When you think of "court reporter," chances are the image that comes to mind will be a courtroom. To be sure, court trials and depositions remain a major part of the National Court Reporters Association and its 101-year history. But the advent of realtime - a marriage of the traditional court reporting skill of capturing words through highly specialized keyboarding techniques with the computer technology to instantaneously translate stenographic notes into verbatim text - has created new applications and a major new focus for the association and the profession.
Specifically, a growing interest for NCRA and its members has been to ensure an adequate supply of qualified broadcast captioners and CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation) providers to meet growing needs in those areas. All of NCRA's traditional roles and activities (professional ethics, continuing education, training, professional development and more) are being retooled to ensure they reflect and properly support the specialized needs of reporters who operate in the role of assistive technology for deaf and hard-of-hearing consumers. Let me touch on the major initiatives.
We recognize that there may not be enough captioners to support the Federal Communications Commission's 2006 deadline for full captioning of broadcast programming, so we have made student recruitment NCRA's central focus for the last two years. In that time, the association has spent more than $500,000 to promote the career through print and television advertising, as well as direct support to reporter-training schools. These campaigns have also aimed at creating awareness of the opportunities captioning and CART offer to students looking for a rewarding career.
We took that program a step further in 2000. NCRA won a major victory in December 2000, obtaining $500,000 in federal funds for a pilot/demonstration program to train broadcast captioners and CART providers through the court reporting program at the University of Mississippi. This grant will be used to enhance and improve the curricula to train captioners and CART providers, recruit students, provide scholarships, and implement distance learning capabilities that expand the reach of their programs to more potential students.
Our 2001 effort proved even more successful. We obtained $5.75 million in federal funds for 14 reporting programs. In addition, Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., has introduced H.R. 2527, or the Training for Closed Captioners Act of 2001. If passed, H.R. 2527 would provide $7.5 million over a five-year period for training realtime writers, CART providers and broadcast captioners. NCRA has worked closely with and enjoyed a great deal of support on this issue from the Council of Organizational Representatives, a coalition of advocacy organizations for deaf and hard-of-hearing consumers.
CART and Captioning Specialization
We are also working directly with reporter-training programs to facilitate partnerships among themselves and with community colleges, and four-year degree granting schools to make specialized training available to more students in more areas of the country. NCRA is also developing model programs for delivering a basic reporting education followed by instruction in a specialty area, such as captioning, CART or traditional court reporting in the judicial setting. (Think of it as "declaring a major.") This approach will better ensure that captioning and CART providers are given the specialized knowledge base they need to be effective in serving the needs of people who are deaf and hard-of-hearing.
For more than half a century, NCRA has provided professional certification, ensuring that court reporters, as "guardians of the record," meet the high standards demanded for the fair and effective operation of our justice system. In nearly two-thirds of the states, such certification is necessary to be licensed or certified to work as a court reporter. In 2000 we began the process of creating specialized certification for captioners and CART providers. While the basic skills are the same for capturing the spoken word and instantly translating it into verbatim text, there are areas of knowledge and specialized skills that vary widely from environment to environment. Our aim is to ensure excellence in CART and captioning and to provide an easy way for consumers to have assurance that CART providers have the training, competence and skills needed to meet the consumer's needs.
Our sister organization, the National Court Reporters Foundation, is considering new grants to support an information clearinghouse to help parents of children who need CART find a provider and successfully navigate the school system's bureaucracy to get funding to pay for this accommodation.
None of these programs is a "one-year cure," but the will and the commitment exist to ensure a bright future for the captioning and CART professions ... and for the consumers who depend upon them.
About the Author
Mark J. Golden, CAE, is NCRA's Executive Director.
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