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OSU-OKC to tackle court reporter shortage through new program

Oklahoma Supreme Court Chief Justice Noma Gurich, left, stands next to court reporter Susan Barkocy and Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City President Brad Williams at the Oklahoma Judicial Center Hearing Room last week. Barkocy is a freelance court reporter based in Oklahoma City who is assisting OSU-OKC with an introductory court reporting class the university is hosting. [Photo provided]
Oklahoma Supreme Court Chief Justice Noma Gurich, left, stands next to court reporter Susan Barkocy and Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City President Brad Williams at the Oklahoma Judicial Center Hearing Room last week. Barkocy is a freelance court reporter based in Oklahoma City who is assisting OSU-OKC with an introductory court reporting class the university is hosting. [Photo provided]

The critical shortage of certified court reporters in the state has sparked a new program at Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City.

Prospective students can learn about the program and career options in January before the coursework begins in the spring. Those who pass the state certification test are guaranteed to find jobs waiting.

Many courthouse reporters are eligible for retirement and the pool of replacements is woefully low, court officials said. About a dozen courthouse positions are currently unfilled.

“We’ve been at a crisis level for a number of years,” said Oklahoma Supreme Court Chief Justice Noma Gurich.

Court officials wanted a court reporting program in Oklahoma City like one that began at Tulsa Community College in January 2018, and OSU-OKC stepped up. “They have really taken the bull by the horns,” Gurich said.

The OSU-OKC program will open new career opportunities to many Oklahomans, including people who are blind or visually impaired, said Brad Williams, OSU-OKC president.

Lynn Craig, principal of the Oklahoma School for the Blind in Muskogee, said this could be a wonderful opportunity.

“Sometimes jobs for the blind and visually impaired are hard to find,” Cragg said. “The technology is there to do it.”

Nationally 75% of visually impaired people are underemployed or unemployed, said Fatos Floyd, state business services coordinator with the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services.

“A lot of blind individuals are in this career path in the United States,” Floyd said. “It’s something we know how to do. We know the equipment. We know how it works.”

In addition to the stenotype machine, blind court reporters use computer software that translates what they type into sound, so they can hear and “read” back the transcript.

Floyd said the Department of Rehabilitation Services will provide the equipment visually impaired students need to take the course.

“Our main goal is to get rid of the barriers to employment for clients,” she said. “We want our clients to be competitive and integrated in their careers.”

Jari Askins, administrative director of the state’s court system, said OSU-OKC officials are enthusiastic about the program and are working to recruit students. The program has the potential to make a significant impact in addressing the court reporter shortage, she said.

The biggest need for court reporters is in rural areas that struggle to find qualified people for the job, Askins said. It is especially difficult for counties that border Texas and Kansas, where the salaries are higher, she said.

The starting base salary in Oklahoma is about $45,000 per year. Court reporters own their transcripts and earn additional pay for providing copies.

“Having a court report is extremely critical for moving cases through the court system. It’s not just criminal cases. They are needed for divorce cases and pleas,” Askins said.

Court reporting courses also prepare graduates to work as freelance stenographers — who can work for law firms and medical practices — or to do closed captioning. Captioners transcript the spoken word for the hard of hearing and can work from home.

The education is rigorous, said Allison Hall, a veteran courthouse reporter, who teaches the course at TCC.

“It’s like learning an instrument and a language at the same time,” Hall said. “It’s difficult, but it’s doable if you’re determined and disciplined enough. You’ve really got to put in the hours on the machine to master it.”

The curriculum Hall uses will be the same used at OSU-OKC. It was developed by Mark Kislingbury, who set a world record of 360 words per minute. Hall said students who are taught using his method have a much higher completion rate than others.

People who are good candidates for the training enjoy English, like to read, have a good vocabulary and can maintain focus, she said.

Potential students can get a sneak peek of the new program during a six-week A to Z of Court Reporting session that will be taught by a certified court reporter beginning in January at OSU-OKC.

The A to Z program is an introduction to court reporting. Participants will have a chance to learn more about the program and career opportunities upon completion and certification.

The first two-year court reporter program will begin in late spring. Students who complete the A to Z course are eligible for a $500 scholarship through the National Court Reporters Association.

OSU-OKC will begin the program each spring and fall, so students will have a couple of opportunities each year to enter.

K.S. McNutt is a content specialist at OSU-OKC.

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