Quick answer: No! It's really, really not!
Longer answer: There's a pernicious rumor that just won't die.
I've seen it in every
court reporting student forum on the internet: "If you're not fast
enough to graduate, drop out of steno school
and go into CART. You don't need to pass any high-speed tests;
just get up to 160 or 180 or so, and start raking in the cash
Then, when you've been doing that for a year or two, try to get a real
at a court reporting firm.
if you're not as fast or as accurate as professional court reporters,
your clients will be so grateful. After all, they're deaf. Miss
a couple of words or sentences, write a little sloppily, drop
all the hard words -- how will they know the difference? If
you weren't there, they wouldn't be getting anything, so whatever
help you can give them is better than nothing, right?"
There are so-called CART firms out there that use this "You
only need 180" line as a recruiting tool. They troll court reporting
schools, looking for mid-speed students who
are at their breaking point and on the verge of dropping out, and
offer them $15 to $30 an hour to provide what they claim to be CART
for local universities. They advertise themselves as a great deal to
disability offices, since they charge vastly less than qualified CART
providers. The student starts making money and stops beating their
heads against those nasty old speed tests; the "CART firm" gets as
much business as they can handle from disability offices strapped for
cash and looking to cut corners; and the Deaf or hard of hearing
student gets an unreadable realtime feed, an inaccurate transcript,
and -- unless they're very bright or very lucky -- a failing grade in
their classes. Sadly, all too few of them complain to the
administration about being offered substandard services,
and the cycle continues. Disability advisors, Deaf and hard of
and stenographic professionals all have the responsibility to make
sure that people
who work as CART providers truly offer CART and not just "better than
The CCP (Certified CART Provider examination) requires
96% accuracy at 180 words per minute. That might sound easier than
the 225 WPM test you need to pass in order to graduate, but remember:
A 180 literary realtime test that has to be 96% accurate without any
editing allowed is much harder to pass than an ordinary 180 literary
test, which gives you the chance to sit down with your transcript
and correct your errors before turning it in. The CCP skills test
is identical to the CRR skills test, which RPRs and even RMRs often have trouble
passing. After passing my last 225 and graduating from steno school,
I interned with an experienced CART provider for about six months.
Only then, after lots of intense realtime work, was I able to provide
competent CART. My dictionary was pretty good,
and more literary than legal, since I had been building it on
television shows, realtiming 35 hours a week for the previous six months,
and about 15 hours a week for almost two years before that. I had passed my last 225 Q&A
but that's because I had an hour to stare at "Tea time oft
dent" and turn it into "at the time of the accident". Someone who's
trying to follow difficult subject matter while the lecture
goes whizzing past their eyes doesn't have that luxury.
Realtime writing has to be 98% to 99% perfect right out of the gate,
and that's immensely difficult to do. I have no idea where the "CART
is easier than deposition work" myth came from, but it's a piece of
wishful thinking that continues to stick around against all evidence
to the contrary.
People in the real world frequently speak a lot more quickly
than 225 words
per minute. Most people, once they get going, can rocket up to as
240 or 260 in short bursts; then they usually settle back down again.
Frequently the fastest material is the most vital to catch, because
it's what got them excited enough to accelerate in the first place.
University teachers sometimes try to slow their speech down for
the benefit of students taking notes; but, in most of the lectures
attended, their speed fluctuates with their degree of enthusiasm
for what they're teaching, and there are a great many peaks and
A CART provider has to have reserve speed (including some slack
for fingerspelling the inevitable words they couldn't have predicted,
even after spending time going through textbooks and Powerpoint
slides before each class session to enter terminology in their
dictionary.) It's intense, unrelenting, and requires tremendous
If you drop a sentence on a steno test, you'll pass it as long as
everything else was solid. If you drop a sentence in a class you're
CARTing, that might have been the sentence your client needed to pass
I'm a big advocate of working at a steno-related job through
school. I'm convinced it's what helped me to graduate in a year and a
half. But when I wasn't quick enough, only my paycheck
and my free time suffered -- not someone who was paying me good money
to be their ears.
CART is already facing competition from notetaking services like
C-Print and Typewell, who are able to offer less-than-verbatim
realtime displays for a fraction of the cost using qwerty keyboards
and short training sessions. They usually offer about as much
information as you get from reading the bullets on a PowerPoint slide,
but their practitioners are trained to be clean rather than complete,
so even patchy Typewell notes have sometimes been preferred
over more technically verbatim steno transcripts with sloppy realtime
feeds, rife with mistranslations and incomprehensible raw outlines.
Offering a service like this is much worse than useless,
because it can lead a client to believe that all CART is less
reliable than C-Print or Typewell, which is horrendously untrue.
If you want to provide notes instead of CART and you're in your 160s,
go for it. Just be very clear that the service you're offering is
notetaking, and not Communication Access Realtime Transcription.
Charge $15 an hour and consider it a dictionary-building
exercise. In most cases, your services will not be appropriate for
Deaf or hard of hearing students, unless they're given additional
accommodations such as an ASL or cued speech interpreter; but
are needed by many other kinds of students, including those with
learning, motor, or attention disabilities. Your client will probably not want
to look at your display while you're writing, as the signal-to-noise
ratio may make it more confusing than helpful; but afterwards you
can go home, clean it up, and deliver it to them as a study
There's nothing wrong with that. Just please don't call it CART,
and don't charge CART prices (or worse, call it CART while
undercutting CART prices -- so when a qualified CART provider
comes along to replace you, the university thinks they're being ripped
and refuses to pay them a living wage). Most of all, don't let
yourself be pressured into offering an inappropriate accommodation to
a student who needs true verbatim transcription.
A big part of the problem is that there is often no direct accountability or
oversight of CART providers in academic settings. If an
unqualified CART provider choses to slop rather than
drop, their incompetence shows clearly in the realtime feed, and
they'll be fired after just a few class sessions. If they choose
instead to drop, truncate, or paraphrase, the situation is harder to
The student in need of the services often isn't in a position to be
able to judge
how accurately the CART provider is writing. A court reporter who
tries that will soon be found out, because the lawyers and witnesses
can compare the transcript with their memory of the deposition.
A Deaf or hard of hearing student, on the other hand, has to trust the
CART provider to understand what's going on, and if a CART provider
doesn't have the skill to do the job, only their own conscience
is going to get them out of it.
Steno students may be of the opinion that, with the CART
provider shortage in this country, something is better than nothing,
and they're doing the best they can. This is a dangerous fallacy.
If a teacher spends the whole class talking about Holofernes
and it comes up every time on the display as Hollow Ferns,
whose fault is it when the student flunks the final? Think how frustrating
it would be to read through untranslates, mistranslates, word boundary errors, drops, misstrokes, misheard
jargon, and every other problem a new stenographer faces, just to
figure out what's going on in a class that might be vital for
your future. Deaf students are often told, "This is what you're getting
and there isn't anything better, so be grateful you have anything at all,"
making them reluctant to protest on their
own behalf. Stenographic professionals don't have any control over
what universities choose to do, but we can hold ourselves accountable
and refuse to condone unethical behavior.
If you're having trouble getting through steno school, keep
practicing. Keep working on speed tapes, keep dictionary building, and
don't give up hope. Once you pass your last 225 test, try to get some
work with a court reporting firm that's willing to give relatively
easy work to novice reporters. Build up your speed reserves and try
realtiming for yourself until you're confident that you can do it with
an accuracy above 98% out of the gate, even with complex literary
material. Pass the RPR and try to pass the CRR, CBC, and/or CCP. Get
some experience under your belt. Then start thinking about providing
CART. That's the right way to do it. If you're like I was, determined
to bypass legal reporting and go straight into CART or
captioning, please don't think it will be an easy detour. Spend at
least as long on refining your realtime as on building
your speed, and don't leave school until you've reached the maximum
speed they offer. Work under the direction of an experienced
CART provider. Don't take on jobs you're not able to do with a high
of accuracy and control. When you take shortcuts,
it hurts everyone involved: Your client, your
colleagues, and your own future career.