The contents of this column reflect the letters we had received by the time we went to press, June 15, 2006. Letters are limited to 300 words or fewer. All submissions must include the author's name and location. Opinions expressed are those of the authors.

Regarding Court Reporting

In a recent letter to the editor, Beth Terranova asks about court reporting. I've been surprised that more blind people have not embraced this lucrative career.

I worked for several years at Stenograph, the world's largest manufacturer of equipment used by court reporters. Court reporters use a special Stenotype machine which resembles a portable piano. They rapidly key in Stenotype, a code which is similar but far more complex than braille. Steno is based on sound, and an English syllable typically has its own single symbol. The machines print steno symbols on paper as they are entered. Modern ones also store the data in memory.

The machines do not print English; when a court reporter reads back from the record, she's translating the steno in her head. She may be reading the paper printout or reading from her computer's screen. A blind reporter would probably do this with a braille display.

The process of converting steno into English is called "scoping" when it is performed by a person and "translation" when performed by a computer. Computer-aided transcription (CAT) has come a long way since the 1980s, but it isn't completely accurate. So scopists are needed to clean up the translation done by computer.

Court reporting schools can take up to four years to train students. Accelerated programs do this in as little as two years. For a while, it was thought that court reporting would become obsolete. But instead of dying, the profession evolved. Today, real-time transcription is common. Computers running CAT software rapidly translate the incoming steno on the fly. The transcript appears live on lawyers' computers right in the trial, often seconds after the words were uttered. This same technology is used to caption live events for the deaf.

-- Deborah Norling, Milpitas, Calif.

Regarding Accessing a Lifestyle

I was fascinated by your article, "Accessing a Lifestyle," talking about talking cell phones, ATM cash machines at Wal-Mart and home appliances. As you remember, I put an article in "The Braille Forum" a few years ago about talking VCRs not being available anymore. I still had one when I wrote the article; it was in the shop getting repaired.

It finally quit on me last summer. And they are still not available. They don't make them anymore. I think we blind people should write letters to radio and TV manufacturers and tell them that they should make their products voice-accessible so we can operate them independently.

I had to settle for a basic VCR from Sony. In order to set the clock, TV program timer and secondary audio program for video description, I have to be able to see the display window to select the program I want. I had the Louis Braille Center in Edmonds, Wash., braille the manual for me, but it didn't help. You have to press up or down arrow to select the programs you want. You still have to be able to see to do it.

-- Joan Ladeburg, Seattle, Wash.

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