(Originally published 2008)
Let me start by thanking all of our membership for allowing me to attend the 2008 NCRA Legislative Boot Camp. For the uninitiated, the Legislative Boot Camp is an intensive two-day seminar held in Washington, D.C., designed to train court reporters to lobby for issues affecting our profession to their respective state representatives in the House and Senate. When I was asked if I would like to attend, my first response was, “Me? Really? Are you sure you want ME to attend?” Refusing to let fear and self-doubt stand in the way, I humbly accepted.
Our day started at 3:30 a.m. on Sunday. Kathy Nold and I jumped on a plane and arrived at the hotel 15 minutes before the seminar was to start. Our first day of training focused on basically getting us up to speed on how bills become law, basically a recap of Schoolhouse Rocks’ “I’m Just a Bill,” and the status on NCRA’s lobbying efforts over the past seven years to obtain monies for our court reporting schools so that they would be better equipped to provide CART and captioning training to the 30 million deaf and hard of hearing in need of such services. The presenters also made it clear that this was not merely training, but that our visit to Capitol Hill on Tuesday wouldn’t be the tour and sightseeing that I was expecting, but that we would actually be lobbying and presenting to Congress. Still the thoughts rushed through my head, “Me? Really? But I’m just a court reporter. Okay. Time to pay attention!”
Our second day was spent delivering our pitch to different mock audiences so that we would be prepared to answer any questions that might be thrown our way: “Why should the Federal government pay to train court reporters? Why don’t broadcasters pay to train court reporters? How many captioners are needed? How does this help the deaf and hard of hearing? How quickly can court reporters be trained?”
By the end of our second 15-hour workday in a row, Kathy and I were prepared to answer any question, including those that you may have. In short version, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 mandated that 100% of programming be close captioned by the year 2006. While the intentions and mandates were admirable, they did not create the workforce designed to provide the services. When captioning isn’t available due to a lack of trained captioners, broadcasters are subject to fines imposed by the FCC. Broadcasters are already required to pay the salaries and wages of the captioners, and since their business is television, the education of the workforce needed to fill these empty seats is best left to the court reporting schools.
Unfortunately, our schools are most readily equipped to train judicial reporters, not captioners, and much funding is needed for equipment upgrades, scholarships, recruitment of students, and distance learning programs. Schools could then apply for competitive grants to obtain such funding. The need for captioners is only going to grow with new channels being added. With the aging Baby Boomer population reaching the age where hearing loss is of higher likelihood, the estimated number of 30 million deaf and hard of hearing is only likely to increase exponentially. In the event of disaster situations, it is of the utmost importance that accurate closed captioning is available. In situations like Hurricane Katrina, it can actually be a life-and-death situation for those who could not hear information being broadcast about evacuations and shelters.
After what seemed like a short night’s sleep, Kathy Nold and I loaded the bus that would take us to Capitol Hill. After a quick group shot of all of the attendees, we made our way to our meetings with Senator Mitch McConnell; William Henderson, Legislative Counsel for Senator Jim Bunning; and Congressman John Yarmuth. All were very welcoming and gracious listeners and agreed that they would look over our information. I was simply amazed at how accessible our government is to the people. After seven years of NCRA’s lobbying for this cause, my hope is that this is the year that those efforts will come to fruition.
My song has changed since my attendance at the Legislative Bootcamp. I’m just a court reporter with a voice and a vote. When you have the opportunity to ask yourself, “Me? Really?” make sure to answer yourself, “Yes! Me! Really!” Together we can accomplish so much more.
Thanks again for this incredible opportunity.