By Colleen Platt, RPR, Lincoln Park, N.J.
Some of my most interesting and satisfying assignments have been providing CART for large and small audiences. I've provided realtime for workshops and seminars, panel discussions - and let's not forget the celebrations: the award ceremonies and community and cultural events.
I'm surprised that many reporters who have been providing CART for some time limit themselves to "laptop only" assignments because I know they are turning down some great work. Many times the deaf and hard-of-hearing consumer goes without needed services because of this.
If you have been hesitant to take that next step because you are unfamiliar with the equipment set-up or find the thought of your realtime being displayed for all to see daunting, I'd like to share some of my experience in the hopes of encouraging you to venture into a new arena.
Let's give the good news first. There are many affordable projectors and monitors now available. Since projector prices have softened significantly these past years, it's easier for CART providers to have their own projector, and many more organizations now have equipment available for their meetings.
For a small audience of 2-10 people located in a close setting, I'd suggest using a 17" or 19" flat screen computer monitor. A quick look at some electronic store Web sites shows a price range of $250-450. The set up is easy - plug into the monitor port on your laptop and toggle for both screens to be on. I purchased a longer monitor cable which allows me to sit a little further away from the screen, if necessary. A projector is easy to set up since the cable also hooks into the monitor port of the laptop. Both are easy to bring to a job. My flat screen monitor came in a suitcase-type box with a carrying handle and weighs about 10 pounds. A projector usually has a good carrying case.
Of course, you must know your software. You should be able to easily and quickly change screen colors for background and text. I have set up two separate directories, one with the display set to a dark background with light letters and one with light background and dark letters. This allows me to switch quickly if room lighting requires it. You should also be able to adjust your line length and font quickly. When starting out I always did a dress rehearsal with the equipment before loading the car. This way setting up new or unusual equipment was fresh in my memory and I knew I had everything I would need for the job. Nothing would be left behind such as AC adapters or realtime cables.
I've found, however, that the equipment is just one part of the picture. When I first ventured into CART my work increased at a steady pace during the first few years. There weren't many realtime providers in my area at the time and even fewer who were willing to take on a full-day conference. This resulted in my handling a lot of assignments on my own. At this point I was writing clean realtime, and in my decade or so as an official in courts with packed calendars, I had built up stamina, but I quickly learned there was so much more to be aware of and prepared for.
It's impossible to warn a reporter about everything that may need to be done on a job requiring a projector or monitor, but with a little forethought and patience the reporter's experience can build quickly.
There are some good questions to ask in addition to the basic things such as speaker names and word lists. Will the presenter use a projector and screen for a Power Point or video? Are you aware I cannot share a projector and screen? Will the audience be seated in rows of chairs facing the front or at round tables? Will there be a podium used or a panel of speakers or will the presenter be moving and having more physical interaction with the audience? Will there be other accessibility issues involved such as wheelchairs or motorized scooters? Will there be sign language interpreters? The answer to these questions will definitely impact where you set up.
What is the schedule for sessions and breaks? Very important question, especially if there is only one CART provider. Seminar days are always jam-packed. Many times sessions run over and into the break time. I've learned to discuss this right at the beginning when accepting the job. I've even asked for the speakers and audience to be told that the CART provider must stop writing at the scheduled time to be prepared for the next session.
If you have a good dialogue before the day of the event you can prevent a lot of stress on your part. You can arrive early and have your equipment set up in the best spot and work through any display issues. You will be able to introduce yourself to speakers as they arrive and try to get more dictionary-building info.
I've noted in several articles I've read that many reporters feel getting a good job dictionary is one of the biggest hurdles they face. I know that poker is very popular now, but I've always run into people who like to keep things "close to the vest." I've long abandoned the "please tell me any unusual words or phrases that may come up." I've gotten much better results with these two questions. "What do you think you will talk about the most?" and "Will you be using any acronyms?" I'm telling you, that acronym question is a gem. Trust me, there's always an acronym or two. For some reason that gets the person thinking about their topic and the info just starts pouring out.
I hope more reporters move into providing CART for larger events. I've been fortunate to have a front row seat to many wonderful programs. I have learned a lot about people, about the world we live in, and my life is certainly richer for the experience.
Colleen Platt, RPR, is a CART provider in Lincoln Park, N.J.