it. Because we really do need them. We need them desperately. And I didn’t have a mentor to help me through school, I only had the teachers, so when I got into the field, I started kind of mentoring people and taking people under my wing and stuff like that. To this day, I still do that because I feel like when you don’t have someone who has gone through this and someone that’s there to encourage you, it’s easier for you to give up. I have a program on the computer called TeamViewer. It’s a screen sharing program kind of like Skype so I can have someone, let’s say a captioner or a court reporting student in New York, I meet them online and they are interested in captioning and I’ll say, “You can sit in with me via the internet.” I connect them to the program and they are able to see my screen and hear my audio. That allows them to practice along with me and see how a job actually goes and things like that. I really like to be able to help students — students are the backbone of this industry. Without new students, we’re not going to have a future.
The National Court Reporters Association started a program called the A to Z® program. It’s a free introductory court reporting program. We found people to donate their old machines to this program and what we do is we set up different locations and we advertise and you come to a location. It’s a six week program. There’s one going on right now in Long Beach at a deposition agency. We give them a machine and we give them a book that has the theory in it and how to learn. There’s someone, usually a court reporter, and they start teaching them. And it’s all free. After the program, we encourage them to sign up for a court reporting school. There’s not a lot of careers where you can try it before you buy it. That kind of weeds out the people, like, “That’s cool, I want to try. But oh, wait, this is hard, I can’t do it.” It’s taken off really fast. Usually, every class is full and we’ve had a lot of students sign up for court reporting school.
Artificial intelligence has come in and they thought they were going to take over our jobs. A lot of television stations switched over to using voice recognition versus a human captioner because it’s cheaper. If you were to watch a television station that uses AI, you would immediately notice a difference. You would notice that they are not using speaker IDs, they are not using periods at the end of every sentence because the computer sometimes cannot recognize the end of a sentence, or if there’s a different speaker. A lot of television stations have switched, but then they’ve also switched back to human captioners because they see that the quality is not there. And the deaf community really advocates for good captions — there’s a campaign out there that’s called “No More Craptions.” That’s what happened when they came in and tried to take over with AI. At our convention, we just had a speaker talk about AI and it was a great presentation. The overall message was they are not going to take our jobs any time soon. There’s a video on YouTube that I absolutely love. It’s two guys that made a script and they read the script and they uploaded the video to YouTube — YouTube has automatic captions, it’s just the voice recognition within YouTube. They took the script that YouTube captions made and read that script and they uploaded it again into YouTube. The first script and the last script were completely different. YouTube captions are the absolute worst!
Over all, there’s a shortage of court reporters in the United States; we’re really hurting for people in this industry. But there’s an even bigger shortage of captioners. There’s so much work and there’s not enough good quality captioners to cover everything. So right now, our field is drowning, really, in work. I get 20, 30, 40 e-mails a day asking to cover something. I think it’s a mixture of a lot of things. I think, one, people are thinking AI’s just going to take over. They’ve been saying that since I first started, that AI was going to take over, and we’ve seen an increase in work the last 15 years. There’s no way that AI’s come close to taking over in the last 15 years. Another thing is that it’s difficult; this field is not for everyone. Court reporting has a very high drop-out rate the first six months because you have to have a lot of patience. Once you get into the speed classes — which would be the point after theory that you learn the keyboard and then after that it’s about building your speed up — at that point, you have three tests in each speed that you have to pass. 60/80 would be one class, 100 would be another class, 120, 140 and it kind of goes up in 20-words-per-minute increments. So, think about that: three tests per class, and you are failing more than you are passing. It’s very discouraging because as humans we want instant gratification, we want to pass now. When you are constantly failing tests, it’s just depressing. I don’t know how many times I went home from school crying, like, “I can’t do this, this isn’t the right career for me.”
A court reporter that works in the same court every day or even a freelance that works in depositions — you hear the same thing every day with either a car accident or a slip and fall or someone suing someone for lost money or whatever. It’s usually the same thing over and over. In captioning, it’s something different — not every day, but every job. I might caption this Google conference and then my next job might be a high school biology class and then my next job might be a TV show. We can do it anywhere in the world. I’ve captioned things in London, Canada — I used to do Canadian news every day. I captioned the Paralympics in London when they did it three years ago. That’s the nice thing about this technology is it’s done through the internet so wherever they have internet, we can caption.
You feel good helping the deaf community. You are working with people that need the service and they depend on it. And after almost every job, they are so appreciative for your captions. Especially in college classes, they say, “I couldn’t have made it through this class without you,” or things like that. It’s so rewarding and not once the whole time I did depos did an attorney ever say, “Thank you for your transcript, it’s amazing.” There’s that expectation of being 100% accurate, you know? The deaf community has seen good and bad captions. So when they find someone good, they truly hold on to that; you’re a gem in this field.