By Mary DeMattina
After working for 13 years as a freelance court reporter in Lexington, Ky., I realized that I wanted to do something more fulfilling. I left the profession and worked for three years in a very creative field that I loved, teaching music and visual arts. This past November, I had to leave that position due to chronic health problems associated with an allergic reaction to something within the building. I did not have a desire to return to deposition reporting. So I began religiously working on my writing skills, switched to Stenocat32 in December '04, and am working on developing a business writing CART with a specialized focus in religion.
About a year ago, I started working with the Globalcat realtime student version and began practicing with it at our church in their media room, really just for fun. The media room is a small room with TV monitors. The church is rather large with an 1,800-person seating capacity. There was a member who suffered from 80 percent hearing loss. He had lived with it all of his life and attended church, but could never hear much at all. He was very frustrated for many years. The fine arts minister introduced us, and this man came to the media room to watch. He was elated! This was the first time in his 65 years that he could understand the church service.
Within a short while, he asked about moving out into the sanctuary, to be a part of the group. It was a very isolated feeling, being in the little room and watching a television. So we moved up to the balcony, next to the sound booth and stayed there for almost a year. In January 2005, we moved down to the main floor and only then did people start to notice us.
Our original intention was to reach out to the hard-of-hearing people in our community. What we are now only beginning to recognize is how CART can also benefit people who speak English as a second language (ESL). When a Southern Baptist preacher gets fired up, he can speak pretty quickly. If your comprehension of English were not highly developed, you would miss some of the message. With his words lingering on the screen for a few moments, your brain has the advantage of seeing those words as you are trying to understand them.
"Kay" was born and raised in Japan. After attending our Global Missions program, she told me how much it helped her. She could better understand the entire service by seeing the words. I've discovered that many ESL students who learn to speak English are not always taught reading and writing skills. This is an area we will also be exploring: how seeing the words, along with hearing, can help people in learning to read English.
CART Equipment in Church
I use a laptop computer, which is also connected to a 19-inch flat screen television. The television sits on a cart that is 40 inches high. We have experimented with several different heights, and this one seems to work best for us. In this church with a capacity to seat 1,800, we are located in one section, on the lower level. We are still determining how many people can comfortably see the screen. By using a size 36 font in bold, the words can be seen for approximately 15 to 20 feet.
From what I've read about other church CART providers, oftentimes the churches have been asked to pay for all equipment, which, to me, is very costly. Then, if their reporters cannot commit long term to their volunteer positions, that equipment gets stored in a closet. I believe that can only harm our reputation as a whole. (I provide all my own equipment. The church has provided the flat screen TV and the cart.)
There is also at least one company that is sending advertising to churches, encouraging them to purchase $4,000 speech recognition programs. The propaganda states that a church employee or volunteer can easily learn how to use the equipment, and the verbatim words will appear on a screen. I told my minister friend I viewed it as a scam. I have no idea how many churches bought into that little piece of equipment. Think of the impact that type of thing has on the reporting industry.
The church has just recently purchased a flatscreen TV and is getting a cart, upon which it will be mounted. Approximately 75 people in that section will be able to read the screen.
I'm very fortunate in that the fine arts minister, who is responsible for all AV functions, is very technologically oriented, is enthusiastic about realtime, and "paves the way" for me. We are now beginning to invite our ESL guests to join us and see how realtime can benefit their understanding of the service.
The Rewards of Providing CART
Providing CART services in church appeals to me because I get to see the immediate impact it has on people's lives. I see the impact it has on their family members. One gentleman has seen and "heard" his first church musical and been able to participate in church business meetings for the first time because of CART. There's no question that it's probably one of the best things for him in his lifetime to be able to come to church and hear his pastor speak and to truly feel a part of the congregation.
I do not earn money from church CART. It is a volunteer service that inadvertently developed into something special for our members. I did not plan to be out in the sanctuary -- I just wanted a real, live setting where I could hide in a little, isolated room. As we became aware of other needs, we adjusted.
I do not know of any church writers who are paid. I have read about several who provide volunteer services. The problem is dependability and longevity. It's often difficult to go to church weekly and write at your steno machine when you are in the midst of some rush depositions. From the couple of court reporters I've spoken with, when work becomes demanding for a length of time, church CART is dropped.
I also provide CART at funerals. This interests me because it relates to the religious dictionary I have and I believe it is the most realistic way to write CART and continue my church mission, without interruption or having to drop it. Six months ago, I would not have believed this is where I would be today.
CART and Court Reporting
CART and court reporting - to me it's all the difference in the world. I receive immediate and long-term gratification from CART. When I was reporting, I was paid, but it wasn't personally rewarding. I doubt most attorneys would have remembered my first name an hour past the deposition.
My years of freelance writing have certainly played a major role in my ability to do what I'm doing today. It was a very different attitude for me; I never liked to practice and avoided that as much as possible. With CART, I have realtime on every time I write on the machine and analyze everything that I practice at home. I put each and every service (two each week) under the microscope, as soon as I get home, working to clean up any untranslates. I'm preparing for the CCP, giving it my best effort.
I do not know what I will be doing in six months to one year. Although I've spent probably more than 75 hours writing church realtime, I have not come up with a way that a working CART writer or reporter can consistently write for a church. In reality, I believe that churches would have to hire writers. From what I've seen, people who are hard of hearing -- mostly elderly -- do not want themselves so identified. If the church does not see enough need, it cannot justify the expense.
Mary DeMattina is from Lexington, Ky.