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January 5, 2004

Mason woman's skills help bring current event info to the deaf

From: Lansing State Journal, MI - Jan 5, 2004

By Kathleen Lavey
Lansing State Journal

At 4:45 a.m. every weekday, Andrea Kleiver gets out of bed and heads to her office - a small, paneled room in the walkout basement of her family's rural Mason home.

She puts on headphones, dials the phone and waits for the morning news show at WOKR-TV to begin.

As the newscasters talk, Kleiver types captions to make the show accessible for deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers in Rochester, N.Y., 400 miles away.

"I know everything about Rochester," Kleiver said. "I know more about Rochester than I do about Lansing. I know the roads, I know the weather."

As she listens to the live broadcast by phone, Kleiver uses stenographic equipment, the same as court reporters use, to keep up with reports and banter as fast as 230 words a minute. Newscasters speak at an average of 180 words per minute, according to industry statistics.

Her stenographic machine is connected to her computer, which is equipped with software that translates the machine's shorthand back into standard English. The completed captions go back to WOKR-TV through another phone line and appear on-screen within seconds.

When the Rochester morning show is done, Kleiver takes a break for breakfast with her husband, Craig; son Cole, 4; and daughter Avery, 8 months.

Then she heads back downstairs for an hour of MSNBC's "Imus in the Morning." Then she's free until 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., when she captions Fox News.

Kleiver, has her own company, AMKaptioning, and works as an independent contractor for the Virginia-based National Captioning Institute. She likes the hours, the fact that she can work at home and the income.

An independent captioner like Kleiver can earn $50 to $100 per hour of broadcast captioning, depending on the program. She did have to invest about $10,000 in the equipment and phone lines, and must pay taxes and benefits.

Still, "it's everything you think of when you think of the perfect job," Kleiver said.

And it's in demand.

In 1993, U.S. law began to require that all new televisions with screens larger than 13 inches be equipped with a device to receive captions as well as programming. TV users can turn the captions on or off at will.

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that all television programming be captioned by 2006, creating an increasing demand for captioners.

"There's more work than we can handle," said Melissa DeMong of DeWitt, past president of the Michigan Association of Professional Court Reporters. "With the ADA, there is just going to be more."

Lansing Community College once trained court reporters, including Kleiver. A 1993 graduate of Williamston High School, Kleiver graduated from LCC in 1997. LCC ended its program in 2000, citing a high attrition rate among its reasons.

"It did have a high level of difficulty," said DeMong, who used to teach at LCC. "It is not a program for everyone."

The specialized job can be stressful and technical. It requires a knowledge of current events and excellent language skills.

Because it is physically and mentally demanding, four hours is considered a full work day.

Kleiver, 28, works at 99.2 percent average accuracy.

"Sure, sometimes we make mistakes," she said. But it frustrates her when people complain about the quality of captions. Some of the sloppier ones may be taken directly from a TelePrompter at the station. That's news copy designed for in-house use. Others may be due to a bad encoder on a TV set, a faulty phone line or a faulty satellite connection.

"Andrea is trying to make captions readable to everybody who's watching TV," DeMong said. "You might look at those captions and say, 'They left out a word.' Yeah, but that word was 20 syllables long."

Kleiver has learned to edit as she types, leaving out an obscure word but maintaining context with the words she chooses. For example, while working on a news report about a previously unknown person with a long or difficult name, Kleiver might try to get the first part of the name and the last part onto the screen. She said it might be faster and more accurate to type "the South Korean president" instead of attempting to spell the name.

"You always have to be quick-thinking," she said.

She'll program new words or names likely to be in the news again into her machine's dictionary so she can type them quickly the next time.

"I started with about 60,000 words," she said of her dictionary. "I've probably doubled that in six years of doing real-time captioning."

The job has given Kleiver a strong sense of current events, some of which can be painful. She transcribed Bloomberg Television, which reports financial news on cable, starting at 4 p.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, after terrorists crashed planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field.

"I'll never forget that day," she said.

She cried as she typed during some portions of the trial of Andrea Yates, the Texas mom convicted of drowning her five children.

"All the horrible little details, that was kind of hard for me," she said.

Kleiver appreciates the financial security and the ability to work at home. But she also draws satisfaction from the work itself.

"I like the knowledge that I'm able to help people around the country and the world receive their news," she said. "That is so cool."

Contact Kathleen Lavey at 377-1251 or

Copyright 2003 Lansing State Journal