Linda Drake – NVRA – USA
The future of the reporting profession.
[Ladies and Gentlemen: It is indeed an honor to greet you on behalf of NVRA's members. NVRA is very grateful that you so kindly welcome us into the worldwide community of reporting.
The National Verbatim Reporters Association is a professional association of verbatim court reporters and subtitlers. We support our members in all systems of information processing: pen, keyboard, stenotype, and stenomask. Our reporters document official records of business meetings, congressional and administrative hearings, court proceedings, depositions, and conferences like this one. We also provide subtitling services for the deaf and hard of hearing. Additional realtime services include streaming text sent over the Internet for financial first calls and other realtime reporting needs.
I. HISTORY OF U.S. REPORTING
Until the late 19th century, pen stenography was the primary means of reporting in the United States. John Gregg created the most widely used pen-writing method of shorthand and opened a school in Chicago, Illinois. Miles Bartholomew's first stenotype machine appeared during the Industrial Revolution of the late 1870s. Bartholomew's goal was to create records as quickly as possible by taking advantage of the ability to type faster than manually write. The first publicly available stenotype machine enabled inexperienced operators to attain and even break speed championship records set by pen stenographers.
By the 1940s, use of the specialized typewriting machine had superseded the pen, primarily due to the increased speed with which a court reporter could type. Clearly recognizing the inevitable, the American national organization redefined the word "shorthand" to include typing specialized abbreviations on the new machine. The machine itself would later be referred to as a "writer,” in keeping with the edict pronounced at the National Shorthand Reporters Association's first meeting in 1899 regarding the Gregg versus Pitman debate: "No stenographic creed is to be especially honored or recognized; the rituals of all systems are to have equal force and control."
Sometime during the 1940s, Horace Webb, a pen stenographer working as a court reporter in Chicago, imagined a faster way to make the record. He inserted a small microphone into first a cigar box and later a coffee can, which contained a speech-silencing "tortuous path" to dampen reverberating sound waves, and connected it to a standard recorder. The so-called "Stenomask" was very quiet and created a good voice recording. His goal was to create the record as quickly as possible, and the concept was again very simple: take advantage of the ability to speak faster than type.
Until the mid 1970s, when computers made their commercial debut, stenotypists and voice writers made use of electronic tape recorders. Stenotype reporters dictated their notes and sent the tape recordings to professional typists for transcription. Some professional typists produced transcripts by reading stenotype notes directly. Voice writers simply dictated the proceedings while in the courtroom, with the confidence that their stenomasks would prevent them from being heard. They would then send the tape recordings directly to typists for transcription, eliminating the extra step of reading stenotype notes into a microphone.
Widespread use of Computer Aided Transcription in the early to mid 1980s assured stenotypists that they no longer needed to dictate their notes or use the services of professional typists. In the late 1980s, the first realtime computer systems were finally able to translate stenotype into English as the information was being typed. Voice writers did not have the option of realtime until around the mid 1990s, with the introduction of speech recognition. Realtime voice writing has only recently enjoyed widespread use in the United States, due to the complexities of the English language. NVRA would like to assist Intersteno to accumulate knowledge about the stenomask, voice writing, and speech recognition.
II. THE METHOD
How is voice writing accomplished? A voice writer places a stenomask to his or her face and repeats spoken words into an analog or digital recorder attached to the stenomask. Inside the stenomask are a microphone and sound-dampening materials. Modern masks have two microphones. To produce a transcript, the reporter plays back the voice recording and types from that dictation on a standard keyboard. Today, the computer can replace the cassette tape recorder, and the foot pedal can plug into a computer's USB or serial port. Thus, a reporter requires only a laptop and stenomask to dictate, and the laptop, headphones and foot pedal to transcribe.
A realtime voice writer's words go through the microphone cable to an external USB processor, then into the computer's speech recognition engine for conversion into streaming text. The reporter can send the streamed text to the Internet or to a computer file, to a television station for subtitling or, as we see here, into software which formats the results in a way most familiar to judges, attorneys, or subtitling consumers.
Voice writers have always enjoyed very high accuracy rates based upon pure physiology. Spoken words travel to the reporter's ear, brain, and are repeated by an "inner" voice, a form of repetition which is naturally effortless. It's what we all do daily as we listen to a person speak or when we read a book. A very natural extension of this process is to psychologically switch the repetition mechanism from "inner voice" to the physiological "spoken voice." Voice writers minimize the introduction of cognitive overhead to route spoken words to a permanent destination as printed words, and can achieve excellent performance for many continuous hours and greater than 98 percent accuracy at speeds as high as 350 words per minute.
Voice writers produce the same products as their stenotype colleagues, including transcripts in all electronic and printed formats. Realtime voice writers connect their laptops to captioning equipment and realtime viewer programs, and can provide attorneys with computer files at the end of reporting sessions. Only the physical means of capturing speakers' words differentiates voice writing from other methods. Every other aspect of this profession is the same, with the exception of the time required to learn the skill, which is much shorter with voice writing.
A voice writing system, consisting of a stenomask, an external sound digitizer, a laptop, speech recognition software, and computer-aided transcription or CAT software, is inexpensive. Typically, reporters purchase the most powerful computers available.
III. QUALITY OF VOICE WRITERS IN THE U.S.
NVRA's educational institutional knowledge is built upon sixty years of best-practice sharing. We appreciate the multidimensional viewpoint we receive from our pen-shorthand, stenotype, electronic recording, and voice writing members.
All court reporters require the same basic academic classes, regardless of method, including legal and medical vocabulary, business law, and mastery of grammar, spelling, and punctuation. The skills track is where the methods diverge. A new stenomask student can become realtime-certifiable well within the 24-month associate’s degree window. Paralegals and legal secretaries, because they have already taken nearly the same set of core academics required by court reporting, can become proficient in three to six months and realtime certified in under 12 months.
NVRA's Council on Endorsed Reporter Training was established to review and endorse deserving court reporting schools and programs to promote quality professional education for persons desiring to learn voice writing and become reporters. NVRA requires that the minimum institutional standards established by this council be incorporated into voice writer education curriculum.
The purpose of NVRA's certifying examinations is to identify candidates who possess the minimum knowledge and experience necessary to perform tasks on the job safely and competently. NVRA applies the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing for developing professional credentialing examinations.
NVRA's basic certification is that of Certified Verbatim Reporter (CVR), which consists of a written knowledge test and three dictation speed tests: a 200 word-per-minute literary, a 225 word-per-minute jury charge and a 250 word-per-minute question and answer. Each dictation must be transcribed with 95 percent accuracy.
A person who has obtained the CVR designation may sit for the Certificate of Merit examination, three additional dictation speed tests, a 225 word-per-minute literary, a 250 word-per-minute jury charge, and a 300 word-per-minute question and answer test, which require transcription at 97 percent accuracy.
The Realtime Verbatim Reporter certification requires 96 percent accuracy on a five-minute question and answer dictation at speeds varying between 180 and 200 words-per-minute.
NVRA's National Speed Championship is a 350 word per minute, five-minute, two-voice question and answer dictation test. All NVRA certification tests have strict silence requirements.
Since the reporting of testimony encompasses many domains of activity, both the opportunity and need for education are vast. In order to maintain the level of expertise to be considered certified by NVRA, the absorption of new information throughout a career is necessary. A continuing education program is a required standard for NVRA-certified reporters worldwide. Once certified, our members must complete ten hours of continuing education per year and must maintain membership in NVRA.
NVRA is currently conducting a practice analysis, sometimes called an occupational analysis, which defines the practice of the profession in terms of the actual tasks that practitioners must be able to perform safely and competently. NVRA intends to update the testing standards for voice writers to ensure that all jurisdictions will recognize the voice writing certification process as the world standard. We would like to present to Intersteno our Standard Testing Methodology and Standard Operating Procedure documents which it may use as blueprints to create international voice writing certifications.
We note with
pleasure the compatibility we see between members of Intersteno's various
domains of activity, and we admire Intersteno's amalgamated design.
NVRA's founding father, Horace Webb, understood what our European friends have
learned from their own families' experiences in the American "Melting
Pot" -- that progress can be best for all only if all work together.
V. STRATEGIC OUTLOOK
Airbus, Electrolux, Honda, IBM, Intel, Mercedes, Panasonic, Sony, ScanSoft, Nokia, and many others have spent billions of dollars on speech and voice recognition installations worldwide. Speech and voice recognition are now irreversibly embedded in the global telecommunications infrastructure and will continue to grow in consumer appliances, applications and services.
The widespread use of voice-based and realtime consumer products and services has increased the younger generation's comfort with realtime technologies. Subsequent generations of information processors will be full participants in the digital evolution.
As in America, there is a great desire in Europe to create jobs. NVRA would like to help Intersteno build a framework which allows our domains of activity to grow and ensures our children’s futures. At some point, pan-European models for realtime dissemination of financial, judicial, and news reporting may be desired. When Esperanto eventually figures into this equation, Intersteno will already be prepared to use an Esperanto speech recognition module.
New funding is being sought for the European Union-sponsored MUSA project for subtitling and language translation which will require realtime reporters to enhance its success. Intersteno is a natural partner for this multilanguage, multinational effort. A similar situation is the United States Telecommunications Act, which requires that by 2008 all new television programming have subtitling. This will create vacuums in other reporting segments and voice writing, which can produce new workers at a rapid pace, is an obvious solution.
Short-term opportunities for technological advancement are found in countries for which speech recognition language modules now exist. Intersteno members can work now for mid- and long-term advancement in other languages by first using stenomasks without speech recognition. This will ensure excellent job opportunities and a long professional life for Intersteno's keyboard users.
Open Source recording programs which run under Linux and free dictation programs can be downloaded today. A port of speech recognition engines to the 64-bit Linux platform is a natural consideration in Europe. As language modules become available, schools will already be familiar with the new method of input and need purchase only additional hardware and software. Polyglot teachers may wish to install and learn a speech recognition program in an existing language for advanced preparation.
With the advent of global technologies such as Peer-to-Peer networking, Voice Over IP, and Voice XML in business, industry, and the consumer marketplace, we know that multi-modal communications will become the interface between human and machine. NVRA believes that only responsible, educated persons can be trusted to create accurate records. We must carefully control and manage change/ and exercise diligent educational stewardship to ensure the future of information processing.
The nature of speech recognition is global. Our Italian colleagues used speech recognition a few years before we in the United States. Language modules are also available today in Dutch, French, German, Japanese and Spanish. Translation of the first realtime voice writing textbooks and discussions to formalize e-learning methodologies for European use will begin soon.
Knowing that the future always arrives early, we look to Intersteno to become the global authority for educational resources on all information processing technologies, including stenomask and speech recognition. What was true in 1899 is true today. No creed should be especially honored or recognized. The rituals of all systems should have equal force and control. The members of NVRA are proud to assist in Intersteno's very bright future.