Captioning The Voice Of Television

Linda Dela Cruz
Wednesday - August 11, 2005
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Caption Company owner Sharon Mujtabaa
watches captionist Brooke Hernandez at work

If you turn down the sound on the television, then you’ll know how the 100,000 deaf and hard of hearing people in the state of Hawaii feel when they watch TV.

The Caption Company, owned by Sharon Mujtabaa, has one goal: breaking the sound barrier for people who can’t hear.

“That’s a large community that won’t bother watching a program if it’s not closed captioned,” says Mujtabaa.

Last year, her10-year-old company worked on the UH Sports season for 2004 to 2005. The Caption Company did more than 122 games, covering football, volleyball, basketball, soccer, softball, baseball and water polo.

“It’s really important as they can now hear every word of color commentary,” says Mujtabaa, who is thrilled to capture the next season of sports starting with the women’s volleyball game Aug. 26 for KFVE.

Other programs with closed captioning include PBS Hawaii, Honolulu City Council and Kauai County Council. Even commercials and public service announcements are transcribed. A three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education has sponsored the closed captions for the KHON weekday morning news, and for the daily 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. newscasts 365 days a year. The captioners have also been called upon to do work for FOX, MSNBC and CNN, since the time difference in Hawaii helps for some of the programs.

Mujtabaa’s one employee, Lynnea Overholt, a captioning editor, transcribes the pre-recorded local programs like Electric Kitchen, Jan Ken Po and Emme’s Island Moments from her home on the Big Island. In addition, Mujtabaa relies on four independent contractors as captioners for live programming: Sami Silvia, Joyce Yamamoto, Brooke Hernandez and Kathy Cassity. Hernandez specializes in sports. Cassity, who is a Ph.D. candidate and an English professor at Hawaii Pacific University, took first place honors two years ago in a contest for national writing in real time at the National Court Reporters convention. Cassity is one of eight court reporters nationwide with a Ph.D.

Noting that there are more than 30 million deaf and hard of hearing people in the country, Mujtabaa says it is mandated for network television to have closed captioning. An FCC rule that takes effect in January 2006

requires broadcast companies and their affiliates whose revenue is over $3 million to have all programming in closed captions with a few exceptions.

“With technology, we can caption any program anywhere in the world,” explains Mujtabaa.

One of the challenges the business owner faces is to find qualified captioners. To be a captioner, the individual first needs to be a court reporter trained on the steno machine and have a high accuracy rate. In addition, the captioner needs to be familiar with local and national sports, politics, business and pop culture.

One of the lessons Mujtabaa shares with other new business owners is to get mentoring help right away to understand more about what it is like to run a business with employees.

Mujtabaa, a Chicago native, worked as a court reporter from 1985 to 1991 in Hawaii. During a demonstration of captioning at a National Court Reporter Convention, she watched a deaf man sit next to his hearing wife to watch a speaker. The speaker told the joke, and he laughed too. His wife said, “That’s the first time he ever got the punchline at the same time everyone else did.” Inspired by the desire to help others who were deaf, Mujtabaa bought the equipment on the spot and started her business.

“You don’t get hugs in depositions,” she says. “The deaf and hard of hearing people always give you hugs, as they are so happy that you are there. I just wanted to feel like that when I got to work every day.”

For more information, call 623-1174,
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