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CART in the Classroom: How to Make Realtime Captioning Work for You


Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is a word-for-word speech-to-text interpreting service for people with a hearing loss or who would otherwise benefit from this accommodation. Unlike computerized notetaking or abbreviation systems, which summarize information for the consumer, CART provides a complete translation of all spoken words and environmental sounds, empowering consumers to decide for themselves what information is important to them. Section 36.303(b)(1) of the Americans with Disabilities Act specifically recognizes CART as an assistive technology that affords effective communication access.

A CART provider uses a steno machine, notebook computer, and realtime software to render instant speech-to-text translation on a computer monitor or other display for the benefit of an individual consumer or larger group in a number of settings: classrooms; business, government, and educational functions; courtrooms; and religious, civic, cultural, recreation, and entertainment events. In addition, a CART provider is sensitive to the varying needs of consumers and has had training in conveying a speaker's message, complete with environmental cues.

The demand for CART has grown at a steady pace in recent years in almost all arenas. However, the greatest growth has taken place in the educational setting, from elementary to graduate school, as this technology has gained greater notoriety among educators, disability services coordinators, and students with hearing loss as a useful method for participating fully in the classroom. Several key factors play a role in determining the effectiveness of this service: the competence of the CART provider, the environment in which CART is provided, and the ability of the CART provider, student, instructor, and coordinator of services to work together.

CART Benefits

In the 1999 paper "Real-Time Speech-to-Text Services," the authors, members of the National Task Force on Quality of Services in the Postsecondary Education of Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Students, referenced a 1988 study at the Rochester Institute of Technology of students who are deaf and hard-of-hearing. When surveyed about CART, the students responded favorably. The authors state that "A majority of the students reported that they understood more from the steno-based text display than from interpreting" (Stinson et al., 1999, p. 12).

The Task Force noted several other advantages to the steno-based CART system: 1) CART provides a verbatim record of the class, capturing every word spoken; 2) a single CART provider can cover a two-hour class with a brief break; and 3) the steno machine is silent (Stinson et al., 1999, p. 21). Because CART gives students with hearing loss a complete record of what is said in the classroom, several other advantages to this communication access tool become readily apparent:

Flexibility. CART can be used in a variety of settings, whether one-on-one with a single student reading off of the CART provider's laptop computer screen, in a small group with the text appearing on a television monitor, or even in a much larger setting with the CART provider's realtime text projected to a large screen for everyone in the lecture to read.

Independent learning. With the provision of CART, the responsibility for a student's education rests with the student. Rather than relying on notes provided by others, the student will have a verbatim record of the class or discussion from which to determine what is or is not important based upon the student's understanding of the material presented. In addition, students can have the text file fed through a version of litigation-support software as the CART provider realtimes the class. The student can then use the highlight or annotate features of the software to pick out what he or she wants to retain. Thus, the student has the choice of obtaining the verbatim record of the class or only those portions that he or she deems important. As Rachel Arfa (2000), who used CART as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, explains, "With realtime captioning, I was able to form my own opinions of the subject matter and receive the information firsthand, rather than second, third or fourth hand, since CART takes every sentence that is being said."

Full participation. Because the provision of CART services is in real time, the student with hearing loss has the opportunity to participate in a classroom setting just like any other student. Andy Nelson (2000), who used CART at the University of Washington, says, "Realtime captioning allowed me to get everything the professor says in class, word for word, as well as comments or questions students have during the lecture. This enabled me to actively participate in discussions and lectures, something I had never ever been able to do before." Joan Andrews (2000), a CART consumer while in college, offers another example: "Realtime professionals also can include brief descriptions that provide information about the mood of the person speaking - excited, despairing, angry, heated, placating; signals that the hearing students access easily and which often guide them in choosing their responses to the dialogue taking place. These bits of information play a vital role in effective classroom participation."

Equal access. "CART allowed me for the first time in my entire academic career to follow classroom discussions, participate in classroom discussions, and take my own notes," says Carolyn Ginsburg (2000), who used CART while earning her MBA from Columbia University. "What an incredible experience this was. It was very liberating, made me finally feel equal to my peers in the classroom, gave me equal access to information, and gave me more confidence to express my opinions and answers." Paul Hartley (2000), currently a student at Emory University, offers a similar opinion: "Being at the same level as any other student is the major and most important benefit of CART services. I get the same information, hear the same lectures verbatim, feel more a part of the class, and hear interesting anecdotes or a professor's corny jokes."

The provision of CART services also offers some benefits to the instructor. For example, verbatim lectures may give the college professor an additional tool for preparing tests or integrating information into a research study. Further, "Some instructors welcome the transcripts as a way of tightening their lectures and reviewing their students' questions and comments. If the instructor chooses, he or she should be at liberty to share them with hearing members of the class also. The transcripts can be of value also in tutoring deaf and hard-of-hearing students, enabling tutors to organize tutoring sessions in close accord with course content" (Stinson et al., 1999, p. 7-8).

The Competent CART Provider

The utility of CART services for the student with hearing loss depends a great deal on the skills of the CART provider. The National Court Reporters Association has been certifying court reporters for more than 75 years, and NCRA is currently developing a certification specifically for CART providers. Until this objective measure of the CART provider's ability is in place, how can you define a competent CART provider?

NCRA's CART Task Force considers the Registered Professional Reporter (RPR) a requisite for a qualified CART provider. The RPR certifies the entry-level reporter's ability to provide a verbatim record at speeds ranging from 180-225 words per minute with a minimum accuracy of 95 percent ("How to Locate," 2001). The Task Force also recommends the attainment of the Certified Realtime Reporter designation. The CRR has proven his or her ability to write realtime at variable speeds ranging from 180-200 words per minute with a minimum accuracy of 96 percent. The CART Provider's Manual (2001), published by NCRA, offers some additional factors to consider:

Sensitivity. The CART provider has general knowledge about Deaf culture and understands that the preferred communication mode of a person with hearing loss differs depending on whether the individual identifies him or herself as Deaf, deaf, late-deafened, or hard-of-hearing. A CART provider acquires training in communication techniques through court reporting association seminars, disability agencies, sign language courses, etc.

Staying in role. The CART provider's role is to facilitate communication. A CART provider declines any invitation or suggestion to comment, interject, advise, respond to inquiries, or in any way become involved in the proceedings outside the role of CART provider.

Confidentiality. Courtesy and discretion are required of the CART provider at all times. A casual word or action may betray a consumer's confidences or violate a client's privacy.

Professional development. The CART provider keeps abreast of current trends, laws, literature, and technological advances relating to the provision of CART service.

Preparation. The CART provider must make every effort to ensure an accurate job dictionary for the terminology to be used in each class.

Realtime writing. The CART provider writes conflict free, includes punctuation, and sustains accuracy for long periods of time.

Software/computer knowledge. The CART provider must operate a computer-aided transcription program and understand its realtime translation and display functions. The competent CART provider knows how to troubleshoot and solve hardware, software, and other technical problems. In order to meet consumer preferences, the CART provider must know how to activate upper/lowercase, colored backgrounds, enlarged text, and other display options. When appropriate, the CART provider must be able to furnish the computer file of the session text as requested.

Language comprehension. Knowledge of grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, spelling, vocabulary, high-frequency colloquialisms, and slang is crucial. The CART provider must listen for continuity, sense, and detail of proceedings, anticipating and preventing errors in translation.

CART Environments

CART services can prove effective in almost any educational environment, from grade school to graduate school. In particular, "Today, steno-based systems rank as an effective support service for large numbers of deaf and hard-of-hearing students in mainstream college environments throughout the country" (Stinson et al., 1999, p. 5).

Why is the steno-based CART system gaining popularity? Much of it goes back to the comments from CART consumers regarding independent learning, full participation, and equal access. As noted in "Auxiliary Aids and Services for Postsecondary Students With Disabilities," published by the Department of Justice's Office of Civil Rights (1998), schools not only must provide auxiliary aids and services in a timely manner, but they must ensure that students with disabilities can participate effectively. And the definition for effectiveness? "No aid or service will be useful unless it is successful in equalizing the opportunity for a particular student with a disability to participate in the education program or activity."

Keep in mind, however, that generally CART consumers are individuals who have developed a hearing loss postlingually, or rather after the acquisition of language. In addition, there is no set age at which a child can begin to make use of this service: "Always remember that each individual case is unique -- there are no hard-and-fast rules on the age level of a student for which realtime translation is suited" (Brentano et al., 2000, p. 22).

Before implementing CART in an educational environment, the most important consideration, of course, is the student's preference regarding a method for communication access. Other factors are prior experience and satisfaction with realtime speech-to-text translation in the classroom, the student's ability or willingness to participate in discussions and to ask questions, and the level of reading proficiency (Stinson et al., 1999, p. 23).

Working Together

The success of CART in the classroom setting depends not only on the provider's skill level, but also on the ability of the CART provider to work effectively with instructors and the coordinator of services to ensure that the student with hearing loss receives the best service possible. Following are several considerations that can help to ensure an effective working arrangement to the benefit of the student with hearing loss:

Control of the classroom. The CART provider is in the classroom with the sole purpose of providing communication access for the student who is hard-of-hearing. To ensure an effective realtime translation, students should speak one at a time. "Noisy" conditions can have an adverse effect on the production of accurate text by the CART provider (Stinson et al., 1999, p 9). The responsibility for controlling the classroom lies with the instructor, who must maintain an orderly discussion to allow for participation by the CART consumer. The instructor may need to restate a student's comments to ensure understanding.

Preparation. "The reporter will work with the instructor for each assigned class to assure that all the technical terminology for that particular class will be provided in advance so that it can be entered into the reporter's computer dictionary" (Brentano et al., 2000, p. 9). This preparation, with the instructor's assistance, allows for a more accurate translation of the spoken word. The CART provider should receive copies of all textbooks and other class materials from which to prepare.

If possible, this preparation also includes a meeting between the CART provider, student, instructor, and coordinator of services before the start of the school year. At this time all involved parties can ask questions regarding requirements or concerns. In addition, "This will allow the reporter an opportunity to view the classroom's physical setup and to work out with the disability coordinator, instructor, and student the best seating and sight lines available for all concerned" (Brentano et al., 2000, p. 22).

Laying out the ground rules. Discuss during the orientation meeting what will be expected of the CART provider. What classes will require CART? How long are the classes? Will the CART provider be following the student to different classrooms? Who is entitled to receive a copy of the notes? What form will the notes for a class take: paper or disk? When will the student receive the notes? Will the CART provider have time to edit the notes? Will the instructor also receive a copy of the class notes?

How will the CART provider contact the instructor or disability services coordinator or vice versa? For example, "If a teacher or professor is canceling class or is giving a test for which the reporter's services are not required, sufficient notice should be given if for nothing other than common courtesy" (Brentano et al., 2000, p. 25). A policy should also be established for when the student is unable to attend class.

Think communication. When possible, the instructor should write announcements, assignments, proper names, technical vocabulary, formulas, equations, and foreign terms on the blackboard (Battat, 1998). In addition, the instructor should not "talk to the blackboard" and have his or her back turned to the class all the time. And when using overheads or referencing material on the blackboard, the instructor should be specific when explaining concepts, formulas, or equations. For example, in a math class rather than pointing to the blackboard and saying, "You add this and this and get that," the instructor should say, "You add 5 and 4 and you get 9."

Just as the primary role of the realtime reporter in the classroom is to provide communication access, it is communication between the CART provider, student, instructor, and coordinator of disability services that will prove critical to the successful provision of this service.

References Andrews, J. (2000). Effective Classroom Participation. [Online] Available:

Arfa, R. (2000). Having the Right Cards. [Online] Available:

Auxiliary Aids and Services for Postsecondary Students With Disabilities (1998). Washington, D.C.: Department of Education Office of Civil Rights. [Online] Available:

Battat, B. (1998). Teaching Students Who Are Hard-of-Hearing. Rochester, N.Y.: Northeast Technical Assistance Center, Rochester Institute of Technology. [Online] Available:

Brentano, J., Larson, J., Werlinger, J., Hardeman, G., Graves, P., Eisenberg, S., Pfleinger-Schact, K. (2000). Realtime in the Educational Setting: Implementing New Technology for Access and ADA Compliance. Vienna, Va.: National Court Reporters Foundation.

The CART Provider's Manual: A report of the NCRA Communication Access Realtime Translation Task Force (2001). Vienna, Va.: National Court Reporters Association. [Online] Available:

Ginsburg, C. (2000). Performing Your Best With CART. [Online] Available:

Hartley, P. (2000). It's Simply Fair. [Online] Available:

How to Locate a CART Provider (2001). [Online] Available:

Nelson, A. (2000). Getting Everything. [Online] Available:

Stinson, M., Eisenberg, S., Horn, C., Larson, J., Levitt, H., Stuckless, R. (1999). Real-Time Speech-to-Text Services: A report of the National Task Force on Quality of Services in the Postsecondary Education of Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Students. Rochester, N.Y.: Northeast Technical Assistance Center, Rochester Institute of Technology.

2001 National Court Reporters Association, All Rights Reserved