Remote CART: When the Provider Isn’t There
By Jennifer L.C. Pridmore
Some CART providers have made use of the latest technology to meet the growing demand for communication access realtime translation, finding that an on-site presence isn’t required for the effective provision of this service.
That seasoned about of perception rises and Fall in relegating dish a propriety of environment factories.” This is the typical result of trying to use a speech-to-text software program to translate a verbal presentation into a written (and understandable) text. (The sentence should read: “The seasonal amount of precipitation rises and falls in relationship with a variety of environmental factors.”) While often close on an individual word basis, the overall result is generally pure nonsense, not to mention the hours of preparation time required in order to “train” the program to recognize the speaker’s voice and translate a wide vocabulary. Although public interest in using such programs to provide fast, accurate access to lectures, business meetings and conferences for deaf or hard-of-hearing people is quite strong, the technology involved is not quite up to the job required — being neither very fast nor completely accurate. In fact, there is only one way to ensure immediate, complete and accurate communication translation: CART.
But what happens when the business meeting in question is a conference call, and the nearest CART provider lives three hours away and cannot make the commute every day? Using a variety of software options and relying on their reporting proficiency, several CART providers are able to fill this void with remote CART.
Remote CART works exactly like on-site CART in that the reporter writes a realtime text of the spoken word, which appears on the client’s computer screen. However, instead of needing to be physically present in the room where the presentation is being made, the CART provider listens to the speaker by telephone and writes the realtime account to a Web site that the client is logged onto. While the client and speaker are typically in the same location, they do not have to be, as remote CART can be used just as well with the speaker, CART provider and client in three different locations (as is often the case with business conference calls). The three locations could be as close as the same building or city, or as far apart as across the country.
Before the Remote Realtime Online Captioning project was created by the North Dakota Center for Persons with Disabilities (NDCPD), deaf students in North Dakota had to leave home and attend a school for the deaf in Devil’s Lake or Minot “if they wanted a decent education,” says Cindy Shearman, RMR, CRR, a project reporter with 23 years of experience. “There weren’t many signers available in rural areas to go and sit with [these children] through school, and wintertime travel is very difficult here.” All of which compounded to severely limit the educational opportunities of many children in North Dakota, particularly younger children who were not capable of leaving home and attending a boarding school. With remote CART, Cindy and the other CART providers who work with the NDCPD help alleviate this problem by providing realtime services to students throughout the state, beginning at the middle school level.
For Susan Rick of Hear Ink, the need for remote CART had less to do with providing services that were not available and more to do with making a smart business decision. Located in St. Louis, Mo., her company was busy filling requests for CART providers from all over the state; the problem was the driving. Providing CART for a two-hour business meeting in a town two or three hours away meant a reporter had to be gone for an entire day, most of which was spent in the commute. “We charged for drive time,” says Rick, “but how much do you charge for that? We started losing business to [companies] which don’t charge for drive time. It makes more sense to not charge for what is essentially downtime; plus, our writers prefer not to drive.” Remote CART enables Rick’s company to provide quality realtime services at a lower cost and with less stress and hassle to the writers. Additionally, Rick finds that her services are often requested by deaf and hard-of-hearing clients even when signers are available.
“Signing can be hard to read, even for those fluent in [American Sign Language],” she says. Somewhat proficient in ASL herself, Rick was once having a hard time understanding a signer at a meeting she was attending. She asked the woman next to her, who was fluent in ASL, what the signer was saying; she shook her head and responded, “I don’t know; she’s from Illinois.” Between scheduling difficulties, cost issues, varied signing styles and a growing familiarity with computers, Rick notes that remote CART is in high demand by deaf and hard-of-hearing persons, both in educational and business settings.
As one of the very first reporters to provide remote CART, Pat Graves, RDR, CRR, of CaptionFirst, located in Franklin Park, Ill., concurs. Graves switched from standard reporting to solely providing CART about 13 years ago. She’s been providing remote CART for 10 of those years, and while she’s seen business grow for CART in general, her remote CART business has quadrupled. She currently provides remote CART about 20 to 30 hours a week; with good scheduling and good writers, her company can run four simultaneous remote CART calls. And she sees no signs of business slowing down.
The basic technology requirements of remote CART are simple: the speaker needs a phone line and the client needs access to the Internet. The type of telephone and telephone equipment used is mostly a matter of comfort (on the writer’s part) and level of service desired (on the client’s part). The speaker can use something as simple as a cordless phone, although a polycom microphone provides much better sound quality for the writer. (It also picks up more environmental sounds and cues, if that is important to the client, although the remote CART provider is never able to write in the entire environment the way an on-site provider can.) On the writer’s end, he or she needs a minimum of a speakerphone with a mute key, although “they’re inherently yucky,” according to Graves. Much better: telephone headsets. Better still, and what Graves relies upon, is an auto-coupler into an amplifier box wired to a headphone set. The writer does have to switch to a regular phone if he or she has to speak for some reason, but the sound quality and volume are much easier to control.
As far as the realtime link between the writer and the client, there are three means for providing remote CART. First is a one-on-one computer link over a phone line, but both the client and the CART provider have to have the same communication software and using a chat function can be difficult; a dial-up connection can also sometimes cause a four- to five-second delay. Second is application sharing, where the writer and the client connect through a Web site on the Internet; the client sees a reflection of what the writer has on his or her screen, both input and output. There are several software packages that allow this. Graves has used both NetMeeting, a free downloading software, and WebEx. The problem with application sharing, however, is that “the software shares both the background (audio and/or video input) and the words, so the transcript is slow, jerky and sluggish, and then suddenly races by,” making it difficult at times for the client to keep up.
The third option, and the one that Graves is moving to, is streaming text. She uses software from Speche Communications, which “just streams the text right through,” as well as having several beneficial options: The text box can be moved into a Webcast so that the client can use the audio, video and text feeds as well as employ the chat function. In addition, the text box runs independently from the video, so the client can, for instance, enlarge the text box or the font within the text box without disrupting the video feed; the client can also go back in the transcript to review something while the text is still flowing. NDCPD’s remote CART project also uses streaming text software in the form of a GlobalCAT translation program. Shearman reports that the software interfaces well, but occasionally packets of information are slowed down or even mixed up.
None of the above makes a difference, however, if the voice and Internet connections are not clear, or if the client does not know how to access the Web site. Shearman’s team members on the CART project spend quite a bit of time working out phone line and firewall issues and testing various software packages to see which package works best in which type of setting. Even without such extensive testing and technical support, the remote CART provider and the client need to work together to ensure the best possible quality for the connections and an easy log-on to the Web site being used. And, of course, clients not familiar or comfortable with computers and/or the Internet need to be trained before remote CART can become a viable option for them.
On-Site vs. Remote
The technical differences between providing on-site or remote CART (apart from equipment differences) are so slight as to be negligible. For example, if there is more than one speaker, each one needs to identify him- or herself when speaking so they can be correctly identified.
Beyond these, there seem to be two main differences between providing on-site and remote CART. First, some speakers, for whatever reason, react quite adversely to the idea of remote CART and refuse to help make the process a successful one. Shearman reports difficulties with teachers refusing to provide vocabulary words ahead of time, or taking issue with the text of their lecture: “I didn’t really say that!” and so on. And Rick was once in the middle of realtiming a class when the professor decided he didn’t want to wear the microphone any longer; he simply took it off, set it down and refused to use it again. It takes a lot of communication with the speaker and explanation of remote CART to help people overcome these sorts of issues. Unfortunately, the cost of the writer’s time in doing this is not generally built into the price of the job; the market just will not support it.
The second primary difference between on-site and remote CART is the lack of a one-on-one relationship with the client. Although some sort of relationship is of course both possible and necessary, it is usually conducted online or over the phone. The face-to-face personal contact and informal chatting that many on-site CART providers cite as one of their favorite parts of the job is, obviously, absent. But this is not necessarily a negative difference; Shearman points out that it is much less embarrassing to have a mistranslate when the writer is alone in his or her office rather than sitting right next to the client. More importantly, Graves believes that remote CART can be more liberating for people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing than on-site CART: there is no “crutch” sitting next to them, following them around. “This is supposed to be an empowering service,” says Graves, “not one to help a ‘poor little deaf person.’” Which makes remote CART not only a good business decision in many cases, but also personally gratifying for the reporter who knows he or she is enabling gifted people to work to their fullest potential.
About the Author
Jennifer L.C. Pridmore is a freelance writer from Kingston, Ontario, Canada.