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What’s It Like… to experience CART/Live Event Captioning for the very first time?

This article originally appeared in the SayWhatClub Newsletter,  Online Voices, in January of 2011

Michele Linder
Copyright 2011

Like a Virgin: CART for the very first time




When Pearl asked me to do an interview with Lauren Storck, of CCAC (Collaborative for Communication Access via Captioning), for Online Voices, I felt a bit inadequate and lacking in both experience with, and knowledge of, certain aspects of the subject, but since I’m on the “Do-it-Anyway” Tour–I’ve purposed to think less and do more with regard to volunteering my time in 2011–I immediately responded, “Sure!”

I’m no expert on subject of captioning, though it is not completely foreign to me. I’ve used closed captioning, exclusively, on my television for well over a decade now.  I’ve also dabbled with relay service. I own and use a CapTel 800i telephone and occasionally access CapTel via my mobile phone. I have benefited from any and all speech-to-text technology that is mainstream–cell phone text, instant messaging, and email. On the other hand, I’ve had very limited experience with Communication Access Real-time Translation (CART), also referred to as real-time captioning) and my knowledge of it is very basic.

I mentioned my feelings of inadequacy to Pearl, saying “I’m a hearing loss virgin in many areas.”  She assured me we all have to lose our virginity sometime. I don’t wear hearing aids or cochlear implants, I don’t know or use any version of sign language (though my deaf grandmother did teach my sister and me how to finger-spell).  I’ve not had much success with assistive listening devices.  At the time I joined the SayWhatClub, in 2008, I was mostly in the dark about all of the technology and services that were available for the deaf and hard of hearing.

Granted, I’ve learned a lot about living and thriving with hearing loss.  In the last three years with SWC I’ve learned more than in all 48 of the previous years combined! But I consider that I have a lot more to learn and experience. I’m looking forward to many “first times”!

I lost my virginity on August 28th, 2010 when I attended a medical meeting on Mayo Clinic’s Downtown Campus, in Rochester, Minnesota. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that after over forty years with hearing loss, I had never experienced CART. Like most people, I have no trouble recalling the details of my “first time” or the feeling of excitement I had in anticipation of that “someday”. I  remember wondering if it was possible for the experience to be all I had built it up to be in my mind? I hoped that it would be.  But was keenly aware of the possibility that reality would fall short of the dream.  So many things in life are that way.

Recalling that day still brings chills. It’s a day I’ll never forget.  CART was everything I’d ever dreamed it could be, and more. Afterwards, I found myself asking the same questions Rachel McAdams’ character in a scene from the movie, The Notebook, asked. “You got to be kidding me? All this time that’s what I’d been missing?”

This is my story…

On a bright and sunny August morning, I drove the last hundred miles through gently rolling farmland on my way to Rochester, Minnesota. I was headed there to attend a cochlear implant informational meeting at the Mayo Clinic. I’d noted in the registration information CART would be available for the presentation.  I found it hard to contain my excitement that my “someday” was finally here. I daydreamed as the warm breeze from the open window blew its hot breath across my face. The caress heightened the sweet anticipation I felt.

Alert and a little nervous, I walked into the auditorium scanning for the best seat in order to easily lipread. Since childhood, I’ve known that the best place to see speech could mean the difference between being clued-in or clueless. Therefore, I subconsciously seek out every single element that will give me the best chance at success in any given situation. With hearing loss, no detail is too small, and the less left to chance, the better.

Still searching for the lipreading sweet spot, my eyes fell upon the giant screen to the left of the podium.  I relaxed a little, realizing I wouldn’t have to be as strategic in choosing where to sit. I could read everything that was said. Continuing down the aisle, I paused at the end of a row of empty seats, my gaze still fixed on the enormous screen. I was entranced! It was huge!

Lowering myself into an empty seat, I heard a voice. In an effort to find the direction the voice was coming from, I looked away, ever alert that someone might be speaking to me and I wouldn’t hear them. To my right, I spied the owner of the voice, a woman two seats over. She was commenting to her friend on the large size of the text that was being projected onto the screen. “That will really make it easy to read,” she said. Taking the opportunity to introduce myself to the two women, I mentioned that this was my first experience with CART. Excitedly, they both assured me I would love it. I asked the woman one of the women about her comment regarding the size of the text, and she said. “Oh yes, size matters!”

The lights were dimmed.  As the first speaker began outlining the day’s schedule, I felt unsure of myself.  I didn’t know whether to look at the speaker or at the scrolling text on the screen. For a while, I alternated between the two.  By the time the first Mayo Clinic doctor was introduced I had settled into a rhythm of watching the speaker and glancing over at the text. The deeper the speaker plunged into the topic of his lecture, the more automatic the process of alternating between what he was saying and reading the text became.

Before long I reached a marked shift in focus.  My pulse quickened with the awareness that I was looking less at the speaker and more at the giant screen. I was elated that I was getting every single word that was spoken.  Amazed at the seamlessness from spoken word to text.  The lag-time was barely discernible.

Feeling more confident, I was ready to add another element to the mix.  I took out my pen and paper and began taking notes.  I planned to share all I learned about cochlear implants with others in the SayWhatClub. Again, I found myself nervous and unsure. Would I really be able to watch the speaker, read the text, and write down all of the important points of the lecture that I wanted to remember? My hand became damp with perspiration, making it difficult to hold the pen.

Before I knew it, it was over.  The auditorium lights went from dim to bright, and people began rising to their feet to leave. However, I remained seated, wanting to draw out the moment and to make the experience last. Not only had I gotten every single word of each and every presentation, but I also was able to take notes. I hadn’t had the ability to take clear and complete notes during a lecture since my early years of high school!

As the crowd in the aisle thinned, I began to entertain thoughts of joining the others.  I made my way upstairs to where lunch was being served.  But my attempts were thwarted by the utter exhaustion I felt. The anxiety of the unknown, coupled with the excitement of my “first time” left me feeling spent. I also noted a feeling of euphoria I’d never felt before. This exhaustion was different, nothing like the usual bone-tiredness I felt after a day of intensive concentration at trying to hear and understand in a noisy world that moves too fast, speaks too unclearly, and fails to accommodate me to the extent that I need it to.

Losing patience, the women I had introduced myself to brushed past me and stepped into the aisle.  But before putting any distance between themselves and me, one of them turned, politely asking: “How did you like CART? Was it good for you?” Still unable to move or speak, I smiled and nodded in affirmation.  Inside I was saying, “YES! YES! YES!!”

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