PIONEERING IN THE COURTS

by Sandy Halverson

Kernel Book readers are accustomed to encountering in these pages blind people who are pursuing unusual careers. In the story that follows, Sandy Halverson (totally blind) tells of her work as a court reporter. Here is what she has to say:

I am a blind person who has a wide range of jobs kills. Besides working as a telephone solicitor for Olan Mills Photography Studios while I was in college, I have performed a variety of jobs in a sheltered workshop as well as working for several years a s a medical transcriptionist.

As happens with many careers, I reached a point where I felt I could go no further in medial transcription; I didn't want to assume responsibilities of an Accredited Records Librarian and was not particularly interested in returning to school to obtain a master's degree in psychology.

Therefore, I decided that my combination of skills could be most useful in court reporting. I obviously had the medical background (spelling, grammar, punctuation, and keyboard skills necessary) needing only to learn another keyboard and shorthand code.

The rehabilitation agency where I lived said it couldn't be done, since no technology existed which would allow a blind person to read back the notes taken on a stenograph machine. But what this agency failed to consider was the fact that members of the National Federation of the Blind have accumulated a great deal of expertise in developing specialized technology to help blind people function productively on the job.

A blind electrical engineer, who is a member of the Federation, researched the computer equipment that would be necessary, wrote the program to translate the shorthand symbols into Braille, and taught me how to use the equipment and system he developed.

After completing my training, I became employed as the first totally blind court reporter in the country using stenograph equipment. Although the court reporting school I attended had reservations about whether a blind person could do the work, I was given the chance to try and completed the work without any more difficulty than the other students had.

When it came time to compete for a job, I was lucky. Very often when an employer interviews a blind person, the only characteristic considered is blindness. But the judge interviewing me was different. He wanted someone who understood medical terminology and who could take medical testimony and get it right.

He was delighted to find someone with both court reporting and medical terminology skills. In his view my years of experience in transcribing medical records outweighed my inexperience in court reporting. I guess he figured that my blindness was my problem; and if I had worked out the techniques to be a successful medical transcriber, I could do the same for court reporting. How refreshing it was to find this common sense attitude, and how many of our problems will be solved when more employers come to view blindness in this way.

I loved my job as a court reporter; and I am grateful to the National Federation of the Blind not only for the technical expertise, which made it possible, but for the emotional support as I waded through these untried waters.

My job ended with a legislative decision to replace county court reporters with tape recorders—a decision I'm confident will be reversed at a later date, but because of my positive experience, many other blind persons are considering this as a career opportunity, which never would have happened without the National Federation of the Blind.