There’s a lot of talk about inclusion and accessibility in the workplace these days. Live captioning is part of that discussion. It’s great that businesses are providing captioning support for conferences and meetings, and one-on-one for employees or clients who are hearing-impaired or have English as a second language, but are businesses being deliberate enough with their approach? Don’t you want to get the most you can out of what you’ve paid for? Below are a few simple ways to be more deliberate, and therefore effective, in providing captions for your employees or conference and meeting attendees.
Presenters need to consider the rate at which they speak or present their material. This is important for everyone in the room because if the delivery rate is too fast, people will start to struggle to absorb the information and switch off. This is an even more important factor for a hearing-impaired person because they have to be able to read and comprehend the captions on the screen. Consider your delivery rate and if you’re a fast speaker, be conscious of trying to slow it down a bit.
Consider Adding More Breaks
Reading and comprehension, particularly of jargonistic content, requires a lot of processing by the eyes and the brain. Whilst a hearing person can look around the room and refocus their eyes while also listening to the presentation, a hearing-impaired person is focussed on the screen, sometimes for hours, without a break. It’s exhausting! I’ve had clients who have expressed that they felt they wanted to “climb the walls” after a long conference or training day. Being serious about inclusion and accessibility means being serious about making things better for the person we’re making it inclusive and accessible for. So please consider adding a few extra short breaks in a long presentation or long days.
The more information the captioner has before the event, the better the captions will be. Help us to be able to identify speakers, use jargon correctly, spell words and names correctly and so many other things. The more we know and understand, the better the quality of the captions and the more those using the captions will be able to understand and follow. Being deliberate means, where possible, providing prep material like agendas/itineraries, attendees, speeches and PowerPoint presentations.
Let People Know It’s Being Captioned
So many times I go to events and someone comes up to me and says, “I didn’t know this was being captioned. It’s such a relief to see you here.” And I have also had an occasion where I’ve been told by a person that they will not attend an event because captioning won’t be provided. If you’re going to engage a captioner, make sure you let the intended audience know so they can plan to come along. Tell everyone about it.
These suggestions certainly aren’t exhaustive but will help to make your audience's captioning experience better. Be deliberate about how you provide captions so that those using it can have the best experience and you can get the most bang for your buck.
The contents of this post is probably nothing new to most court reporters but yesterday I was onsite with a client and during our conversation I remembered I’d emailed her some information I’d received myself quite some years ago now about what an expert witness had to say regarding how the brain of a court reporter (captioner) works. As a steno, I think it’s interesting but she also found it interesting too, so I thought I’d share it again here. Thanks to the person who forwarded it to me in the first place:
“HOW DO THEY DO THAT?
As a court reporter I am asked many, many times, “How do you do that?” And while I try to explain that writing live, voice-to-text realtime – where the spoken word is instantaneously translated into readable text via a trained shorthand court reporter (me), sophisticated software which contains my English dictionary, and a computer – is much like playing concert piano; a neuropsychologist, testifying in a U.S. Federal Court had this to say about the process of writing shorthand in regard to the complexity of the human brain:
Neuropsychologist: May I give an example of this?
Neuropsychologist: Okay. If you look — and the example is this: Our brains are a miracle. Okay? They’re a miracle that needs to be protected. And if you look at the court reporter right now, as an example, okay, this is a miracle in progress happening right before your eyes.
Let me just explain what she needs to do. I am speaking, so the information has to come in through her ear into her temporal lobe, and it has to go log itself into the language center. She has to be able to comprehend what I’m saying.
Then it has to get rerouted to the prefrontal cortex where it has to hold — she has to be able to hold the information, because, you know, I continuously talk so she has to hold it. Right? Then she has to analyze it, integrate it and synthesize it. Then it has to go back to the cerebellum and she has to be able to execute this, and she has to be able to then convert my words into those little squiggly marks. Have you ever seen court reporters have little squiggly language things?
So she has to convert it into a different language, and the white matter tracts allow her to reroute all of this information simultaneously without effort. Okay.
We take our brains for granted. She’s sitting here. I’m probably talking too fast for her, but she’s able to do this simultaneously. Seamlessly. Okay?
No animal on the planet can do this. All right? That’s why I believe court reporters will never be replaced. Because no technical — no technology could replace the beauty of that brain and the miracle of that brain. And that’s why your brain should always be protected and you should take care of it. It takes a special brain to be a court reporter.
Hey folks, it’s all in a day’s work! This in part explains why it is so difficult to become a court reporter – there is only a 10% success rate of those who enrol in a court reporting program. Like the concert pianist, only a few will ever reach the abilities required to deliver accurate realtime or CART/captioning services.”
On a sunny winter’s afternoon last year I captioned an unusual event (at least for a captioner) that explored the “relationship between law and listening, justice and the acoustic”.
In the opening address it was said, “All of these will explore, in different ways, ideas and practices at the intersections of law, sound and listening. As for today, our intention is to work with the courtroom, its technologies, norms and procedures as our medium. When audio evidence is heard in court, these are the speakers that are used and the screens that are used for testimony provided by videolink often from prisons around Australia. Max and Carol are court officers. Carmel is a stenographer. What we want to do is work with and against the ordinary principles of courtroom morality to extend and overreach them in order to make them audible and so susceptible to fatigue.”
Hang on...rewind...what? It was certainly different to a normal courtroom and at one point I even had to caption the ambient sounds of the room rather than the testimony!
It turned out to be a great afternoon and although highly unusual (and therefore stressful) for someone like me, we all had a lot of fun. Yes, I had fun at work! How many people can say that?
The event was held at the Commonwealth Law Courts in Melbourne. Last week I received photos from the event and I’m posting some here for you to look at. I particularly like the one of my steno machine. What a beautiful photo taken by Keelan O’Hehir.
If you follow the CaptionsLIVE Facebook page (@clstenography), you will have already seen this post on there. This is my first attempt at blogging and I hope to do more and get better at it!
Today is the end of an era for court reporters in Victoria and I have been reflecting on what it means to be a stenographer in the Australian workplace. At most of my jobs someone asks if I’m worried about technology making my career redundant. No, I am not in the least bit concerned. I don’t understand why it’s an either/or proposition. Why does it have to be technology or a physical stenographer? Why can’t the two work together? That’s exactly what I, and my colleagues, do and by doing so produce an amazing result for our clients. (It’s an honour to do my work at CaptionsLIVE. The clients are lovely and the steno contractors are simply outstanding at what they do.) Technology is good, but it can never match the beauty and wonder of the human brain!
So how has the industry changed? The main change is that some State Governments have moved away from having large court reporting agencies, staffed by machine shorthand writers, servicing their courts. In those States the most prominent areas of work for stenographers are broadcast captioning, CART and real-time. It’s really just a change of focus and it means there are a lot more freelance stenographers out there. The industry isn’t dying; just evolving. There is still a strong industry out there for those brave enough to take it on.
So as I reflect on these changes I think back to the days of four on a court, typing committals on a typewriter inside a glass box (Does anyone know if those boxes have a name?), typing up your own steno notes or reading them to a typist - the days of getting it down and sorting out the intricacies and conflicts later. Now it’s all instant (real-time) and you have to have it “all sorted” before your hands even strike the keys and the text hits the screen.
Today we lost another government court reporting agency, this time in Victoria. To the VGRS court reporters - thanks for all your years of service and all the best for the future.
There’s so much more to be said, but I’ll leave it there...for today. Let’s get this conversation around our industry in Australia, and all we have to offer, started.