The Telecommunications Act of 1996 is, without a doubt, one of the most sweeping changes to telecommunications law in more than 60 years. Although the bulk of the new law was designed to address the communications business or, more specifically, competition in the marketplace, it also addresses people with disabilities.
This historic legislation included specific language regarding the availability of telecommunications services and equipment that the government deemed as being underserved: the deaf and hard-of-hearing.
The provisions of this law included:
- Access by Persons with Disabilities: Requires all manufacturers of telecommunications equipment and providers of telecommunications services to design and develop equipment and services for use by individuals with disabilities.
- Video Programming Accessibility: Ensures that all video services are accessible to individuals with hearing and speech disabilities (i.e. closed captioning requirements)
- Advanced Telecommunications Incentives: Encourages access to advanced telecommunications to all Americans, including elementary and secondary schools and classrooms.
- Universal Service: Requires telecommunications companies to provide advanced telecommunication services to public institutions at affordable rates, including schools, libraries, and healthcare facilities
- Coordination for Interconnectivity: Established procedures and standards for promoting access to telecommunications networks by people with disabilities
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The Goal of Captioning
According to the National Association of the Deaf, captioning is the process of converting audio content into text and displaying the text on a screen or monitor. Captioning can be found on television broadcasts, webcasts, films videos, CD-ROMs, DVDs, and live events. Captioning not only provides individuals with the textual equivalent of the spoken word, but also identifies speaker identification, sound effects, and even music descriptions.
The captioner must ensure that all captions:
- Are synchronized and appear at the same time the audio is being delivered
- Include speaker identification and sound effects
- Are accessible and readily available to individuals who need or want them
- Are readable, timely, accurate, compete and efficient
- Are in the same line of sigh as any corresponding visual information, including videos, speakers, field of play or exhibitions
The National Association of the Deaf reports that more than 36 million Americans are deaf or hard of hearing, and many millions more have limited English proficiency or are English-language learners. Further, the Association states that captions improve fluency, comprehension, and literacy skills of both adults and children.
The Role of the Captioner
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 shone a light on the need to provide deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals with telecommunication services. And, as a result, the need for qualified captioners has increased exponentially in the subsequent years. The captioner (also called a stenocaptioner), who is an educated and trained stenographer, is responsible for providing closed captions of both live and recorded programs, events and proceedings for deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers.
This is accomplished through the utilization of realtime technology, which translates shorthand into instantly readable English text. Captioners may work for national and local television stations, broadcast service providers, nonprofit organizations, and private business, among others.
Captioning can be broken down into the following subspecialties:
The broadcast captioner is responsible for providing closed captioning services in realtime for live events, such as sports events, live news shows, programming during times of emergencies or natural disasters, and other live television events.
Broadcast captioners use stenography equipment, a computer system and specialized software, and they may work either on-site or from the comfort of their home. A broadcast captioner watches the live television broadcast feed and provides realtime captioning through the use of a stenotype machine.
It is not uncommon for court reporters to work as broadcast captioners and vice versa, as they generally possess the same skills and licenses/certifications. A common professional certification in this field includes the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) Certified Realtime Captioner (CBC) designation.
Captioner jobs that provide instant translation of the spoken word for live events and proceedings is said to be involved in Communication Access Realtime Translation, or CART. Live events may include religious and civic events, speeches, seminars, and college classrooms.
CART providers, like court reporters, utilize a stenotype machine, as well as a notebook computer and realtime computer software. The CART provider types the spoken word into the stenotype machine, and the shorthand is then instantly transferred to the computer, which then produces the English text. The text is projected into a large screen or monitor to provide hearing-impaired individuals or individuals with English language barriers with realtime translation of the spoken word.
A common professional certification in this field include the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) includes the Certified Realtime Captioner (CRC) certification.
Webcasters, like broadcast captioners, provide captioning services for live broadcast events; however, the webcaster works for web-based live events, such as corporate sales meetings, training seminars, and press conferences.
Webcasters are often used when individuals are engaged in web conferencing, which is webcasting that involves participation among those watching. Captioning during web conferencing events not only helps individuals with hearing impairments, but it also allows all members to better understand all facets of the conversation, which is particularly useful when multiple people are talking at once.