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July 30, 2003

Putting it in writing

From: Munster Times, IN - Jul 30, 2003

School program readies for required captioning of TV programs by 2006.

BY GINA CZARK Times Staff Writer

HOBART -- In Joanna Charpentier's world, a television sitcom is a silent block of time. Actors mouth words but produce no sound. She hears no laughter.

She only sees the scrolling captions being printed across her television screen.

The Merrillville resident and counselor at the Ruben Center for Independent Living lost her hearing at age 3 after battling rubella or "German measles."

At 27, she has learned to adapt to her new life and admits she couldn't do it without captioning.

"I cannot live without caption," she said. "As a child, I've watched television without caption and can discern what action is said and the purpose of the whole show, but as caption came into being, it gave us a new world."

Her world and the lives of those who are hearing impaired will drastically improve within the next three years. By 2006, all new television programming must be captioned, including live broadcasts, as deemed by the 1996 Telecommunications Act.

After the mandate was issued, the Hobart College of Court Reporting began planning and implementing a new curriculum. Since June, eligible students are able to take three different captioning courses. While they still will earn court reporting degrees, the new classes will provide students with a specialization in captioning, he said.

"The real impact is on any live television programs," said Jay Vettickal, executive director for the college.

The hearing impaired will be able to read through captions what is being said through unscripted live television.

Certified court reporters provide word-for-word transcripts.

"We've been working on it for more than a year," Vettickal said. "The growth and the job potential is pretty amazing in the next five years."

Vettickal estimates that between 300 and 400 broadcast captioners are currently working. By 2006, that number will drastically increase to a minimum need of 3,000.

As the only fully accredited court reporting school in Indiana, Vettickal said it was imperative for the Hobart College of Court Reporting to offer the specialization to its 150 students.

Enrolled students are eligible to earn degrees in court reporting with a specialization in captioning, medical transcription or an administrative assistant certificate.

To improve its program and stay on target with the changing laws, Vettickal said the college is seeking $1 million in federal funding. U.S. Sens. Dick Lugar and Evan Bayh already have requested federal funding, he said.

The new captioning laws will help inform the community of others' needs, Vettickal said.

"Students do need to learn about the deaf and hard of hearing community, especially with more than 400,000 in the state of Indiana," he said. "This mandate will directly impact them."

Charpentier said the new laws would provide equal access to television information.

"Communication avenues are becoming more open and encompassing the whole nation by not being segregated into just specific groups such as the deaf and hard of hearing," she said. "Without captioning we would not have a concept of what is said on television."

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