StenoKnight CART Services: Realtime Captioning
		for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
This article was originally written for the Court Reporting Students Yahoo Group.
It has been significantly revised for this page.

Is CART Easier Than Court Reporting?

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 stress-free. Then, when you've been doing that for a year or two, try to get a real job at a court reporting firm. Meanwhile, even 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 college 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 hearing clients, 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 nothing".

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 test easily, 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 quick 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 I've attended, their speed fluctuates with their degree of enthusiasm for what they're teaching, and there are a great many peaks and valleys. 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 self-control. 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 their own test.

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 notetakers 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 aid. 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 off 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 frequently they'll be fired after just a few class sessions. If they choose instead to drop, truncate, or paraphrase, the situation is harder to resolve. 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 degree of accuracy and control. When you take shortcuts, it hurts everyone involved: Your client, your colleagues, and your own future career.