StenoKnight CART Services: Realtime Captioning
		for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What does "CART" stand for?
  2. How long has CART been around?
  3. Who are you?
  4. How quickly do stenographers write?
  5. How does a steno machine work?
  6. What's the difference between a CART provider and a court reporter?
  7. What's the difference between CART and captioning?
  8. What are the pros and cons of CART versus ASL interpretation?
  9. Why hire a CART provider directly, rather than through an agency?
  10. Will speech recognition make CART obsolete?
  11. Can you provide CART for people with vision loss?
  12. Why do you stop writing when your client leaves the room?
  13. What do the various NCRA Certifications mean?
  14. Where can I learn more about CART?
  • What does "CART" stand for?

    CART is a technological service that provides Deaf or hard of hearing people with verbatim realtime transcription of live speech. Depending on who you ask, it stands for "Communication Access Realtime Transcription" or "Computer-Assisted Real-Time". I prefer the former, because it distinguishes CART from the computer-assisted realtime provided by legal stenographers for hearing clients.

  • How long has CART been around?

    The precursor of today's steno machine was invented around 1913, but stenotype machines that can output raw steno code to computers have only existed since the 1980s. The first live captioned television broadcast appeared in 1981, and CART was introduced in the mid-1980s as an onsite complement to broadcast captioning.

  • Who are you?

    I'm Mirabai Knight, a Certified CART Provider in New York City and sole proprietor of StenoKnight CART Services. I work on a semester-long basis in the NYC higher educational system for Deaf and hard of hearing university students, and on a per diem basis for individuals and groups needing CART in a variety of settings. I also provide CART remotely via the internet throughout the United States. I specialize in medical, technical, and graduate level subjects.

  • How quickly do stenographers write?

    A good qwerty touch typist probably writes around 80 to 90 words per minute. The best typists have an upper limit of about 110 to 120 words per minute. The average rate of English speech generally ranges around 180 words per minute. In order to graduate from steno school, a court reporter must pass tests at 225 words per minute. The world record for a one-minute take at 95% non-realtime accuracy is 360 words per minute, currently held by Mark Kislingbury, RMR, CRR. Certification speed for a CART provider is 180 words per minute in uncorrected instant translation (also known as realtime) with an accuracy of 96%. The CART provider is not allowed to look over their notes to correct any errors or guess at any missing words; their output is judged exactly as it comes through the software's translation engine, including punctuation and spelling.

  • How does a steno machine work?

    While ordinary keyboards (often called "qwerty" keyboards after the first six letters on the top row) write words letter by letter, steno keyboards write them syllable by syllable -- more or less. Nearly every word sound (called a phoneme) in the English language can be constructed from the initial consonants on the left-hand side of the keyboard, the vowels located in the middle and operated by the thumbs, and the ending consonants on the right-hand side. There is no space bar; before the computer age, stenographers would read back their notes to themselves and resolve the jammed-together syllables into words based on context. When the computer came along, offering with it a much more efficient form of transcription, that method couldn't be relied upon anymore.

    Computers don't know English and can't comprehend meanings of words, so stenographic theory had to be significantly restructured. Now every word a stenographer wants to be able to write on the machine must be entered in a steno "dictionary", a lexicon of English words paired with their corresponding steno strokes. For instance, the word "glue" is written in steno as "TKPWHRAOU". This looks like a lot of letters, but it's actually only one stroke on the steno keyboard, as opposed to the four strokes it takes to write the word letter by letter. To distinguish the sentence "put some glue on the cardboard" from the sentence "a gluon is an elementary particle", a stenographer must have separate strokes for the word "on" and the "-on" suffix.

    Another technique stenographers employ is the use of abbreviations, or "briefs". If I were CARTing a quantum physics course, the word "gluon" might come up so often that I won't want to have to stroke two syllables whenever I write it. In that case I might decide to define "gluon" in my steno dictionary as "TKPWHRAOUPB" (pronounced "gloon"), which takes only one stroke to write. That new definition would be considered a brief, since it doesn't strictly correspond to the sound of the word it represents. The number of briefs in a stenographer's dictionary is limited only by their ability first to devise them and then to recall them to their fingers at realtime speeds.

  • What's the difference between a CART provider and a court reporter?

    CART providers and court reporters both use the same equipment and software, but CART providers always work in realtime for a primarily Deaf and hard of hearing clientele, whereas court reporters work for attorneys or judges in courts of law or deposition rooms. They sometimes employ realtime, but their primary responsibility is to take down a full and complete record to be edited, printed, and sold to clients. They are paid a fee per appearance and a somewhat higher fee if they offer realtime feeds, but most of their income comes from transcript sales.

    CART providers, on the other hand, work primarily to provide a realtime feed that is as complete and readable as possible, so they charge a higher hourly fee than court reporters, but far less for transcripts, if they choose to provide them. For them, transcripts are a by-product of their work, and their transcripts, unlike those produced by court reporters, are not certified verbatim. Often CART providers will offer complimentary or low-cost transcripts to the students whose classes they transcribe, with the understanding that the student will use the transcripts only to study from, and will not distribute them to anyone else. For reasons of liability, CART providers for large events will generally not offer transcripts; if a transcript is required, it's usually advisable to hire a court reporter in addition to a CART provider.

    In an ideal situation, a CART provider's transcript will be 100% verbatim, just like a court reporter's transcript, and both realtime feeds will be identical. When push comes to shove, though, the court reporter will let their realtime feed fill up with sloppy or untranslated steno code to clean up later, rather than risk missing a word in the final transcript. The CART provider will make sure that the realtime feed stays legible, even if that means paraphrasing slightly or omitting redundant words. They're both working toward the same goal, but the court reporter always gives deference to the final edited transcript, and the CART provider to the immediate realtime feed. The National Court Reporters Association offers membership and certification to CART providers and captioners as well as court reporters, and many NCRA members provide both captioning/CART and court reporting services.

  • What's the difference between CART and captioning?

    There's a significant overlap between CART and captioning, and often consumers don't make any distinction between them, calling everything "captioning". Properly speaking, captioning refers to words displayed on a video screen, usually underneath or next to whoever's speaking. Closed captioning means that the words can be turned on or off by the viewer. Scripted television programs are closed captioned by qwerty typists. Live television programs are usually closed captioned by stenocaptioners. Television stations combine the caption feed with the video and broadcast it to television sets around the country. Scripted open captioning is offered by organizations such as the Caption Coalition, whose captioners use qwerty keyboards to display the text of plays and musicals for Deaf and hard of hearing theater patrons. Live open captioning is what's usually referred to as CART. Clients can read the CART provider's realtime output from a laptop, tablet, or netbook screen, or the CART display can be projected onto the wall for the benefit of multiple clients.

    There's also internet streaming captioning, sometimes called "remote CART". In that case, the client provides an audio feed of a class or event to the captioner by connecting a microphone to a phone line or Skype connection. The captioner listens to the feed and transcribes the audio on their steno machine, which is then sent back via the internet to the client's computer. The main differences between remote CART and broadcast captioning are: First, the words appear on a computer screen rather than a television screen, so they don't have to be encoded by special closed captioning equipment; second, that the audience is usually at the class or event in person rather than receiving the video and captions together in the same feed; and third, the audience is usually fairly small, compared to the millions who watch any given closed captioned television program. As more video broadcasting moves onto the internet, though, the line between captioning and remote CART will become increasingly blurry.

  • What are the pros and cons of CART versus ASL interpretation?

    CART can be a useful alternative to American Sign Language interpretation for certain students, such as those whose first language is English (an estimated 90% of the 25 to 35 million Americans with hearing loss) or who are enrolled in courses containing highly technical material. As with translation between any two languages, nuance can be lost and ambiguities can be introduced in the translation from English to ASL. ASL interpretation also requires that a student maintain continuous eye contact, usually necessitating additional notetakers. Students using CART can take their own notes; the last dozen or so lines of the lecture are displayed on the CART screen for easy reference.

    Individual ASL interpreters tend to charge less for their services than CART providers, but since educational interpreters work in teams, two interpreters are usually required for any class that lasts longer than one hour. CART providers generally work alone, making the cost of CART roughly equal to interpretation for most classes. Not all students with hearing loss are fluent in ASL, and some classes include a great deal of specialized terminology that can be very difficult to translate into Sign Language. Some students will also request ASL for interactive classes such as seminars and labs, while preferring CART for lectures. In short, ASL interpretation is the most appropriate accommodation for some students in some classes, and CART is the most appropriate accommodation for others. The student's preference should be paramount in deciding which service to select.

  • Why hire a CART provider directly, rather than through an agency?

    The biggest advantage of dealing directly with a CART provider is price. CART providers usually charge the same hourly rate whether they work through an agency or directly with their clients, so organizations that go through agencies tend to pay more -- sometimes as much as 30% more -- to cover the agency's markup fee. On the other hand, agencies tend to have several providers available, so they can sometimes cover more work with less notice than individual CART providers, whose schedules fill up fairly quickly. I've worked with a number of firms over the years and still take per diem jobs from them now and then, but I also pride myself on offering flexible, customized service to my direct clients, which they often seem to enjoy as much as they value the comparatively lower cost.

  • Will speech recognition make CART obsolete?

    Not until true artificial intelligence is developed, which is not likely to happen any time soon, if ever. I've written on this subject at length in my article Voice Captioning vs. CART, but briefly: Automatic speech recognition is not currently a substitute for human transcription, because computers are unable to use context or meaning to distinguish between similar words and phrases and are not able to recognize or correct errors, leading to faulty output. The best automatic speech recognition boasts that it's 80% to 90% accurate, but that means that, at best, one out of ten words will be wrong or missing, which results in a semantic accuracy rate that's often far lower than 90%, depending on which word it is. Companies claim that the software is steadily improving, and indeed it has been getting better over the last two decades or so -- but asymptotically, meaning that its theoretical ceiling of improvement is still significantly lower than that required for trustworthy output. Without the ability to understand what is being said, a speech engine will always fall short of a human transcriber.

    A voice writer is someone who uses speech recognition technology but also introduces that vital human error checking mechanism into the equation. Voice writers train their software to their own specific voice pattern, which improves the translation rate considerably, and they go beyond simply repeating words into a microphone, developing methods to pronounce similar words differently and using a variety of software macros to further increase accuracy. All of this requires years of training and significant natural talent, equal to or greater than what's demanded of realtime stenographers. Consequently, truly verbatim realtime voice writers are rare, and usually charge about the same as stenographic CART providers. Because people assume that voice writing must be easier than CART, there are many improperly trained voice writers in the marketplace, so it's vital to ask for a real-world demonstration before hiring anyone who purports to be able to provide realtime, regardless of input technique. I offer free one-hour consultations by appointment, and I'm happy to demonstrate my services at any time, either on my own or in head-to-head competition with other providers.

  • Can you provide CART for people with vision loss?

    Many of my clients have both hearing and vision loss, and I work hard to provide appropriate CART accommodations for people with various types of vision loss. For instance, one of my clients with macular degeneration needed magnified text, so I increased the font size of my CART output and put it on a small tablet computer so that she could hold it just a few inches from her eyes. Another client had Usher syndrome, which meant that his field of vision was narrow, but his central field acuity was pretty good. In his case magnification would have been counterproductive, because the bigger letters would have meant fewer words at a time within his useful visual field. A third client didn't disclose his specific vision issues, but mentioned that he had trouble reading information on the classroom's PowerPoint screen. Most students prefer that I don't transcribe onscreen information, but in his case it was very helpful to have all of the big screen text available on the CART display together with the professor's lecture. I'm happy to make accommodations for all forms of vision loss, and to work with my clients on font size, shape, and color so that their reading experience is as clear and comfortable as possible. So far I haven't had any CART requests from Braille users, but I'm very interested in the possibility of outputting to a refreshable Braille display, and I'd welcome any information on the subject.

  • Why do you stop writing when your client leaves the room?

    My job is to provide equal accommodations for my Deaf or hard of hearing clients. I transcribe whatever would be within their range of hearing if they did not have hearing loss. If they would be able to hear it, they should be able to see it. Conversely, if they show up late, leave the room, or fall asleep, I stop writing. I am not a personal assistant or notetaker. People who use my services get equal access, no more and no less.

  • What do the various NCRA Certifications mean?

    The National Court Reporters Association offers a number of realtime certification options for CART providers, captioners, and court reporters. They include:
    • The CCP, Certified CART Provider. This consists of a five minute skills test of literary material at 180 words per minute, given in unedited realtime, plus a written knowledge test on various subjects, including realtime writing techniques, remote CART technology, spelling and punctuation, Deaf culture, and client communication strategies.

    • The CBC, Certified Broadcast Captioner. This requires the same skills test as the CCP, but a different written knowledge test, which covers closed caption encoding technology, broadcast preparation, quality control, troubleshooting, and caption placement.

    • The CRR, Certified Realtime Reporter, which is a two-voice realtime skills test at 200 WPM, at 96% accuracy, but does not include a written knowledge test. However, when I attained the certification, its skills test was identical to that of the CCP and CBC skills tests; I was given grandfathered CRR status when the test was changed to 200 WPM.
    There are also several non-realtime certifications, though they are all focused on court reporting rather than CART or captioning. They include:
    • The RPR, Registered Professional Reporter. This is the baseline certification level for court reporters. It includes three five-minute edited (non-realtime) skills tests: Literary at 180 words per minute, Jury Charge at 200 words per minute, and Testimonial at 225 words per minute. After the 15 minutes of dictation are complete, test takers are given 75 minutes to turn their steno notes into a polished transcript, which they then turn in to the grading committee. There is also a written knowledge test on legal subjects.

    • The RMR, Registered Merit Reporter. This consists of three five-minute edited (non-realtime) skills tests: Literary at 200 words per minute, Jury Charge at 240 words per minute, and Testimonial at 260 words per minute, identical to the RPR in everything but speed of dictation.

    • The RDR, Registered Diplomate Reporter. This consists only of a written knowledge test, on advanced legal subjects. There is no skills test.
    I currently hold all of the NCRA stenographic certifications: Certified CART Provider, Registered Diplomate Reporter, Registered Merit Reporter, Certified Broadcast Captioner, Certified Realtime Reporter, and Registered Professional Reporter. The RDR supersedes the RMR and RPR, so it's the only one I tend to use when listing my credentials. Likewise, when I attained them, the CRR, CBC, and CCP all shared the same skills test and were only differentiated by written tests, so I tend only to list the CCP in most contexts, as it's most relevant to what I do in my day-to-day profession.

  • Where can I learn more about CART?