C-Print Demand Increases at NTID

C-Print Demand Increases at NTID

By Greg Livadas

Editor: You’ve probably heard of C-Print, a captioning technology that allows supports a “concept for concept” philosophy. The technology was developed at NTID and has been used there for years. Now there’s a growing demand for these services, an indication that many of the NTID students prefer captioning to the more traditional sign language interpreter.

This story was originally published by The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, and is reprinted with their kind permission.

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Growing C-Print closes the hearing gap digitally – Demand rises for laptop-based class captioning

When Steve Forsthoefel attends a class at Rochester Institute of Technology, he tries to sit as close to the teacher as possible in an attempt to read lips.

Forsthoefel, 33, of Allentown, Pa., is deaf. But instead of always relying on an interpreter during class, he prefers to follow the discussion with C-Print, a device that allows him to read what is said by glancing at a nearby laptop computer.

“C-Print provides me with valuable information,” he said. “It helps me with lip reading.”

Cathy Benedict, a C-Print captionist, sits next to Forsthoefel in his European history class and plugs in her IBM Notepads. She places one on her desk and one next to him.

After class, Benedict edits the notes and posts them on a secure Web site.

“It’s a useful tool to study for exams,” Forsthoefel said.

C-Print was developed at RIT’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf as an educational option. It has been in classrooms at RIT and in public schools and colleges around the country for about 10 years.

NTID earlier this year was awarded a $400,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education for additional research for interactive learning, enabling students to add their own notes during class, which could include graphic illustrations for math and science classes.

Steve Nelson, director of NTID’s access services, said plans are in the works to double the nearly 30 C-Print captionists at RIT by the fall. About 35 students use C-Print on campus now; they used about 10,000 hours of C-Print services last year.

“The need is growing fast,” Nelson said.

More deaf and hard-of-hearing students are coming from mainstreamed schools and may not know sign language, have cochlear implants or more powerful hearing aids that allow them to use the hearing they have rather than rely on an interpreter.

Forsthoefel, who didn’t know sign language in high school, said, “I missed a lot. It was impossible to understand every word before.”

Pam Francis, coordinator for C-Print development at RIT, said the job is appealing to most captionists.

“It’s a very rewarding task, going into the classroom and knowing that what they’re doing is really helping another individual,” she said.

Captionists are usually limited to 50 minutes of typing to avoid repetitive motion ailments. They carry (or wheel behind them like luggage) about 15 pounds of equipment.

They type on a laptop keyboard, not a steno machine used in courts or for closed captioning. Their training isn’t as complex as a court reporter’s because the words aren’t typed verbatim.

The computer software, developed at RIT, uses phonetic rules to give the captionists shortcuts. They only need to write “abrvx,” for example, and the word “abbreviation” will appear on the screen.

The system has a dictionary of more than 10,000 words, and each captionist may add specialized words.

Captionists can use a wireless network at RIT for students who want to blend into the middle of a classroom, not necessarily be seated in front of the teacher or be tethered to the captionist.

The cost of a C-Print captionist is about two-thirds of an interpreter, Nelson said. Another plus using C-Print is that the notes are retained and can be accessed after the class.

“Even a great interpretation, once you’ve delivered it, just like the speech, it’s gone,” Nelson said.

Some have wondered whether C-Print will make interpreters obsolete in the classroom. That fear is unfounded, Francis said. “There is a need for everybody.”

Of the estimated 300 sign language interpreters in Rochester, RIT has 105 on staff and hires about 100 others as needed.

“That’s still not enough,” Nelson said. “There’s still a shortage of interpreters.”