Technology aids grasp of speech

At a convention yesterday for people who have hearing loss, Marcia Simmons described a new technology that lets the audience read along with a lecturer's words.

As the Central Michigan University doctoral student spoke, her words appeared on a screen behind her. Nearby, a woman seated behind a steno machine steadily typed.


What Ms. Simmons said and the words on the screen demonstrated real-time reporting, a service in which court reporters type on steno machines, just as they do in courtrooms, but paper tape does not trail out of the machines. A computer stores a transcript of everything that is typed, which then can be projected onto a movie screen.

The process is similar to closed caption services on television programs or subtitles in a movie, except that the court reporter has no time to correct any mistakes.


This service enabled the 30 or so hearing-impaired people in the audience yesterday to keep up with what was said during the workshop led by Ms. Simmons at the Self Help for Hard of Hearing People Convention at the Hyatt Regency.

"It has had a profound impact on my level of understanding," Ms. Simmons said of classroom use of real-time reporting. "I'm not very proficient in sign language, and now I don't have to depend on my speech reading skills. I'm so happy that I can now go someplace where I have to understand all the words, and understand them."

For the 13 court reporters who donated their time this week to provide the service at the convention's lectures and workshops, the demonstration was a chance to promote their services.

With more courts using audio or videotaping as a cost-cutting measure, court reporters have begun seeking new ways to use their skills, said Marshall Jorpeland, communications director for the National Association of Court Reporters.

"It's a real opportunity for court reporters to take advantage of their capabilities and help a new group," Mr. Jorpeland said.

With the passage of the 1991 Americans With Disabilities Act, the need for real-time reporting has increased as many institutions are required to make services available for people who have hearing loss, Mr. Jorpeland said.

Real-time reporting, which costs $50 to $100 per hour, can be used for business meetings, classroom lectures and even weddings, says Deanna Baker, who organized the service for the convention. Because the words are saved on a computer disk, it is easy to review a transcript.

"This provides accessibility to a lot of people who wouldn't have a way to hear everything that they need to," Ms. Baker of Atlanta said.


"Real-time reporting is really spreading through word of mouth, and it is essential that we go out to groups like these to give them the exposure that this is available," said Ms. Baker, who will be receiving an award tonight from the convention as a "Special Friend of People with Hearing Loss."

Real-time reporting is just beginning to be used in this state, said Duane Smith, a director of the Maryland Court Reporters Association.

Mr. Smith, who worked as a real-time reporter at the convention, estimated that fewer than a dozen court reporters in Maryland are certified by the national association as real-time reporters.

"It's a relatively new technology that requires an even higher level of skills," than standard court reporting, said Mr. Smith, a court reporter and marketing director at Salomon Reporting Service in Baltimore. "But with the passage of the A.D.A., there's a lot of pressure on us to produce more people qualified to do this."