A Stroke Of Success

Closed-captioningfirm builds profits servicing the hearing-impaired

For Lorraine Carter, the time was right to start her real-time closed captioning business. The Americans With Disabilities Act, which requires that people with disabilities have equal access to goods and services, was passed in 1991. Two years later, Congress passed the Television Decoder Circuitry Act, which required all televisions over 13 inches made after the act was passed to be equipped with closed-caption decoders. Utilizing 15 years of court reporting skills, Carter launched Caption Reporters Inc. (CRI) in 1993.

CRI provides instant closed-captioning services, a process that creates written transcription of the audio content of live broadcasts. Using a reporting stenography machine, Carter transcribes up to 270 words per minute for newscasts and other programming. The transcribed messages are merged with the video signal and sent to the television station’s distribution network.

Carter started CRI out of her home using a $30,000 advance from an account she landed with WUSA Channel 9 in Washington, D.C., to create captions for the evening newscasts. Her company has since grown to an office in Alexandria, Virginia, with three caption reporters and nearly $250,000 in revenues. Clients include the Federal Communications Commission and Gallaudet University, a school for the hearing impaired.

Carter operated a court reporting service in Seattle from 1982-84. After moving to the East Coast later that year, she worked as a court reporter for the D.C. Superior Court System. Carter also participated in a training program with the National Caption Institute, one of the nation’s top captioning providers in 1988. But after 10 months and no full-time prospects with the company, she went back to D.C. Superior Court. Five years later, she launched CRI.

Recruiting African Americans with experience in real-time captioning is difficult, says Carter, because only 10% of the 48,000 court reporters nationwide are black. Dealing with competition is also an obstacle. “A few years ago, there was really only one large real-time service provider and rates were about $1,200 an hour. Once competitors came along, prices plummeted to about $600 an hour,” says Carter, who charges $450 per hour.

By expanding services to include a graphic design department, additional staff and video satellite conferencing targeted to the deaf and hearing impaired, Carter expects to boost revenues to $2 million this year. “Our goal is to take over 1% of the market over the next five years. That leaves us lots of room to grow.”
Caption Reporters Inc., 700 North Fairfax St., Suite 302, Alexandria, VA 22314; 703-683-2300

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