When the Cubs and Indians took the field for Game 5 of the 2016 World Series, Kathryn Thomas was in front of her stenotype machine, transcribing what the Wrigley Field announcer said so any deaf or hard-of-hearing attendees could better understand what was happening.
For the 44-year-old stenographer who grew up a Cubs fan, it was a rare opportunity. She had learned the skill at Sparks College in Shelbyville.
“It was exciting to be a part of history,” she said. “Of course, I rooted for the Cubs.”
Thomas, an Effingham native who now lives in Caseyville, has provided captioning for sports stadiums, television, webcasts, deaf students, and courts during her 20 years in stenography.
She’s captioned for former U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, who introduced the Americans with Disabilities Act, when he spoke in St. Louis.
“In his speech, he thanked the hosts for providing captioning,” Thomas said. “I thought, ‘the author of the ADA is appreciating my captioning. What more can I ask for?’”
On Wednesday, Thomas transcribed a radio show.
Her job requires her to use shorthand, spelling words phonetically to catch everything that’s said. She presses the keys in groups, like a pianist plays chords, and can transcribe 280 words a minute.
“It’s a fun skill,” she said. “It’s fun to have the challenge of getting every word on the first go — catching every word as it flies by.”
Thomas graduated from Sparks College in Shelbyville in 1998. The college has since closed, but Thomas recalled how classes there taught her courtroom terminology and what essentially is a new language on the stenotype.
She uses her specialized shorthand. Computer software converts that to text in real time.
“This is not a job that you just learn to type really fast,” Thomas said. “It annoys me when I’m called a typist.”
In 2017, she was named president of the Illinois Court Reporters Association. As president of the association, Thomas wants more people to learn the trade.
At the National Court Reporters Association website, it’s reported that “according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the growth rate for court reporting salaries is expected to increase by 14 percent through the year 2020.”
Also, more jobs are being created, Thomas said, as courtrooms and other organizations need people to record what’s happening.
“There is an amazing demand right now,” she said. “I’m booked solid all the time. There’s almost a 100 percent placement rate for court reporters and stenographers.”
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