How to Become a Captioner for the Deaf

An Increasingly Lucrative Field

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Legislation stemming from the Telecommunications Act of 1996 making closed captioning on television mandatory greatly increased the demand for broadcast captioning services. Meanwhile, there is more and more need for real-time translation for deaf and hard-of-hearing people. Perhaps you are interested in becoming a captioner, either offline or real-time (live). It is easier to become an offline captioner than a real-time captioner, but there is more money, and possibly more job security, in real-time captioning.

Communication Access Real-Time Translation (CART) Providers

To become a CART provider, you first are trained as a court reporter. Then, you use CART technology to provide real-time translation of speech and dialogue to deaf and hard-of-hearing people. They provide an immediate transcript. You may do this in person, but often it is done remotely using an Internet or phone connection.

Offline Captioner

The offline captioner captions pre-recorded video programming such as movies and television programming. Software for offline captioning is readily available. Offline captioning involves skills such as learning time codes and synchronizing them with the captions, using computers and having good English skills.

Some captioning services will transcribe a script before captioning, meaning that they listen to the video program and prepare a script to work with for captioning purposes. It is usually less expensive to caption if there is a prepared script already. The ease of getting into the business has helped to keep the cost of offline captioning down. In addition to independent captioning services, many post-production houses also offer offline captioning services.

Real-time Captioning

Becoming a real-time captioner, sometimes called a broadcast captioner or stenocaptioner, involves intensive training and practice. The real-time captioner may work independently as a contractor, or as an employee of a captioning service or television station. More court reporting schools and colleges, particularly community colleges, are offering broadcast captioning training to meet the increased demand. A skilled real-time captioner can earn as much as $127,000 annually, with entry-level salaries hovering around $46,000 and an average salary around $67,000.

A real-time captioner must have good English, be very accurate, type fast, and have stamina. They must have stenographic skills because a stenographic shorthand is used with the live captioning equipment. Real-time captioners have often had to perform heroically, captioning online for hours without a break in emergencies and major news events.

This is a job that can be done remotely because it involves a link to the live broadcast feed, meaning telecommuting is possible. However, at-home broadcast captioners often have to buy their own computers, software, and captioning equipment. In addition, a real-time captioner must invest additional hours outside of the actual captioning preparing for a broadcast by making sure their equipment's dictionaries are up to date with the terms that they will be captioning.

If you want to become a real-time captioner, many colleges and court reporting schools offer training and degrees. The National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) even offers a Certified Broadcast Captioner certification, to increase the professionalism of this career path. In anticipation of the exploding demand, the federal government provided grants to several colleges to increase the availability of broadcast captioning training programs and expand the supply of trained broadcast captioners.

NCRA's website includes a listing of certified court reporting schools, not all of which offer broadcast captioning training.

Voice writing is an alternative real-time method where a real-time captioner uses speech to dictate everything in the dialogue of a video program word for word, including punctuation and speaker identification. This is done using either a computer headset or a "mask" or voice silencer with a microphone. The equipment hooks directly into a computer, which produces an instant translation utilizing speech recognition software. This translated text is then automatically distributed by the computer to the closed captioning encoder (a piece of equipment that puts the captions into the video itself).

Finding Available Captioning Jobs

NCRA maintains a job bank that primarily lists court reporting jobs. Some captioning service providers may post job listings on their websites.

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