Closed Captioning Career




Considered a career in broadcast captioning?Court reporting skills are an important aspect of the service called “broadcast captioning.”  Other names for this service are “closed captioning,” “stenocaptioning,” and “realtime captioning.”  Whichever term you prefer, the purpose of these services is the same:  To provide speech-to-text translation in a visual format.  These services impact the lives of millions of people every day.

What Special Technology Does a Captioner Use?

Broadcast captioning is a service performed by people trained as realtime court reporters.  Though it is similar in nature to the realtime translation software a court reporter uses in a judicial setting, there are some technical differences in the software programs.  In the same way software is used in court, the software used by a broadcast captioner translates the information which is being input through a stenotype machine or a stenomask.  Instead of the text showing up on a computer monitor, however, information input by a broadcast captioner is integrated by the software into a television signal, which is then decoded by a television set or decoder device.  The decoding results in flowing captions, usually at the bottom of the screen, which show up only seconds after the captioner inputs the information being spoken on the television.  

In the early years, a special decoding unit was necessary for a television set to display closed captioning.  The obvious benefits the service provides helped to advance the passage of the Television Decoder Circuitry Act of 1990.  As a result of this Act, starting in July 1993, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) required that decoder circuitry to display closed captioning be built in for all analog televisions with 13-inch screens or larger which were manufactured or sold in the United States.  This requirement went into effect for digital televisions as well on July 1, 2002.

Who Benefits From Broadcast Captioning?

It is estimated that 36 million Americans have some form of hearing loss.  A report from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that over 59,000 military service members and veterans have disability status for hearing loss received in current wars.  Though the entertainment aspect is a great perk, broadcast captioning is a service that is imperative for people who are deaf or hard of hearing to live normal lives.  Without it, they would have extremely limited access, if any at all, to information being relayed through live programs, as well as during emergency situations.  

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires closed captioning for all new television programming as of 2006.  This situation is taken very seriously by representatives of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community.  In June 2011, the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) filed a lawsuit against the entertainment company Netflix and alleged a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) because of the lack of closed captioning provided for most of its “Watch Instantly” movies and television shows available through the Internet.

Though the deaf and hard of hearing are the primary groups served by closed captioning services, there are many others who benefit from this technology.  People learning to speak English, as well as children and adults learning to read, profit greatly by being able to see the words being spoken on the television.  Other people benefit from closed captioning in noisy places like airports, fitness centers, restaurants, and even sports bars.

Where Does a Captioner Work?

Closed captioners can work in several different environmentsSimilar to the range of work locations available to judicial court reporters, broadcast captioners have several employment options.  Some captioners work as independent contractors and provide captioning services to several clients.  Most captioners, however, work for one particular captioning company.  Also read "Starting a Career in Court Reporting" for other careers available in the field of stenography.

Most captioners who are independent contractors work from home.  Though they have a more flexible schedule, in order to maintain a client base, they must be willing to make accommodations with very little notice.  Independent contractors must also furnish and maintain their own captioning equipment and software, as well as the necessary phone lines to receive and transfer the audio signal that is being taped at a television station or other facility.

Captioners who are employees of captioning providers may work from home or in-house at a provider company.  The work schedules are not quite as flexible as those of independent contractors, and they are generally not what most people would consider normal.  Certain blocks of programming time are assigned to a particular captioner.  Generally these blocks average to about 15 hours per week, and the captioner is responsible for providing services during those assigned times.  In addition to the assigned blocks, most companies allow their captioners to choose other blocks of time that are available.

Whether an independent contractor or an employee, broadcast captioners must be punctual and willing to adapt to last-minute changes when necessary.  Because some programming is commercial-free and very intense, a captioner must also have above-average concentration skills and a high endurance level.  Proper training is required, and some companies will only hire candidates who have graduated from an NCRA-approved court reporting program.  If you meet the qualifications to become a broadcast captioner, there are considerable rewards, both personally and professionally.

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Written by , CCR on 10/20/2012 Suzanne has been a court reporter and worked in legal communities for over 18 years. 

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