The Senate and the House have passed a bill that will provide grants to educate court reporters specializing in realtime communication. These reporters will provide captioning for live television broadcasts, improving access for deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers.
A Short History of Captioning
In 1980, American television started broadcasting the first closed-captioned programs. These broadcasts had subtitles so that deaf and hard of hearing viewers could enjoy programs along with everyone else.
Initially, these captions were limited to pre-recorded broadcasts. However there was soon a demand for captions on news, sporting events, and other live programs. This created a need for people who could transcribe the spoken word in real time.
Certified court reporters have been doing this for decades. Many reporters left the courtrooms for jobs at television stations. Despite the rise in captioning, many programs were still broadcast without captions making them inaccessible to many viewers.
Increased Demand for Realtime-Certified Court Reporters
In 1996, in response to public pressure as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Congress passed the Telecommunications Act. This mandated that all new English television broadcasts must be captioned by 2006. It also required an increasing percentage of old programs be captioned.
The demand for certified court reporters skyrocketed as television stations searched in vain for people skilled in realtime captioning. Unfortunately as demand went up, the supply went down. Driven in part by fear that technology would make the profession obsolete, enrollment in court reporting schools plummeted.
Many schools closed and the number of graduates dwindled. The average court reporting agency saw their staff decline by 10% over this period. The 2006 deadline came and went and the caption goal was not met. The reporters needed just weren't there. Schools were educating only half the realtime reporters needed.
A New Initiative to Train Court Reporters
The Higher Education Reauthorization bill was introduced into Congress in 2007. Part of this bill was a program of grants to educate certified court reporters to meet the demands of realtime captioning.
Interested parties watched as the bill made its way through the tortuous paths of the federal government. In February 2008 the bill was passed by the House of Representatives and in July it passed the Senate.
As of this writing, the bill awaits the President's signature and advocates of the measure are cautiously optimistic that it will become a reality later this year.
The grants offered by this bill will offer incentive to aspiring court reporters and should increase enrollment. Over time, this should increase the supply of certified court reporters and ease the burden felt by both television stations and courtrooms over the lack of qualified candidates.