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Editorial


Front Page - Friday, October 2, 2015

Making a living, and a difference, with a steno machine




Linda Hershey prepares to caption a performance of “Sister Act” at the Chattanooga Theatre Centre.” - (Photo by David Laprad)

Linda Hershey was shocked to read the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) had made her a Fellow of the Academy of Professional Reporters. She even nearly deleted the email informing her of the honor.

“I had it for three or four days before I read it,” she says. “I didn’t know what it was.”

To the clients and colleagues who wrote letters supporting her nomination, however, the honor was no surprise. “Linda Hershey is an extraordinarily skilled captioning professional who shows respect toward others, maintains a high level of integrity, and has an amazing work ethic,” wrote one long-time consumer of captioning services. “She’s courteous, dependable, punctual, easy to work with, and always well-prepared, and she performs the highest quality captioning services. She is, indeed, the best of the best.”

Hershey was with a friend on her phone when she casually clicked on the message to see what it said. After she read the email, she laughed out loud. “It never occurred to me that someone would nominate me for this,” she says.

The award comes during Hershey’s 40th year as a captioning professional. Throughout her career, she has used her skills to not only earn income but also to serve her community and profession. In addition to paid employment, Hershey volunteers her captioning services at her church, at meetings of the Chattanooga chapter of the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), and other venues when she knows her friends with hearing loss won’t be able to enjoy an event without understanding the spoken word.

“I have witnessed her dedication and love of captioning that goes hand-in-hand with helping others,” another person wrote. “One can always count on her, and her willingness to provide service is unmatched.”

Hershey’s suggestion to purchase an LED captioning board with money the local HLAA earned during its first Walk4Hearing in 2009 opened the Chattanooga Theatre Centre to people with hearing loss. This has led to other local events being captioned.

“She’s made a believer out of many people,” the writer of the second letter wrote regarding Hershey’s skills. “During the year Vicki Lawrence headlined at the annual Boomers and Seniors Life Expo, Lawrence’s husband told Linda she wouldn’t be able to keep up. She proved him wrong. Wrong enough, in fact, for him to congratulate her on an outstanding job.”

Hershey also donates time to her professional association. She has served as president of the Tennessee Court Reporter Association (TCRA), spoken at TCRA conventions, and served on the NCRA’s CBC/CCP (Certified Broadcast Captioner and Certified CART Provider) Certification Committee.

“Linda has been an outstanding contributor to our profession,” wrote another colleague. “Her passion, dedication, and spirit of giving are evident in her tireless efforts to train, mentor, and educate our students and working reporters.”

Hershey was born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa. She developed a love for old-fashioned shorthand and typing at a young age, and when she graduated from high school, she decided to become a secretary. Her mother, also a secretary, encouraged her to specialize. As Hershey was thumbing through the catalog of the American Institute of Business in Des Moines, she noticed an entry for court reporting. It caught her interest. Two years later, she graduated with a court reporting degree and accepted a job in Chattanooga.

Hershey spent her first 25 years at a stenograph machine doing legal work. Her assignments took her into nearly every court in Hamilton County and the surrounding counties.

In time, Hershey started to transcribe classes for students at local colleges, a line of work that moved her away from court reporting and into the world of CART (Communication Access Real Time Translation). “I would sit in a classroom with my steno machine, and my computer would be in front of the student,” she says. “It was challenging and rewarding work.”

Although Hershey missed the lawyers, judges, and other people with whom she had worked in the courts, she didn’t mind leaving that work behind to do something new and exciting with her skills. “Court reporting places you in a tense, adversarial environment,” she says. “CART allows me to provide a service and open up a world to someone. It’s wonderful.”

Hershey expanded her skills even further when she underwent training to do broadcast captioning. This was in the days before the advent of the Internet, so she would drive from Chattanooga to other cities, including Atlanta, Ga., to caption live broadcasts.

Once Hershey was able to work online, she was able to expand her reach beyond the limits of a short drive. Now, a typical weekday might involve getting up at 6 a.m. to caption a show in South Carolina, then captioning another morning show in Minnesota, then doing a two-hour class for a law student in Washington, D.C., and then captioning a local news program in South Carolina. She somehow fits other assignments, such as a political talk show in New York City, into her schedule. All of this is done from the comfort of her basement office in her North Shore home.

Hershey is in demand nationally in part because word about her skills have spread far and wide, but also because court reporters are in short supply. According to Hershey, there are less than a thousand in the U.S.

“It’s not a skill everyone can attain. You can learn the keyboard and how to write, but then you have to be fast,” she says. “It’s like becoming proficient at running a six-minute mile. Some people will quickly be able to do it, it will take other people longer, and some people will never be able to do it.”

As much as Hershey has given to others, she says captioning has been a gift to her. “I’ll do certain jobs, and people will come up to me afterward and thank me,” she says. “They’ll say I changed their life because they can participate in something they otherwise wouldn’t be able to do. The first time I captioned a play at the Theatre Centre, a lady was crying because she was able to return to the theater after she thought she’d never be able to see another play again. It gave me warm fuzzies.”

Hershey has worked long and hard enough to have a few entertaining bloopers to share. One of her favorite stories involves the time she was captioning the pastor’s sermon at First Christian Church, which she and her husband, Walter, attend. When the pastor spoke about “the land ruled by Pontius Pilate,” and she entered her shortcut for “Pontius Pilate,” the computer pulled up the wrong words for the shortcut and instead displayed “the land ruled by Punxsutawney Phil.” Hershey smiles as she recalls the laughter in the pews.

Hershey might have been shocked when she learned her national association had made her a Fellow, but the testimonies of her colleagues suggest she’s well-deserving of the honor. “You won’t find a finer person than Linda Hershey,” one person wrote.

Clearly, many others agree. 

To see more photos, pick up a copy of the Hamilton County Herald.