Closed captioning increases need for skilled transcribers

By Linda Bryant

Linda Hershey has found both the flexibilty  to work from home or the road plus high demand with her job as a closed captioner.

— David Laprad | The Ledger | File

Linda Hershey uses her court reporting skills to work from home as a captioner.

Hershey, a 20-plus year veteran of captioning who lives in Chattanooga, describes her work as demanding, satisfying and flexible.

So flexible, in fact, that she was able to move to Iowa for three months to be with her mother, who was in the final stages of life. And flexible enough to allow her to take a working vacation to the beach and still perform her job.

With more than 48 million Americans experiencing hearing loss in at least one ear, jobs that require Hershey’s skills have been increasing in recent years and are expected to spike in coming years.

Average pay for a closed captioner is $67,000, and top earners usually make $121,000 a year or more, the employment website Simply Hired reports.

“There is a huge demand for captioning,” Hershey says. “Every day I get emails from broadcast captioning companies that have contracts with schools and government agencies and television. I am constantly turning work away.”

Hershey is proficient in two types of captioning – online or broadcast captioning and Communication Access Realtime Translation captioning.

The main purpose of broadcast captioning is to provide equal access to television programming for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals. This court reporting subspecialty is also used in other ways, such as providing text for television programming in noisy venues such as restaurants and bars and reinforcing reading skills for children.

CART captioning offers instantaneous transcription of the spoken word into English text through the use of speech-to-text software, a computer and either an open or closed microphone or stenotype machine. The text is then displayed on a computer monitor, large screen, or other display device for the individual or individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to read.

“Captioning is a different animal than court reporting,” Hershey explains. “We use the same machines, and we use the same theory of machine shorthand or stenography. A court reporter’s purpose is to preserve a verbatim record and produce a transcript. My purpose is communication access. I want to be as verbatim as I can be, but my goal is a verbatim transcript to facilitate communication with someone who is hard of hearing or deaf.”

Hershey is just as likely to caption a television show in South Carolina as she is to travel off-site to caption in an educational setting, meeting or even at a funeral or a wedding.

She spearheaded a successful effort to get a grant to purchase captioning equipment, and she uses that equipment to close-caption events at the Chattanooga’s Little Theater and other places.

“There are lots of pluses to a captioning career. There are lots of ‘warm and fuzzies’ to the profession,” Hershey adds. “I love it that you are helping someone. I’ve never had a lawyer say to me, ‘you’ve changed my life.’’’

Hershey recalls the first time she captioned for a live play in Chattanooga, a woman approached her in tears to thank her for her service.

About 80 miles down the road from Hershey’s home base in Chattanooga, captioner Stephanie Jones fires up her special equipment from her Cookeville home.

Jones captions a wide variety of programming – news, sports, church services, infomercials and talk shows.

“I get the audio about 10 seconds before the viewers, so I write in real-time and send my text to the station,” Jones says.

“The station then uses an encoder to embed the text on the video.”

Like Hershey, Jones appreciates the flexibility of her career.

“I feel fortunate enough to work from home, which is good because my schedule can get crazy when there’s severe weather or breaking news,” she points out. “As a captioner, I get a lot more time with my family and to pursue my interests.

“I work with a great group of captioners from all over the country who are committed to doing their best, and they help and encourage me to become better,” she explains. “It’s so rewarding to know that somebody is reading my captions, and that’s helping them stay connected like everyone else.”

Experts say the job market for captioning is very favorable, especially in light of a 2014 ruling by the FCC that adopted new rules to improve the quality of broadcast captioning.

The ruling came after widespread frustration among the viewing public with the inconsistencies in captioning quality. There’s also continuing pressure by advocacy groups to bring increased CART captioning demand to churches, medical facilities and other arenas.

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