How Shall They Hear: Captioning the Word
By Pat Gardiner
This is the first article in a series that will focus specifically on providing realtime in a religious setting. If you have any comments or suggestions on this topic for future columns, contact information can be found at the end of this article.
Realtime captioning can be fun, especially when a whole team of court reporters gets together to caption a church service at New Life Church in Milton, Ontario, Canada, every Sunday at 10:45 a.m. The reporters have a common goal of wanting to make a difference. They want to give something back, whether it is to someone who is deaf or hard-of-hearing or to another court reporter or student who is interested in learning how to realtime caption in a religious setting. Combine that with a pastor who has a vision that all persons with a hearing loss should be able to attend a church service and "hear" what is being said, and it is amazing what can be accomplished!
Research and Practice
Four years ago I first approached my pastor with the idea of realtiming a church service for deaf and hard-of-hearing people. Much to my surprise, he had already done some reading on closed captioning and had watched it on television. He thought it was a great idea and suggested we do some research and go from there.
We got in touch with a few churches in the United States that were realtime captioning their services, and they gave us some very helpful ideas. We thought it would be best to have live video coming up on TV screens suspended from the church ceiling with the words coming up at the bottom of the screen so people also could see faces and lips.
As we were researching all of this, I set up my writer and laptop at the front of the church and wrote just for myself, building my dictionary and getting used to the fact that one day the whole congregation would be watching my captions. At that point I had only realtimed a few times, and it was for only one or two people watching at a time.
After practicing for a year, we decided we were ready. We knew which software program we wanted to use, and I felt more confident about my writing. The pastor and I took it to the church board, and they thought it was a good idea. The church bought the program and the equipment, and we were up and running. A Canadian TV reporter came and did an interview, which aired across Canada and some parts of the United States, and we thought we were really on our way.
An Unexpected Obstacle
I captioned our church service every Sunday morning for about two months, and then disaster seemed to strike. Two fingers on my left hand started to feel awkward. At first we thought it was just tired fingers, but they continued to get worse. Within a month they progressed to the point where, when I went to touch my writer, the two fingers curled inward and I could not write even one stroke! I went to doctor after doctor, but there was nothing they could do. There was no pain, the problem was deep and they doubted if I would ever write again. We have now, three years later, found out the problem is due to a hereditary problem in my neck that has caused a condition called focal dystonia. After all that practicing and the church spending nearly $10,000 on equipment, I was devastated. What was I going to do?
Many of you know the results from reading Monette Benoit's article in the September 1999 JCR. A whole team was built. I asked court reporters I had worked with over the years if they would come and help us out. It would require captioning at the church about once a month. It took about six months to build the team.
The team now consists of seven reporters: Denise Agard, Joanne Anderson, Diane LeBlanc, Caroline Sebastian, Kathy Toy, Terry Wood and myself (I coordinate the team); our church broadcast technician (who happens to be deaf in one ear); and my son, who is our cameraman. We even have our own chef, my husband, who makes sure lunch is ready for any team member who stays after the service. Lunch gives us a chance to share our ideas on how to make the team and what we are doing for the church more effective. It also gives us time to get to know each other better.
Our team has become like a little family, but a family that always welcomes a newcomer. We now have an A/B box where we can pair up someone who is just learning realtime with one of the captioners, and they can write the songs for the church service - something that is slower, but will help build confidence. We look out for each other, we hold each other up.
We all come from different denominations: Baptist, Catholic, Jewish, Lutheran, Pentecostal and United. The religious walls have come down, and we have all joined together to be a part of something that is being done for the very first time in Canada.
Even after two and a half years of this team captioning every Sunday morning service at New Life, it still brings tears to my eyes as I look up at the TV screens. I thought I would never again see captions in our church, but God has changed what seemed like an impossible situation into something wonderful. Without this very special group of people, it would not have happened.
Our whole team watches in amazement as deaf and hard-of-hearing people either come up to us or the pastor after a church service, sometimes with tears in their eyes, thanking us for that sermon that they were able to "hear" that came just on the very day they needed to hear it, or maybe it is the very first time they have been able to participate in a church with the rest of their family members, who are all able to hear. Our hearts can't help but be touched. We really are contributing, making a difference and at the same time enjoying what we are doing.
We would like to share with you what we are learning through this team effort. We have heard from quite a few reporters who are already captioning for their churches or who are thinking about it. Please contact us and share your experiences. Many of you have asked us questions, which we were very happy to answer. In each upcoming article we would like to include a section for a question that has been asked, and we will answer it. We felt it might be helpful to share outlines of religious words, and then over time you will be able to build up a religious dictionary. We want to include what people who are deaf and hard-of-hearing have to say about church services that have realtime captioning. We will discuss technology, pastors' comments about the captioning and any other ideas you come up with that you would like to talk about. We hope this column will be of help and of interest to many of you.
About the Author:
Pat Gardiner is from Milton, Ontario, Canada. Please forward your ideas and comments to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her site about CART/Captioning in churches- http://www.newlife-milton.org/captioning/2nd.htm.