Court reporting makes comeback as more legal proceedings demand human touch

Ginger Adams Otis via NY Daily News

Student practicing on a stenotype machine via Daily News

Student practicing on a stenotype machine via Daily News

At last, the humans win one. Court reporting, a skill that seemed destined to be replaced by electronic tape recorders, is making a comeback — and bringing a lot of very good jobs.

Once upon a time, the fast-tapping typers — who must hit 225 words-per-minute with 95% accuracy to be deemed competent — were a ubiquitous sight across the city’s court system.

They were a fixture in every sort of courtroom drama, both in real life and on TV’s “Perry Mason” and early “Law & Order” episodes, drawing attention whenever a judge or an attorney demanded, “Readback, please.”

Demand for live court reporters faded in the 1990s, when budget cuts prompted many of the city’s courts to switch to electronic recorders and farm out the tapes to inexpensive freelance typists.

Yet even as that happened, the realization slowly dawned on many court administrators that tape recorders couldn’t fully replace human beings after all — especially when the machines occasionally didn’t get turned on.

“There have been many, many instances in the past when recordings have failed, the machinery didn’t work, or it just wasn’t turned on due to human error,” said Eric Allen, president of the Association of Supreme Court Reporters.


Eugene City Council considers hiring stenographer to keep minutes of meetings

via Register-Guard

In an era of streaming video and social media, residents may in coming months be able to read what is said at Eugene City Council meetings.

Every single word of every single meeting.

Providing verbatim minutes of City Council meetings in a digital format is one of the proposals that elected leaders are mulling as they seek to improve transparency and public trust in City Hall.

Eugene City Coucil

Eugene City Coucil

In May, the city budget committee — the eight city councilors plus an equal number of citizen members — recommended that the city restore the position of “City Council stenographer,” or minutes recorder, pending future approval by the council.

If the council gives its OK, the money would be added as part of a budget change made in December.

The stenographic record wouldn’t come cheap. City staff have estimated the annual labor cost at about $200,000, not including materials and other equipment.

The city once had a pool of recorders who took detailed minutes of meetings of City Council and other city advisory boards for public review. Those minutes didn’t list every single word, but were still very detailed. But budget cuts slowly eliminated those positions until the last one was cut in 2012, City Recorder Beth Forrest said.

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Courts Fear Effects of Stenographer Shortage

via Daily Item

Susquehanna Valley courtrooms are bucking a nationwide shortage of court reporters, which is expected to peak in 2018.

The shortage was identified by the National Association of Court Reporters which found that the demand for stenographers would outpace supply by about 5,500 in 2018.  The looming shortage was on Charles H. Saylor’s mind when he took over as president judge in Northumberland County last year.

“I was concerned that we would have (adequate court reporters) to cover all our needs,” said Saylor, who oversees three courtrooms in the Sunbury courthouse. 

It turns out that staffing hasn’t been a problem even with the retirement of John Onesi, one of the county’s two full-time staff court reporters. Not only was Onesi’s position quickly filled with an experienced stenographer, Saylor said, but freelancers have been available as well. 

In Snyder and Union counties, the courtrooms are also well staffed with two full-time and one part-time stenographer, said Judge Michael H. Sholley

As a member of the statewide Committee on Court Reporters and Transcribers, Columbia-Montour Court Administrator Tami Kline said she is aware of the shortage, but like neighboring county court officials, she hasn’t encountered any problems filling the stenographer seat. 

‘Saul’ better call local court reporter

From “Better Call Saul” (Season 1, Episode 1), real-life veteran court reporter Jennifer Bean appears with a Big Gulp drink cup and an authentic steno machine, circa early 2000s. (Ursula Coyote/AMC TV)

From “Better Call Saul” (Season 1, Episode 1), real-life veteran court reporter Jennifer Bean appears with a Big Gulp drink cup and an authentic steno machine, circa early 2000s. (Ursula Coyote/AMC TV)

Jennifer Bean, an Albuquerque veteran court reporter, helped open the recent premiere of AMC-TV’s “Better Call Saul,” portraying a role she does best: being a court reporter.
“I wanted to be part of this, but I was worried about how I would be portrayed. It had to be ethical. I couldn’t play a sleezeball court reporter and then have my (real-life) judge see that and wonder what I was doing in that show,” says Bean, 60, a New Mexico certified court reporter since 1977 and owner of Bean & Associates Inc., a professional court reporting service.

Bean helped nail her role by providing her own prop, an authentic steno machine, circa the early 2000s, the time period 

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Karen Sole - our New School Administrator

The New York School of court Reporting is pleased to announce Lisa Sole as the school's new Administrator. Karen brings over 25 years experience in the court reporting industry including stints at Bryan College and StenoTech Career Institute, Karen is an NCRA Registered Professional Reporter (RPR), NCRA Certified Reporting Instructor (CRI), and an NCRA Certified Program Evaluator (CPE). Karen is also an instructor at the school.

Severe staffing shortages grind NY courts to a halt


Despite historic case backlogs, dozens of city judges are pushing pencils instead of banging gavels because there is not enough staff to conduct courtroom trials, judges and court officers told The Post.

A Brooklyn Supreme court courtroom sits empty last year because of a lack of Court Reporters

The state court system in New York City is operating at only “70 percent” of capacity and is down 250 officers and 250 clerks, charges Dennis Quirk, president of the New York State Court Officers Association.

“There are judges who could be working who aren’t working, and it’s the public that’s getting [cheated],” Quirk said.

“The judges can’t talk about it on the record, but I can tell you that they complain about it every day to the powers that be,” he said. “It’s been going on for the last two years and it’s getting worse. Every day there are judges sitting in chambers not able to conduct trials because there is not enough manpower.”

A criminal trial requires two court officers per defendant, one clerk and one court reporter.


America's Court Reporting Crisis



As Americans overloaded with student debt question the value of a college degree, training for one high-paying profession begging for employees costs relatively little.

Jane Wells on CNBC

 "There is going to be a demand, and a need, for at least 5,500 new positions over the next three to five coming years," said Sarah Nageotte, president of the National Court Reporters Association. Fifteen percent of the industry is poised to retire. Nageotte said a lot of people are not even aware the career still exists.

Court reporting not only exists, it's expanding.

Most new reporting jobs are outside the courtroom, doing depositions or closed captioning. There is a new federal initiative to provide captioning services to hearing-impaired students. The pay for those jobs can range from $35 an hour up into six figures. One opening for a court reporter in San Francisco starts above $100,000, plus benefits. 

Shortage of Closed Captioners in US

via NBC 9News Colorado

We've been told that the TV news show Next occasionally airs in bars. And the people watching in bars probably can see Kyle's face but can't hear his voice, and instead, read the closed captioning at the bottom of the screen.

Stacey Potenza in Eastern Colorado

Well, People Watching Next in Bars, did you know it's not computer generated?

The words are the fine work of a real live human, like Stacey Potenza, who lives in Eastern Colorado and watches TV like it's her job. Ya know, because it is. 

Potenza lives in Limon, connected to the rest of country through the interstate that forms its northern border, and connected to anyone in the world through a computer in her home office. 

“I don’t think, outside of a few close friends in Limon, anyone in my town even understands how it works.” she says. 

That's probably true for most people.

"Live TV like news, sporting events, conferences – anything that’s live – chances are it's somebody sitting at home in their pajamas (who's typing it),” Potenza says during our interview, when she was captioning for a student in a classroom at CU. “I also love getting to be a perpetual student, getting to learn something new, whether it’s through classes or even newscasts, and specialty shows across the United States.”

Potenza and other captioners have to be certified at 225 words per minute, and but she can go up to around 300 word-per-minute bursts if she needs to. The average single speaker rate of speech is around 180 words a minute, but things get complicated with speedy talkers, or multiple speakers. We put her to the test with Kyle Clark's commentary about snow on patio furniture, and she stayed around 220 the entire time.

You might think technology would be threatening her job. After all, that Siri is getting pretty good.

“She’s pretty good, though. Anybody who has an iPhone and talks to Siri knows how frustrating it can be to try to get her to hear exactly what you’re saying.”

Captioners used phonetic keyboards that type by the syllable, instead of by the letter. Each key represents a letter, and combination of keys will type a letter that isn't represented on the 22-key keyboard. The job requires just as much skill in listening as it does in typing. Closed captioners actually undergo the same training as a stenographer in a court room, which is what led Potenza to this job. 

"My dad was a court reporter for 24 years. His mom was also a court reporter for 20-plus years. I had an epiphany one day. I woke up and realized they were home more than they were gone, and that was a perfect career for me to pursue." 

Potenza says there are about 400 captioners in the United States, meaning there is a shortage of them. 

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Six-Figure Salaries Are Very Real For Just 2 Years Of College

via CBS Pittsburgh

Let’s face it — a four-year college education is not for everyone. First, there’s the cost.

“Very expensive,” says Jon Zeidler of Center Township.

And then for many a two-year certificate or associate’s degree is sufficient.

“It’s all I needed,” adds Connie Lee of Marshall.

But what about the earning power of these degrees?  After working as an office delivery person out of high school, Connie Lee went back to CCAC to get her court reporting certificate and associates degree.

Lee: said “Last year, my total was $240,000, but by the time I pay my expenses and all that, I get about half of that.” 

Delano asked: “$120,000?”

“Not bad for a two-year degree, right?” Lee said.

A recent study by ranked hundreds of two-year public and private colleges and technical schools based on the earnings of their graduates.

Of the top 50 two-year schools, the average starting salary of graduates was between $35,000 and $42,000, and after ten years, the average salary was $60,000 to $75,000 a year.

And that means more people than ever will soon be able to say what Connie Lee says.

“The last 13 years I haven’t made less than six figures every year.”

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Michigan City Council proposes closed captioning for television in public spaces

via The Michagan Daily

Ann Arbor residents who are hearing-impaired may soon be able to enjoy closed captioning in television sets in public areas.

Ann Arbor Mayer Christopher Taylor speaks at the City Council meeting on Tuesday.

During their first meeting of the year, City Council discussed a new city ordinance mandating that any television set compatible with closed captioning in “places of public accommodation” – such as businesses, schools, and restaurants – must activate the feature to accommodate those residents with hearing loss problems. Television sets unable to provide closed captioning are exempt from the requirement.

The council did not vote on the ordinance this meeting. Westphal said because he is waiting for responses from members of the business community in an A2 Open City Hall survey, he is postponing the vote until the first meeting in February..

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Can you type 360 words per minute?! Mark Kislingbury can.

via NY Magazine

A decent typist can do 80 words per minute. Mark Kislingbury can hit more than four times that speed. He’s the fastest in the world, and getting faster. The 53-year-old Texan holds the world record for the “fastest real-time court reporter,” a standard he set in 2004 when he transcribed a staggering 360 words in one minute, with 97 percent accuracy.

You can see him in action about 45 seconds into this trailer for the court-reporting documentary "For the Record"

If you’ve ever watched a trial in a courtroom, you’ve probably seen a court reporter, sometimes called a stenographer, sitting near the witness stand and quietly typing away, making an official record of every word that’s uttered.

In order to keep up with the speed of human speech for hours on end, court reporters use a special keyboard — a steno machine — that allows them to type whole words and phrases in single strokes. For years now, Mark Kislingbury has been the master of the craft.

Kislingbury is the most decorated champion of the annual competitions put on by the National Court Reporters Association, the winner of seven speed contests and four “real-time” contests — a slightly slower event focused more on accuracy. Between 2001 and 2010, he won the championship seven times, becoming known as the Michael Jordan of court reporting.

Mark Kislingbury in action

Now, 12 years after he set his world record, he’s gunning for another history-making run. He’s training to go even faster, and hoping to hit 370 words per minute in the near future.

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Final Rule Requiring Movie Theaters Nationwide to Provide Closed Captioning

via JD Supra Business Advisor

On December 5th, 2016, the Department of Justice (DOJ) published its final rule requiring theaters throughout the United States to provide closed captioning and audio description (if available) for movies exhibited in digital format.  The new regulations will take effect on January 17, 2017.

As we covered here, DOJ issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in August of 2014, which proposed rules requiring that theaters purchase and deploy specific equipment to provide closed captions for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, and audio description for patrons with visual impairments.  The proposed regulations also included requirements to advertise the availability of these technologies, and have a staff member on-site to locate, operate, and troubleshoot this equipment.

The final rule adopts many of these proposals, although several were scaled back, presumably in response to public comments submitted by theater representatives, advocates and owners. DOJ estimates that complying with these regulations will nonetheless cost the industry between $88.5 and $113.4 million over the next 15 years.

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Sudbury City Council expected to consider closed captioning options in 2018

via CBC, Canada

An accessibility advocate is calling for the City of Greater Sudbury to introduce closed captioning on council and committee broadcasts just as budget deliberations get set to begin next week. 

Travis Morgan Sudbury accessibility advocate, Travis Morgan, is pushing to bring closed captioning or subtitles to broadcasts of city meetings. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

Travis Morgan
Sudbury accessibility advocate, Travis Morgan, is pushing to bring closed captioning or subtitles to broadcasts of city meetings. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

Currently, the city does not offer text on video with its TV coverage or webcasts. That makes it difficult for people with hearing loss, such as Travis Morgan, to understand what is going on.

"I want to be able to follow the council sessions," Morgan said.

"I don't want to have to read about it in the news or in the Twitter feed. I want to be able to think for myself because everyone has their own perceptions, their own bias and I want to form my own conclusions without having to depend on other people."

Morgan was born deaf and uses a hearing aid. He is able to get an interpreter for some city meetings, but he said scheduling can be a challenge. 

The Canadian Hearing Society estimates one in four Canadians report having hearing loss.

Morgan wants the city to use closed captioning or subtitles on its broadcasts so more people in Sudbury can become engaged in municipal affairs. 

"By subtitling the council session, they [city] will be able to reach that quarter that they're missing," Morgan said. 

Sudbury City Council

Sudbury City Council

Closed captioning is a system that displays the text of spoken word across the bottom of a broadcast, including descriptions of sound and other audio information. 

The city had an opportunity to buy the service in 2015, but decided to put the purchase on hold until 2018 when technology is expected to become cheaper.

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Oneida County court reporter sheds light on little-recognized profession

via WJFW News 12, Rhinelander, NY

You probably don't know Lynn Penfield by name.  Unless you've sat before Oneida County Judge Michael Bloom you probably wouldn't recognize her face.  But she shows up on camera and in newspaper photos more often than you might think.  Penfield just tends to hides in plain sight.

Lynn Penfield in Oneida County Court

"I don't think that people really pay any attention to me because I'm not speaking," Penfield laughed.

But while she doesn't talk much, Penfield is always using her ears.

"I just listen, kind of a fly on the wall," Penfield said.

Penfield is one of two court reporters in Oneida County's Branch II courtroom.  As attorneys ask questions and witnesses testify the words flow through her ears, out of her fingers, and into a nearly flawless copy of every word said.
"I'm it," Penfield said. "I'm the only record of what happened. People rely on that."

Penfield, who is a Lakeland Union High School graduate, studied court reporting in San Diego nearly 30 years ago. She spent 25 years transcribing depositions before deciding it was time to move back to Wisconsin. She joined the Oneida County courts in 2014, serving half her time working in Branch II and the other half of her time floating to other courts across the ninth district.

More courtrooms have started to use digital recorders in the time since Penfield started reporting.  The National Court Reporting Association notes Alaska, Florida, Kentucky, Michigan, Oregon, and Utah all have high levels of digital recording.  Penfield says circuit courts in San Diego got rid of all reporters, making it a requirement to hire a private reporter if you want one.  But to Penfield, there's no replacing a human behind her stenographer machine.

"If somebody coughs or rustles a paper you lose part of the record," Penfield said of electronic recorders. "I don't see live court reporters going away any time in the future."

For Oneida County Judge Michael Bloom, having someone as talented as Penfield isn't an option, it's a requirement for a well run courtroom.

"It really is an awesome task that they perform," Bloom said. "A court reporter can indicate, 'We need to talk one at a time. Someone needs to be quiet over there.'"

Bloom has worked with a handful of court reporters in his four years as judge. He says they often become someone to bounce ideas off of behind the scenes and a right-hand man on the bench.

"I can't say as I know how they do it," Bloom said of court reporters. "I don't understand how the stenographer's machine works, but I do know that each of the court reporters that I've had first-hand experience with they develop their skill not unlike how a person learns to juggle."

"My husband will tell you I don't listen at all," Penfield said with a smile. "However, when I'm in court and I'm writing on the machine, I'm actually thinking of how to write those words in machine shorthand to then translate to my computer."

Those are skills Barbi Galarno helps people learn every day.

"This is the kind of profession that people just don't know about, don't understand," Galarno said.

Galarno spent 20 years as a court reporter in New Orleans and the Upper Peninsula before she started teaching court reporting at Lakeshore Technical College in Cleveland, Wisconsin nearly 15 years ago.

"Anybody can do it, but you do need to make that commitment and put in the time in school and then afterwards it's a very rewarding profession," Galarno said.

In Galarno's class, students work on their stenographer machines pretty much from day one.

"It's more like learning how to play an instrument, basically," fourth-year student Chad Hirsch said.

Students learn theory, writing, and vocabulary, while working up to the required 225 words per minute to graduate.

"I can't seem to get past it right now, but that's what keeping me going," fellow student Ashley Shimek said. "That I know I'm going to have an awesome job and it's going to be nice in the future."

Galarno emphasizes how many opportunities there are out there, like a predicted 150 openings in Wisconsin by 2018, according to the National Court Reporting Association. But the demand is much greater than the supply. Galarno's first class was 48 students. This year's is just five.

"Very tough [to see so few students], but really what makes it even tougher is that I have inquiries daily for the need," Galarno said.

There are only two brick and mortar schools that teach court reporting in entire state of Wisconsin; Lakeshore Tech and Madison Area Technical College. Students can telecommute, but Galarno says the only way to graduate is through practice.

"You have to put in the practice, you have to put in the time," Galarno said. "We tell students right off the bat you need to commit three hours a day to practice outside the classroom."

Thousands of hours of practice turning into a rewarding career judges like Michael Bloom believe will always require people like Lynn Penfield.

"All court proceedings require some level of human interaction and there is no substitute for that," Bloom said.

Penfield says aspiring court reporters don't necessarily need great typing skills.  Instead, she thinks successful reporters are well versed in the English language and have great punctuation skills.  Reporters also need to be quick studies, often learning about medical or technological terminology on the fly in a courtroom.

Court reporter classes can last anywhere from three to five years, but ultimately hitting the required words-per-minute rate is the key to getting a job.

"As long as... the court reporters keep up with the technology we're a pretty viable resource," Penfield said.

A resource many might not notice, but for the record is always ready.

Both Penfield and Galarno emphasize students can get into a number of careers through court reporting. Those include closed captioning for television and CART reporting where reporters provide real-time scripting for the deaf and hard of hearing.


Discovering a career in Realtime Reporting

via Newton Daily News, Newton Iowa

Have you ever heard of Realtime Reporting? You probably have not. It is a relatively unknown career but considered one of the top careers in the country.

Realtime Reporting is utilizing technology to provide an instantaneous record of the spoken word. A Realtime Reporter writes on a computerized shorthand machine using brief forms while software on a laptop translates the spoken word into English instantly. You may have heard of Court Reporting, but that is just one career option for the Realtime Reporter. There is a critical shortage of Realtime Reporters in Iowa and nationwide.

Realtime Reporters are in demand in the courtroom to provide a verbatim record of a court trial. By using a computerized system, the court reporter writes in realtime, and the translation is immediate. The trial judge is able to access the record in realtime, using a laptop. Reading back in a trial is relatively easy for a court reporter through the use of the search feature in the software. This is far superior to any electronic recording system because it provides an accurate and complete record, without any “inaudible “ comments.

Realtime Reporters are also employed by TV stations to provide captioning of TV shows. This is often done remotely; reporters can be almost anywhere and have an audio feed of a show. Reporters write the show in Realtime. Through the use of specialized software, the English translation then goes onto TV screens as “closed captioning.” As with courtroom reporters, the re is a shortage in this field. TV stations a re require d by the Americans with Disabilities Act to provide captioning of live TV shows.

Lawyers depend on Realtime Reporters to record depositions of people involved in court cases. A deposition must be done by a Realtime Reporter who provides a certified transcript of the verbatim proceedings. With the increase in the number of lawsuits, Realtime Reporters are in demand.

An other career area for Realtime Reporting is assisting the hearing impaired. Reporters can provide hearing-impaired students with a transcript of classroom lectures . They can either go to class with the student or access the classroom lecture over the Internet and provide a realtime translation for the student. Reporters also provide realtime at conventions and conferences, airports and hotels, so audience members can read what is being said.


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Deaf community asks for more interpreters, closed captioning

via Argus Leader - USA Today Network

Access to local government and jobs is lagging for the hearing impaired in Sioux Falls.

That’s the message a group of hearing impaired Sioux Falls residents were spreading this week during a rally for Deaf Grassroots Movement (DGM) South Dakota in front of Carnegie Town Hall. They say city government needs to be more inclusive to the deaf community and that means providing more interpreters at official proceedings and make closed captioning available when viewing public meetings online.

Barry Carpenter rallies on behalf of the Deaf community

“Though great strides have been made for many people with disabilities, the deaf and hard of hearing community often feels left out,” said Barry Carpenter, a 59-year-old truck driver who’s been hearing impaired his whole life. “Ramps and elevators are now commonplace and … braille and auditory accommodations are often made available for those with vision impairments. But accessible communication for many deaf and hard of hearing people is often an afterthought or simply not made available."

Thursday’s rally made Sioux Falls one of 118 cities across the country to hold awareness demonstrations this year to shine a light on what Carpenter and DGM say is a lack of communication access and barriers in employment and education that deaf and hard of hearing people face every day.

According to DGM, 70 percent of deaf Americans are unemployed or underemployed, in part because employers are hesitant to hire an interpreter to assist in the interview process. And if a deaf person is hired, employers are worried about future interpreter expenses, said Rick Norris, executive director of InterpreCorps, an American sign language interpreting agency.



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City Council may go Closed Captioned

via Sault Online Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario

City council tonight talked about the issue of lack of closed captioning to council meetings.

Steve Butland spoke to his motion that there is a need in the community in terms of accessibility.


Shaw Cable said they were willing to go to bat for council for a good rate for the captioning. There was no cost given.  Staff were directed to respond back to council concerning the issue.


Paradigm Acquires Norman E. Mark – Court Reporter Service

Paradigm Reporting & Captioning, a full-service court reporting and captioning firm headquartered in downtown Minneapolis, is pleased to announce the acquisition of Norman E. Mark Court Reporter Service.

Norm Mark Agency has been the preeminent court reporting firm in Fargo, North Dakota for the past four decades and built its reputation as a trusted and respected name in the industry by consistently providing superior court reporting and video services in the Fargo-Moorhead and surrounding areas since 1970.

How New York City Hears People With Hearing Loss

New York's state-of-the-art Taxi of Tomorrow is equipped with a loop system for passengers with hearing loss.  (STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

New York City is the most accessible city in the country for people with hearing loss. Hearing access is available at many of the city’s Broadway theaters, museums, and stadiums. Even the subway information booths/call boxes as well as the new Taxis of Tomorrow have hearing access. The degree of access available varies by site, so check the individual websites for specific details.

A hearing induction loop permits a person with a telecoil-equipped hearing aid or cochlear implant to use the T-setting to hear the sound directly from the microphone through the hearing aid/implant—no receiver is needed. Background noise is blocked on the T-setting. The other types of assistive listening systems, FM and infrared, require the use of a receiver (a headset or body-worn device); telecoil users can plug in a neck loop.

The Intrepid Museum offers hearing induction loops at its service desks.
(Courtesy Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum)

Visual access can be provided by captioning, CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation, also referred to as ‘realtime captioning’), and American Sign Language.

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