Spreading Holiday Joy at HDS

by Kayla Reese, Production Coordinator

VITAC HDS ANGEL GIFT PROGRAM

For 21 years, VITAC has participated in an Angel Gift program with the Center for Hearing and Deaf Services in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  HDS clients are deaf, hard of hearing, and often special needs, and many look forward to the holiday party and gift exchange every year. Executive Assistant Terri Holman oversees the program every year and sends out a list of clients’ names and suggestions for their gifts a few weeks before the party. VITAC employees choose recipients and add them to their shopping list, often choosing the same recipient year after year.   Realtime supervisor Jonathan Van Sickle has participated in the program every year since he’s worked here and says he always looks forward to it.   This was my first year to buy gifts and attend the party, and it was truly a rewarding experience.

When party day finally came around on December 15th, Terri, Payroll and Benefits Administrator Jennifer Lodovico, Senior Offline Captioner James Elkins, and I piled the presents into Jen’s trunk, crammed some more in the back seat, and held a few more in our laps for our drive to HDS. We had a taste of what Santa’s packed sleigh would feel like.

Clients greeted us with warm hugs and handshakes. The room was decorated with Christmas lights, paper snowflakes, and other handmade decor. After introductions, we played charades while lunch was prepared.  Some of the group even signed “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” for us and performed a dance to “Jingle Bell Rock.”

We definitely learned a whole new appreciation for American Sign Language. (Fun fact: ASL has a lot of French influences.) The VITAC crew picked up on “thank you” and “you’re welcome” but when there wasn’t an interpreter present, a smile and a thumbs up was commonly understood.

HDS Hearing Deaf Services VITAC Angel Gift PRogramAfter lunch, we handed out presents. From Steelers gear to coloring books, blankets to DVDs, everybody was excited to receive their gifts. Jeannie and Alecia, who live together, were excited to latch hook later that night. Richard changed into his Denver Broncos socks immediately and Darrell had everybody smell his new cologne. The Angel Gift program was definitely a success.

Thank you to all employees who donated to such a fantastic event! You brought some big smiles to some of the most deserving people this holiday season.    HDS is VITAC’s chosen charity this Christmas, and will also be receiving a donation from the company.

VITAC and WPSD Celebrate 26th Annual Holiday Art Contest

WPSD Vitac Holiday Art Contest Winners
WPSD student finalists with Project Manager Crystal Hopkins, Director of Client Sales and Services
Debbie Hammond, and Marketing Specialist Johnathan Moore, respectively.

 

This year marks the 26th anniversary of VITAC and the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf‘s (@WPSD_LionPride) annual holiday tradition. Every year, students from the school submit artistic interpretations of a holiday theme and send them to our team here at VITAC headquarters, where the art is displayed for several days and employees vote for their favorites.

We choose multiple finalists and a grand prize winner, and recognize each with a certificate and cash prize during a presentation at the school’s December assembly. This year’s theme was “Elf”. The pep rally was wonderful, and we’re all very thankful for being invited year after year. See more photos of the event at WPSD’s Facebook.

We’re proud to announce our grand prize winner, Laura Cottrell! Laura received a certificate, a cash prize, and holiday cards featuring her artwork to send to her family and friends. Congratulations! Her art along with the finalists below:

 

WPSD VITAC Holiday Art Contest

Grand winner: Laura Cottrell, age 10

Jade_15Jade, age 15

Isabella_7

Isabella, age 7

Morkos_12

Morkos, age 12

Noah_12

Noah, age 12

Amy_10

Amy, age 10

Destiny_12

Destiny, age 12

Fauntaye_17

Fauntaye, age 17

Trenton_18Trenton, age 18

VITAC hits DC for the 2016 M-Enabling Summit

 M-Enabling Summit 2016

VITAC attends the 2016 M-Enabling Summit for Accessibility

Over the last two days, VITAC’s Heather York, VP of Marketing, and Brittany Bender, Marketing Analyst, have been in our nation’s capital to attend the conference and showcase dedicated to providing accessible technology solutions for all. They have been gaining much insight that will help VITAC remain at the forefront of accessibility.

In one of the first speeches of the conference yesterday morning, Keynote Speaker, U.S. Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts said, ” Twenty years ago the ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] required physical ramps be placed on curbs for wheelchairs, and it ended up helping everybody. What’s happening now can be looked at as online ramps.” Online accessibility must be a priority; VITAC is dedicated to that initiative, and is so excited to be participating in M-Enabling.

Stay tuned for a comprehensive look into the summit coming next week! For now, check out a few pictures from their experience so far.

M-Enabling Summit 2016 Flight
A beautiful flight into the city with a greeting from the Washington Monument!
Panels for M-Enabling Summit 2016
Left: Monday’s afternoon session focusing on the CVAA (21st Century Communication and Video Accessibility Act).
Right: Monday’s early session concerning internet accessibility–both its challenges and its opportunities!
M-Enabling 2016
When in Rome! (or DC)
A view of the Washington Monument and a quick stop at the White House–two unmistakable landmarks– provide the perfect backdrop for the universality of the conference!

 

Stop by next week for more updates! While here, feel free to look out our regulations page to learn more about some of the crucial pieces of legislation that protect the rights of those who rely upon accessible technology solutions.

By: Tori Trimm

Remembering Prince: Captioning his Lyrics

How Prince once Saved VITAC’s Captioning of his Songs

Prince VITAC caption lyrics

People all over the world this week are sharing stories and memories honoring the life of musician, Prince.

With a career spanning almost four decades, an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, and seven Grammy awards, his music touched millions. After reading so many wonderful accounts from celebrities, and personal friends, coworkers, and family of mine, I feel compelled to share my own Prince anecdote:

It was March 1, 2013. I was a realtime production coordinator here at VITAC at the time. One of my duties on that particular evening was being in charge of script preparation for one of my absolute favorite programs, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.

Before every show taping, the production assistants from Late Night would send us the rundown for the program, sometimes even scripts for the pre-written segments, and lyrics for the musical guests’ performances. This would get sent to the realtime captioner to prepare for the show, and assist in perfecting the file afterwards for the 12:35 AM airing. Preparation material like this is now part of the FCC’s Caption Quality Best Practices, but wasn’t mandatory at the time. Late Night and a few other shows were dedicated to caption accuracy ahead of the Report and Order.

The show’s guests that night were Mariah Carey, and the hilarious Billy Eichner. The musical guest was Prince.  A big show! Prince was going to be performing two of his new songs that were previously unreleased.

When I reviewed the preparation materials, the song’s lyrics were missing. At the time, I didn’t think it was too big a deal. We would be recording the show, and could at least transcribe the lyrics if we had to.

Prince’s performance didn’t happen until a little later, after the taping. I can’t recall if we missed it for our recording, but I do know that the songs in the rundown were completely unavailable on the Internet. The songs had never before been released, anywhere. Prince had been very secretive about his new music to this point, and their debut was going to be on the show, and was even unavailable to those at Late Night. Our team was in a panic.

After some emails and phone calls, we received the lyrics. From what I can remember, it was Prince himself who was consulted and approved; once he found out they were for the closed captions!

With all of the Prince tributes that have happened this week, including this past weekend’s SNL, we’re glad that we receive musical lyrics ahead of time to ensure that everyone can enjoy them.

By Brittany Bender

VITAC Celebrates 30 Years

VITAC Celebreates 30 Years

The year was 1986: Louisville had just defeated Duke for the NCAA Men’s Basketball championship, the Nintendo Entertainment System was released, “We Are The World,” was the song of the year, and film classics such as Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Top Gun, and Labyrinth hit theaters.

And…VITAC was founded to provide closed captioning as CaptionAmerica to one local news client in Pittsburgh!

As we celebrate our 30th birthday, we reflect on our change and growth. A lot has changed, including our name! We changed it to VITAC in 1993 to stand for Vital Access, referring to access to media services for everyone.

While we still and always will, provide realtime and offline captioning services in English, we also provide realtime captioning in Spanish, and Portuguese, and now produce captions and subtitles in over 45 different languages.  We can’t forget to mention our encoding and audio description services, either!

With the addition of all of these media accessibility services came the addition of thousands of customers—9,919 to be exact! We’re 81 new customers away from celebrating our 10,000th customer over 30 years.

With as many customers as we’ve had over the years, it’s no surprise that we caption 300,000 realtime hours a year, and our offline department works on close to 60,000 projects per year.

We went from a very small staff in 1986 to today employing 330 people at our Canonsburg Headquarters, and remotely all over the country!

Here’s to 30 amazing years, and many, many more to come!

By Brittany Bender

Realtime Captioning Hours Continue to Grow

VITAC realtime captioning primaries, March MadnessUsually football season is the busiest time of the year for our realtime department here at VITAC. And while this past season was our busiest to date, things have not slowed down!

In addition to our 6,000 hours of realtime captioning we perform every week, on Tuesday of last week, we covered lots of extra realtime hours of election results, as the 2016 Primaries took place in Illinois, Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, and Missouri.

The very next day, our caption coverage across TBS, TNT, and TruTV of March Madness began, totaling in 109 extra hours of realtime captioning for the second half of the week. Not only did we caption all of those extra hours, but our schedulers and sports supervisors worked tirelessly to make sure all of those hours were covered. Our production team also spent tons of extra time determining the best position for the captions, making sure we are in compliance with FCC caption quality guidelines for placement.

And while the number of teams battling for the NCAA Championship have been cut in half, the realtime hours only continue to grow!

There are still primaries and debates in this busy Presidential election year leading up to the general election in November. And let’s not forget, Major League Baseball season starts April 3rd, and the NHL playoffs are scheduled to begin April 13th, which only add to our realtime hours!

Because of all these extra hours that will only continue to grow, we’re hiring realtime production coordinators and realtime captioners! Visit our careers page for a list of current open positions, and how to apply.

By Brittany Bender

Amy Bowlen Q&A Recap for Aspiring Captioners

Amy Bowlen Q&A

On Thursday March 10th, we held our first #AskAmy on Twitter, where aspiring realtime captioners had the opportunity to ask our Manager of Realtime Captioner Training Amy Bowlen about the world of captioning and VITAC employment. Thank you to all who participated. For those who weren’t able to log on for the live session, we’ve compiled the highlights below:

Captioning Speed:

Q: What is VITAC’s minimum captioning speed requirement?

A: You must be able to write at least 225 WPM. It can get up to speeds of 300 WPM sometimes.

Briefs:

Q: Would you say you brief a lot? Any suggestions for us speedbuilders?

A: We use briefs for frequently used broadcast terms. For example, for politics, briefs for Republican, Democrat, candidate, president, etc.

Captioning Mechanics:

Q: Do you come back for inflected endings (-ed, -ing, etc.) or do you incorporate them in the same stroke?

A: Coming back ensures better translation, but for frequently used words, you might attach.

Q: I practice to World News, but I get frustrated w/ drops & untranslates. Should I focus on speed-building or dictionary building?

A: They go hand-in-hand. You may find some archived videos on CSPAN’s website that are more attainable.

Q: What important skill would you recommend that judicial reporters focus on when transitioning into captioning?

A: Start putting proper nouns/people’s names in your main dictionary. That will reveal whether or not you have boundary errors.

Q: When you fall behind, is it usually better to trail until you can’t remember, or should you omit words/paraphrase to catch up?

A: It’s better to omit words that wouldn’t affect readability or intent of the speaker.

Caption Dictionairies:

Q: Does VITAC do an analysis of my dictionary? Am I required to make changes to my writing style if I have clean translations?

A: We only require changes if there are theory and translation issues.

Q: Does VITAC help realtime captioners with dictionary building?

A: Not specifically. But there are dictionary-building programs that can be purchased. Dictionary Jumpstart is a great tool.

Equipment and Software:

Q: How does an encoder work and where do I get one?

A: If you’re a captioner, you don’t need to own an encoder. The client owns the encoder. Very, very expensive, and not needed!

Q: Do you recommend a specific steno machine?

A: Not a specific one, but a newer model for technology and ergonomic benefits.

Q: What software does VITAC use? Am I required to switch software?

A: We use Catalyst/BCS. We require all captioners to switch because we provide the software and hardware.

Bootcamps:

Q: Can I do an evaluation first, and then attend a bootcamp?

A: Bootcamps are not a part of VITAC employment. Anyone can attend. Look for one near you! You can submit an evaluation file any time!

Q: When and where are the bootcamps?

A: Check here: https://www.starkstate.edu/captioning-seminars/

VITAC Captioning:

Q: What types of captioning do companies such as VITAC cover? For example, radio, stadium, etc.? Or strictly television?

A: We don’t do stadium or radio captioning, but we caption plenty of sports on television! We do some city council captioning as well. And much more… Visit our customers page!

General VITAC Employment:

Q: What are the average amount of hours a day for new captioner?

A: Minimal is 22 hours per week on-air. The average is about 25-35 per week. Some captioners work 5 days a week, some work every day. It’s up to them.

Q: When will training occur?

A: VITAC only trains people who have passed the skill evaluation and been offered a position. We suggest attending a bootcamp first!

Q: Once VITAC accepts me, where does training occur? How long is training?

A: Employees are scheduled to come to our headquarters in Canonsburg, PA for one week and the rest of training is conducted remotely.

Q:  Do NCRA certifications affect salary range?

A: No. We don’t require NCRA certifications. We have our own skill evaluation process.

Q: Are VITAC captioners remote or in-house?

A: Either/or! The majority of our captioners work remotely from their home offices all over the United States.

Q: As an employee, can I take work from other companies if I need extra work beyond what VITAC has available?

A: VITAC captioners work under an exclusive employee agreement which precludes them from working for other companies.

Again, we thank all who participated in #AskAmy. For more great information on captioning, follow our account for Realtime Captioners on Twitter: @VITAC_RC. Be sure to catch Amy at the Pennsylvania Court Reporters Association Convention April 1-3rd! If you’re interested in a realtime captioning career with VITAC, please send any questions, resumes, and cover letters to HR Director, Mark Panichella at Mark.Panichella@vitac.com.

VITAC’s Amy Bowlen on WNYC’s The Takeaway

takeawayamy

It’s a Presidential election year, and that means a lot of things here at VITAC. Scheduling captioning coverage for breaking Primary election results, countless hours spent preparing caption dictionaries and spelling confirmation lists, and captioning the long debates on several different networks.

How in the world does anyone decipher and comprehend dialogue when the speakers are shouting over each other in a debate? It’s a difficult task for anyone, but what about when it’s your job to do so?

Our Manager of Realtime Captioner Training, Amy Bowlen, was asked about her experiences with debate captioning on WNYC’s NPR show, The Takeaway with John Hockenberry last Thursday, ahead of the Republican Primary debates on FOX News that evening.

Our captioners certainly have to be on their toes at all times! You can listen to Amy’s entire interview here, or read the transcript below.

You can also catch Amy on Twitter on Thursday, March 10th at 12:00 PM EST for a live Q&A session. She’ll answer anything about captioning, and beginning a captioning career, as VITAC is currently hiring realtime captioners. Participants can use the hashtag #AskAmy.

Transcript from “Say What? Meet the Person Who Puts Captions to the Presidential Debate” – The Takeaway with John Hockenberry: 

>> JOHN: Pity the American people trying to make any sense of this…

>> Excuse me.  He called me a liar and interrupted the whole time.

>> You’ll have a chance.  Gentlemen.

>> JOHN: But, hey, any American can just turn down the sound or change the channel.  What if you had to sit there?  What if it was your job to get every word down exactly as spoken?  Oh, and one more thing — You have to do it in real time.  Amy Bowlen is a veteran in the captions business, and she knows rudeness — like this 1992 Democratic debate between Jerry Brown and Bill Clinton.

>> I was shocked by it because I don’t think someone in government should be funding —

>> Governor Brown — Governor Clinton, you were poking your finger at him.

>> Well —

>> It’s your turn, Governor Clinton.  Go ahead.

>> Jerry comes here with his family wealth and his $1,500…

>> JOHN: Amy Bowlen is a manager of captioner training and is a captioner herself at VITAC, the country’s biggest captioning firm, that has captioned many debates this cycle, including the last G.O.P.  debate in Houston and tonight’s Republican debate in Detroit.  She joins me now.  Welcome, Amy.

>> AMY: Thank you, John.

>> JOHN: You know, there’s a lot of talk in America about the decline of civil discourse.  It occurs to me that the decline of civil discourse has had a very direct impact on your life.

>> AMY: I would agree.  [ Chuckles ]

>> JOHN: When did you begin to notice that your job was getting harder?

>> AMY: You know, that really has changed over the years.  I’ve been captioning for 26 years, and the decorum, there was more a typical format where people listened to somebody, let them finish the end of their sentence and, you know, the normal discussion, but over the years, it’s changed.  People talk faster, they’re more eager to get their thoughts out before somebody else finishes, and with the debates, you add the factor that it’s timed, so there’s only so many minutes or so much time for each person to respond, so they’re talking quicker, but what’s surprising is that other people are interjecting while they’re talking.

>> JOHN: The cable shows, I imagine, were the first indicator that this was going to get harder and harder as time went on.

>> AMY: In my experience, that’s what I noticed, because there’s more competition.  If you’ve got three or four cable stations with 24-hour news and they’re trying to keep your attention, they’re moving quickly, there’s always live breaking news.  There may be an interview on one topic and then they quickly jump to the other topic, so there’s not an hour dedicated to one topic.  It might be three minutes with a guest, and then completely different topic, and then they’re breaking in with more live breaking news.  So I feel like, definitely, as the cable channels expanded and there were more and more of those and more competition, it did change the nature of what we’re writing.

>> JOHN: Well, let’s remind you and take you back — and maybe this wasn’t one that you captioned personally, but I know you remember moments like this.  This was the Houston debate on February 25th.

>> Go ahead.  [ Laughter ]

>> My name is — my name is —

>> I promise you, Donald, there’s nothing about you that makes anyone nervous.

>> You’re losing so badly —

>> People are actually watching this at home.

>> You don’t know what’s happening.

>> Gentlemen, gentlemen.

>> Wolf, I’m going to ask that my time not be deducted when he’s yelling at me.

>> You got to stop this.

>> Time is up.  Gentlemen.

>> Come on, Wolf, take control.

>> Okay, now —

>> The latest debate —

>> Hold on.  I get my answer.  He doesn’t get to yell at me the whole time.

>> I want to move on.  These are the rules.

>> Excuse me! He called — He called me a liar and interrupted the whole time.  Am I allowed to talk?  Do I not get a response?  Do I not get a response?

>> You should move on.

>> You’ll get plenty of response, so stand by.

>> My name was mentioned.

>> I want to talk — I want to talk about ISIS right now.

>> JOHN: 33 seconds, Amy.

>> AMY: John, you’re making me sweat here.  My palms are getting sweaty all over again.

>> JOHN: I’m weeping for you.

>> AMY: [ Laughs ] That’s — That’s a really challenging situation.  The truth of the matter is, we really can only write one speaker at a time, so, honestly, there’s not a captioner out there that could have written every single one of those words from every single different speaker.  There are some times when if you really just cannot even discern one individual person speaking, you would have to put up maybe a parenthetical that said “overlapping speakers,” but we try as hard as we can to be as near verbatim as possible.  That is a really challenging situation right there.  [ Chuckles ]

>> JOHN: I mean, do you ever have the temptation to just write “unintelligible”?  I’m sure you have a key that says “unintelligible,” right?

>> AMY: Actually, we’re very careful not to ever kind of insert our judgment or any of our opinion, so if we have to put up a parenthetical, it would be something like “overlapping speakers” or maybe “inaudible.”  We’d never write “unintelligible.”  We just wouldn’t do that.

>> JOHN: So, when you listen to that bickering between Trump and Rubio and Carson and Cruz and Kasich and Wolf Blitzer of CNN, there’s someone somewhere in a living room in front of a captioner machine who is not only sweating, but possibly just coming apart at the seams?

>> AMY: Possibly crying, right?

>> JOHN: Yeah.

>> AMY: Yes, they’re in their home office, and they’re very intent.  Sometimes you don’t even realize it when it’s happening.  When it’s over, it’s kind of a big sigh of relief, but you’re so intent on listening and writing that you don’t really let it affect you.

>> JOHN: Are your hands sore?

>> AMY: You know what?  Your hands can get tired.  It’s very fast.  Sometimes we’re writing up to maybe 300 words a minute, so to do that for a sustained period of time is exhausting — not just your hands, your shoulders, your body gets tense because you’re nervous, and the faster it gets, the more you tense up.

>> JOHN: And after that February 25th debate, I mean, you needed a shower.

>> AMY: [ Laughs ]

>> JOHN: My goodness.  I mean, this isn’t just for hearing-impaired.  Closed captioning is an important communication tool for people who are watching in all kinds of environments.  They should speak better so that your job is easier so that more people can hear what’s going on, right?

>> AMY: True.  In reality, even people who aren’t looking at the captions, who are just listening, can’t probably make a lot out of what’s being said with everybody talking over top of one another, but it would be nice if there was some decorum in a setting like that so that we could have our captions be perfect and have them be absolutely verbatim, but there’s no way for us to control that.

>> JOHN: What are the rules, finally, before we go?  You have a certain amount of time to get it right and a certain ability to correct if you make an error before it actually goes on the screen?  Explain.

>> AMY: We are writing on our steno machine, and it’s translating immediately — what we call real time — and then data that is being transmitted either through a phone line or an I.P.  connection to an encoding device in that network control room.  So our translation happens, and we have about a second to fix a stroke before it would go out.  There’s no one editing behind us.  It’s all live, it’s all real time.  So if we make a mistake, the audience gets to see that mistake.  We never think they’re funny, but sometimes our audience thinks the mistakes are funny.

>> JOHN: But that’s a pretty high-pressure environment even when people are speaking politely.

>> AMY: It’s a very high-pressure environment.  We want to get it right every time.

>> JOHN: Well, I have to say, Trump, Rubio, Carson, Cruz, Kasich, and Wolf Blitzer all owe you folks a lunch or — I don’t know — a bottle of Ambien.  You know, something — tea at a nice restaurant or something.

>> AMY: Wouldn’t that be nice?  [ Chuckles ]

>> JOHN: Amy, thanks so much.

>> AMY: Thank you, John.

>> JOHN: Amy Bowlen is a manager of captioner training and a veteran captioner herself at VITAC.

VITAC Observes National Court Reporting and Captioning Week

court reporting and captioning week

Happy National Court Reporting and Captioning Week! Every year, the National Court Reporter’s Association (NCRA) celebrates court reporting and captioning officials to “raise public awareness about the growing number of employment opportunities the career offers.”

Court reporting and captioning schools and institutions around the country will be holding forums and informational sessions, and visiting high schools to present information about the growing profession.

How is VITAC celebrating?

We first would like to thank all of our realtime captioners for their hard work and dedication to creating quality captions. They’re truly the best in the business!

Next, we’ll be posting information about live captioning on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn all week! Stay tuned!

Lastly, we’re hiring! If you think you’re ready to become a VITAC captioner, you can read more here, and/or send an email to rcinfo@vitac.com.

We appreciate you every week, captioners and court reporters!

By Brittany Bender
VITAC New Website

The New VITAC.com Features

The all-new VITAC.com is live, and we’re excited to let our visitors know about some of its features.

  • Responsive: One of the first aspects to notice is that the new vitac.com is responsive, for easy viewing across all PCs, MACs, and mobile devices. We want all visitors to have an enjoyable experience, regardless of how and where they’re viewing.
  • Easily Updateable: This new website allows us to update the site easily, and frequently, and we plan on it! Keep an eye out for the latest news about closed captions, media accessibility, and VITAC in general.
  • A Search Function: You now have the ability to search our entire site using Google Site Search.
  • Interactive FAQs: We’ve created two interactive FAQ pages—One for our current and potential customers, and one for our caption viewers.
  • Regulations Section: There are many rules and regulations when it comes to closed captioning and accessibility. We’ve compiled the highlights here.
  • Blog Page: We’ll still be adding a new blog post each week, but our frequent visitors will notice our new blog page loads very quickly, new categories, tags, and a “blog search” function that will only search our blog archive, rather than the entire site.

We invite you to click around and experience all of our new features, and hope that you’ll bookmark us for all of your closed captioning needs and news!