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Turning voice into text: How one business is helping the hard-of-hearing and others

Elizabeth Archer says it’s “totally gratifying” to help the hard-of-hearing and others with her business that captures voice and translates it into text.

Elizabeth Archer says it’s “totally gratifying” to help the hard-of-hearing and others with her business that captures voice and translates it into text. Courtesy photo

Archer Captioning fills a special niche in providing services for individuals who are deaf or hard-of -hearing.

The Portland-based company provides Communication Access Real-Time Translation (CART), also known as live-event captioning, as an option for people with hearing challenges.

“People who use my services are typically deaf and hard of hearing who prefer to voice for themselves and don’t use sign language or interpreters,” says Elizabeth Archer, owner of the company. “My clients are also typically late-deafened adults who grew up in the hearing world and prefer CART as opposed to having to learn sign language in their later years. I’ve also provided CART for people with autism, traumatic brain injury and ESL students.”

The benefits, Archer says, “are pretty straight forward – communication access.”

“Services are used in classrooms, at medical appointments, in courtrooms and other legal settings, conferences, legislative hearings and business meetings,” she says.

CART is a means of transcribing the spoken word into readable English text using a stenograph machine, computer and real-time software. Text appears on a computer monitor or other display and serves as an important communication tool for those using the service. CART provides a verbatim translation of all spoken words, on a one-to-one basis, to multiple users, or projected on a large screen for an audience. A simulation on the company’s website demonstrates the service.

Archer began CART service, which is provided online, onsite and on-demand, in 1995 and expanded to a national level in 2005 by using the internet.

“Remote CART is when I provide services off-site,” Archer says. “For this to work, the person using CART needs a computer, and I need some kind of audio. This can be done via the internet using Skype, Zoom, Google Hangouts and other web-based platforms as well as conference and speaker phones. I send the link to the client, we connect with audio, and I write down whatever is being said in the venue.”

Remote CART enables Archer to provide services anywhere there is internet access.

“Just this week, I’ve worked in New Mexico and Washington, D.C., without leaving my office,” she says. “I often caption conference calls where people are calling in from various states and locations.”

No special software or equipment is needed for using Remote CART. Users log onto a secure website and have the ability to adjust the background color and/or the size and color of the font, “an added advantage for the visually impaired,” Archer says.

She’s noticed that those who use the service are generally appreciative. She has gotten a lot of positive feedback, including a comment from John Hood-Fysh, president of the Linn-Benton chapter of the Hearing Loss Association of America, who wrote: “She is reliable and the captions are excellent.”

“I have worked with many of my clients for well over 10 years,” Archer says. “In many cases, my clients have become friends, and I do so appreciate that we are all able to stay in touch.

Archer loves her work, calling it “totally gratifying.”

Being a CART provider is also not always easy, Archer says.

“I go to different meetings in different places with different people with different topics and vocabulary and I need to be at the top of my game every time,” she says. “In a meeting with a dozen or so people, I need to know people’s names and write accurately what they’re saying at 180- to 200-plus words a minute.”

CART’s service costs vary by area and venue, she adds.

“Our vision is to empower our consumers by providing and promoting equal access anytime, anywhere services are required,” says Archer, who is a member of the National Court Reporters Association. “CART is an ADA accommodation, and people have the right to request these services for work, interviews, definitely in medical and legal settings. Many people don’t know this service is available to them. When in doubt, ask.”

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