Captioning Corner: The Importance of Backup Equipment for Captioners

By Deanna Baker

I keep hearing about having "backup equipment" in my captioning home office. What exactly does that mean?

Excellent question! This could have various meanings depending on the captioning company standards, but here is a list of basics. I would categorize these items as the backups you would need to successfully go on air should any of your usual equipment fail. For instance, if you are prepping to go on air and one of these items fails, for whatever reason, you can turn to your backup immediately and continue with your broadcast.

I'll simply list what you need to have backups for and the possible reasons why. You would be wise to have duplicates of the following:

  • Steno writer, realtime cable, power supply, and cords or cables (which can be chewed through by domestic animals).
  • Computer — CPU, monitor, and a cable for the monitor (in case one gets chewed through or frazzled). Yes, a notebook computer is usable, as long as information is kept current daily on both systems.
  • External modem and cable, preferably two. Two, because as quirky as encoders are, modems are just as quirky — some work with some encoders; some don't. An internal modem could be a backup, but newer internal modems do not knock down to the 1,200 or 2,400 baud rate that is necessary to connect to the encoders.
  • Phone lines — two hard-wired as a minimum — one for data, one for audio. You also need a phone line, such as cell phone, so either the station or the captioning company can contact you for whatever reason. Having another phone line is a good investment, even if it's the cell phone of someone who lives with you.
  • Telephone with multiple lines. Also necessary to have is a backup that requires no electricity in case the power goes out. You want the phone line to still be intact so you can stay connected to the station with data and audio.
  • Backup headset and amplifier for your telephone to be used for audio-only programs because cords can fail, fray, or get kinked. Also, you need backup phone cables going from your phone to the wall, because those, again, can be chewed through.
  • Uninterrupted power source (UPS) or battery backup. You can purchase one based on the amount of time it will remain on once power is gone. You can also plug all of the above-mentioned equipment into it, including the phone. A second UPS is not absolutely necessary, because if the original fails to work, it's probably too late to save anything. But you can still plug equipment into wall sockets, and then you can purchase another UPS immediately.
  • Essential information for the stations you are providing captioning for and the captioning companies you are working for; software-specific info such as dictionaries; and format/.ini files/templates, email addresses, schedules, or other vital information, if it is in electronic form and your computer goes down, needs to be available elsewhere immediately.
  • Backup batteries for:
    1. Remote controls
    2. Telephone amplifier
    3. Atomic clocks
    4. Alarm clocks
  • Backup internet service if DSL or cable goes down, such as free dial-up service.

Yes, all of this equipment is vital if you are going to be providing captioning services remotely. And, unfortunately, needing backups and troubleshooting problems always seem to happen at the worst time. You're under stress and anxiety, so thoroughly knowing all of your equipment is a must.

Remember that missing a broadcast can mean losing work not just for you but also for the captioning company, as well as for many other independent contractors who may rely on that work. Being 100 percent dependable makes for a successful captioning professional.

About the author

Deanna Baker, FAPR, RMR, is from Flagstaff, Ariz. If you have a question about captioning, you can ask her at