Norma Miller, White Coat Captioning | sleon productions Podcast #41

In this episode, we are interviewing Norma Miller who is president of White Coat Captioning, which provides realtime translation services for conferences, classes, webinars, seminars, meetings, patient medical appointments, and more.


Santiago Leon 0:08
Hello, hello, you’re listening to the Leon productions podcast where we interview entrepreneurs, innovators, authors, people that give value also inspires us to give success. In this episode, we are interviewing Norma Miller from, from a interesting company that transcribes live captioning in events and also virtual events. She is the president of height code captioning. And we got Norma on the line. Welcome to the slam productions podcast.

Norma Miller 0:50
Thank you. Happy to be here.

Santiago Leon 0:52
Pleasure. So Norma, tell us a little bit about yourself. Well,

Norma Miller 0:57
I am the owner of white coat captioning a small specialized specialist captioning company. And I live in Vermont. I’ve been doing well, my company is about six and a half years old. But I’ve been doing this sort of work in one iteration or another for maybe the audience should sit down. But for 40 years, I’ve been doing this kind of work.

Santiago Leon 1:31
Yes, I first encountered you and your team at wordcamp, Miami about two years ago. And when I first saw the Hawaii captioning and live transcribing it really like, like inspired me and motivated me, you know, as well, because there are times when you’re in meetings, or you’re in conferences that you kind of miss what that person said, either you’re thinking about something else, or you got distracted on your phone. But tell us how did you you know, get started with this company? And what did you do it.

Norma Miller 2:09
So this sort of work comes sort of grows out of the field of court reporting, we have the same skill, the same basic technology that court reporters have. And that’s what I that’s how I my original career. And in the mid 90s, I was recruited by BBC television in London to become retrained as a television captioner. So that’s how I got going in captioning sort of broke off the field of court reporting became a captioner. Then I came back to the United States and the technology wasn’t, hadn’t really caught up with us yet. For me to be able to stay in Vermont, I could have moved to large metropolitan areas and become a cap television captioner in the US, but it wasn’t really feasible for my family situation. So I sort of hung around and did some more freelance court reporting type stuff until the world caught up with me, I guess, the technology caught up with me. And then when you know, when the internet got more expanded, and things became easier and faster, and audio supplies became better. And it was feasible then to do remote captioning from home. So I started this company in 2014. And started it specifically with the idea of specializing in very difficult jargon. sectors. So like, my first intention, and the reason for the name, white coat captioning is that we were in our intention was to specialize in medical captioning. for medical school, there was a great need at that point, the Americans with Disabilities Act had, you know, had been around for a good number of years at that point. So people with hearing loss had been accommodated all through school and undergrad, and many of them then we’re now looking to go to medical school, and they needed captioning for medical school. So that was the intention. And it still is very, very much a part of our business. But very shortly thereafter, the tech world tech conferences discovered us and then sort of by word of mouth, and we did our first one and it was a huge hit. And then it was this wonderful exponential organic growth thing where people who were at that conference, you know, kept telling other people and also the some Those people were organizing their own conferences. And so that’s we ended up now taking, going down the road of tech. And really at this point, the Tech has almost eclipsed the medical, but there’s still two very big strong arms of our business. Why do

Santiago Leon 5:21
you think tech is so? Very interested with your services? Why do you think tech was very attractive? for that?

Norma Miller 5:32
I think there are like, there’s there would be this massive Venn diagram with lots of bubbles, having to do with, let’s face it, number one is that Tech has the money to pay for the service. They have, they do seem to have overall they have. And of course, disability rights activists might disagree with this a little bit. But as a sector, they seem like they are eager to provide accommodation for people who need it. And they’re willing to make the investment. But of course, that that comes out of the fact that they do have the money. So so that’s great. There’s a large, whole component of people that are using captioning. because English is not their first language. And that sort of has become revealed through this whole tech thing. You know, the giant audiences in a tech conference are international. And everyone in the audience pretty much knows English and speaks English, but they can read English better often times than they can hear it being delivered, especially with all the various accents and such. So you have, you know, someone who is Italian in the audience, for example, and they are bilingual or multilingual already, but they, then the person who’s giving the talk is giving the talk in accented English, maybe from Japan. And so because we are very much trained listeners, we’re listening more for the words than the content, so we can get out the words, and because we are different, focused kind of listeners, so that helps the entire audience, make it a very even playing field for everyone. And it’s very, very enthusiastically received.

Santiago Leon 7:33
Yeah, that’s something that I was realizing, when I was in wordcamp. And also with my family, my parents are from Colombia. And my dad always turns on captions when you watch TV. And like everywhere, and also at work camp, you know, people like to just understand and comprehend what the speaker is saying, Now, it could be because of the accents are different, or because they talk too fast.

Norma Miller 8:02
But other distractions going on in the room. I mean, in Miami, in particular, there were people, doors were slamming, and people were walking in and out and that sort of thing, which makes our job challenging as well, if we don’t, you know, we don’t have like noise cancelling headphones on and such. But


Santiago Leon 8:20
yeah, though, which is, you know, your brain confirmation that you found that one group of people that will need that captioning, you know, not just for people, you know, with any type of disability disabilities. So it’s quite interesting the like that, that interesting situation that you found, while starting this business. And that’s the best part about businesses that sometimes you discover new things. Oh, wait, this could go here. And it works.

Norma Miller 8:54
Totally. I mean, when you gave your introduction in the introduction to your podcast, and you mentioned, entrepreneurs, and business people and people who add value, and I can’t remember the other things, but I’m going, I’m ticking. I’m going yeah, I think I tick all those boxes. And that makes me feel so great.

Santiago Leon 9:10
That’s why you’re here.

Norma Miller 9:12
And it’s wonderful to

to hear like someone like you, because every person like you, who’s in all those audiences that we encounter, become our, our advocates, and advocates for the service, which warms my heart because many of my deaf consumers have to struggle so hard to get accommodations. And so they have to fight so hard. And when they go to like conferences, conference organizers, they’re often met with an answer of like, well, we’re getting sign language and the person goes, but I don’t know sign language. And so there’s like this, this lack of understanding that there’s all kinds of deafness and it’s on a spectrum and some don’t People know sign language and prefer sign language and some people use and prefer captioning.


Santiago Leon 10:08
yeah, that’s quite interesting. And as you know, which we spoke about wordcampwordcamp is a WordPress conference. Tell us your relationship with WordPress? And how did it get started.

Norma Miller 10:24
So it all started with a wordcamp in New York City.


it was, there was a need, the need was identified, they’d had somebody requested the previous year and provided only for that one person. And then I think they realized, wow, this would be for everybody. And also,

Unknown Speaker 10:47
you know,

Norma Miller 10:48
if it’s a multitrack conference, sometimes, you know, sometimes if budget is an issue, we might encourage we we even work with conference organizers and say, Well, you know, if you can’t afford us, for the whole thing, at least have us for the main track or whatever. But then, of course, that puts the deaf consumer at a disadvantage, because that means they’re stuck in that one track, they can’t move around. So the following year, the organizer expanded the desire. And so it was Kevin Christiano, who was the organizer that year in wordcamp, New York. So and then it just grew from there that it was so popular at that one, and then they talked it up. And then the next thing, we were doing all kinds of work camps all across the country, and then wordcamp us and it continues to this day we’re even doing we’ve been doing some of the online word camps, and actually just did a thing for wordcamp. us the the the event that happened last week, I think it was I don’t know, I’ve lost track of time. This has been such a year for all of us, right? And then the past few days I’ve been so thank goodness, it’s, you’re having this podcast today and not two days ago.

Santiago Leon 12:10
Yeah. And which you just brought up about having, you know, like, events online. Tell us how, how’s that been this past couple months with the whole pandemic? And how’s it different from an actual event?

Norma Miller 12:27
Well, thankfully, for us, you know, that I think maybe maybe the most popular word of 2020 is the word pivot, right? People have had to pivot in every aspect of their lives to the online space. And so, for us, luckily, we already had a very experienced, we started I started this company, just as a remote captioning company. So we already have very, very much have an online presence and also experience and so we could, we could help guide people to work with in the online space. And so, it’s been different for sure. When when, when the pandemic first happened, by the way, sentimental favorite Miami word camp, because it was our very, very, very last in person event this past year. We all flew home, and then we’re all on lockdown. like pretty much immediately.

Santiago Leon 13:27
We were right at the at the edge. A week later, like everything was close. It’s interesting. Yeah.

Norma Miller 13:34
Yeah. So sentimental favorite will always be Miami for that. And I’m always like on Facebook putting up photos saying, Well, this was our last, you know, well, we all get sort of tearful and it’s very poignant, but this was our very last onside event. Well, last, but hopefully not last. We’re hoping to get back there someday. But anyway, look, I literally teared up here. What I forgot, I know, I

Santiago Leon 14:05
got Oh, yes, um, how is like the whole online events versus the person. So

Norma Miller 14:11
when the pandemic you know, hit, or when we realized it hit the we I had, you know, I think 200 cancellations in one day. And I thought, Oh, my goodness, my company is, is going to not make it through this. But then very, very shortly thereafter, like almost immediately, it just shifted to just all kinds of online events. And it’s much more admin heavy to manage because 10s like the the online events tend to be shorter and more of them and different, you know, so in terms of the trying to manage the business around that is has been a challenge but We’ve risen to the challenge. And my team has been amazing. I’ve expanded my team, I’m probably one of the few companies in the country that, you know, in a way I’ve, I’ve sort of benefited from the pandemic, which makes me feel a little bit. I don’t feel happy saying that, but the need for captioning has just been exponentially greater because all the classrooms have gone online and people who, actually a lot of sort of unidentified, unidentified or under identified or not really sure how to characterize this group of people, but people who didn’t realize that they were doing a lot of lip reading and in the normal classroom, for example, or they’ve realized that they can’t lip read on zoom very well. And so they there’s been a lot of just a huge increase in that sort of cohort of folks who need captioning.

Santiago Leon 16:02
Tell us about your team, what are the requirements, if they want to caption a event? What are the needs, because I know that I was speaking to one of them, and they went to school for that. So yeah, he tell us, what is the process for that? It’s,

Norma Miller 16:16
um, there is a schooling to learn the theory, what we call the theory, and very much what we do is, is similar to be coming, I always like to analogize it to being a professional musician, you have to learn and also, you know, a language language person. So you have to learn the language, the standard language, which is a code, it’s a, it’s a stenographic code, it’s, it’s sort of like, you can think a little bit about it to like the world war two code breakers in a way. You know, in other words, we have to learn the language, just like, you know, tech code is being written, right, we learn this language, then we have to become faster and more accurate and get to a certain level. So yeah, there are, I went to brick and mortar school, there are very few brick or brick and mortar schools left, but there’s lots of online schools, you have to learn the steno language, you have to become proficient at it. And then to become employed at waco captioning. And to do tech conferences and such, you have to have years of experience at the highest level. And because of the jargon, and the fast, the fast delivery of speakers and that sort of thing. So it’s very challenging to learn. I have always said that it’s, I believe, from the very beginning, when I first learned that you either it’s more like an aptitude thing, you kind of either can do it or you can’t. There’s people who, who go to school and try and try and try and try and they’re like, still in school after 10 years, and their parents and their friends are saying, When are you going to finish school? And the answer is I’m gonna finish when I finished, like, basically, when you get to, you know, a certain level of proficiency so that you can be good enough. And that’s, you know, so so some people can do that in 18 months. And some people take many, many years. And so you either kind of have the talent, or you don’t. And it’s the kind of thing where you have to practice all the time. It is very, very similar to being professional musician, like a concert pianist or something. Yeah, it is extremely small, niche field, people that a lot of people don’t have any idea that it exists, but it’s a really great field. It’s a really great job,

Santiago Leon 18:54
which I actually was doing research of that couple months ago. And yeah, you’re right. It’s a whole different language, you gotta learn and get a cert that a, a degree in certification. And yeah, it was like, you know, I thought you just have to listen to that. No, no, no.

Norma Miller 19:13
I can’t tell you the number of people who say, I’m a really fast typist. Can I join your company?

Santiago Leon 19:21
Now with the technology, I was doing research that the keyboard you guys use is completely different.

Norma Miller 19:29
Yes. That you’re, we’re on a podcast, so there’s no video but just for you, personally, I’m going to use our machines when you were there. So you know, already. Yes, it’s a specialized keyboard and it’s, it’s what we call a corded keyboard. So we’re writing chords. Instead of writing typing out a word, letter by letter, like, even the word same as a, me write that that’s four strokes if you’re typing it on a query. keyboard, it’s one stroke one chord, if you stroke it on our steno keyboards, and sometimes even groups of words in one stroke, phrases, phrases that are used often we, you know, we have to, we make our own dictionaries, each person, it’s very personalized. Each person has their own dictionary, like we learn a basic language, and then we make it our own over time, again, very similar to a concert pianist, right? Like one person can play a piece of music from sheet music, and it’ll sound one way and you kind of recognize the tune, but then, you know, like a real master would be it sounds different. Right. And so I keep using that analogy, but it’s really the most apt one. So yeah, so over time, so all the domain languages, you know, we do we caption. I haven’t checked the stats for 2020. But in 2019, we had captioned we captioned in my company 159 tech conferences in one year, so that’s almost one every other day, or more than that. And so we and then you know, all the other stuff that we do as well. So we caption in WordPress, and rust and Ruby, and you know, you name it. All the various languages, we have the, we just have to learn the jargon. We don’t understand the what y’all are talking about, necessarily. But yeah, we

Santiago Leon 21:45
get the words. Yeah, no, exactly. That’s something that would tech is a whole different language for yourself, and also for your team. What other type of setup do you guys do to get comfortable? Obviously, I was talking to you before the show that one of them that I was talking to had like a microphone so they can listen to the speaker, what other techniques or setups your team uses to get yourself comfortable to make sure every word is correct.

Norma Miller 22:15
Everything? Well, we do whatever prep ahead of time we can do, we always ask the organizers, but let’s be fair there, they’re the only get like a C minus and actual follow through on this. But we always ask for as much prep as we can get, like we like to see the slides ahead of time if possible. It’s it’s, you know, it’s it’s only we don’t often get that very much, but we try. But if we know Okay, so it’s wordcamp. Miami, we know that’s coming up, we check the website, we are able to get all the names of the people, we you know, we kind of like do mining of the internet. In other words, like so if we find out, okay, all of a sudden, I’m gonna suddenly do a conference on I don’t know, pick up a thing or Elm, the Elm language and, and so it’s the first time we’ve ever done that. So we mined the internet for for words. And even, it’s always a interesting thing that that kind of some interesting things that kind of set whitecoat captioning a song apart from the others is that sort of research that we do. Like for example, you never know, you might think you’ve prepped as much as you can possibly prep and then all of a sudden, somebody mentions the, the first inventor of that language and nobody, you know, like a regular average people on the street don’t know who that is, right? So all of a sudden, so so that name will come out or like for wordcamp wobbu comes out and you know, if you’re just somebody any old captioner off the street, you wouldn’t have a clue what that was. So that’s sort of one thing that we do we do the focus listening, like, as best we can, if we can get a microphone on the speaker, or in actually zoom or Skype makes that quite easy that we’re in a way we’re kind of thrilled about that turn of events, but we put noise cancelling headset on because so the all the ruckus around us, we can kind of you know, just put out of our heads. We do that sort of preparation, we constantly practice we we make friends with people in those industries, you know, like yourself, like like people that we when we’re on site especially.


it’s just good to talk to people and get to learn more and make it more than just sort of a job. When we’re at home we have these now that we’re all online. We all have the best setups that we can possibly have like I have a 49 inch monitor and I can have have like multiple things on my screen, I can pull up. Google if I want, so that I can Google a word real quick. It’s not often possible when people are talking it 250 words a minute, and you’re trying to get all the words, but things like that, it always helps to have eyes on the thing, to have the visual of the person speaking, and to be able to see the slides. Of course, ergonomics. But when we’re on site, we sort of take whatever chair that that is there. And but when we’re home, we all have, you know, our nice, good setups that are comfortable and ergonomic for us. Yeah, those are, I think those are pretty much it.

Santiago Leon 25:43
That’s interesting, Google always has to be involved to do some

Norma Miller 25:47
of you some other search engine, but I default to Google.

Santiago Leon 25:52
And what is your future plans for the company for next year, we,

Norma Miller 25:58
one of the things that I’ve always done from the very beginning is to make sure to control the growth we we are exponentially right now we’re in a period of exponential demand, like, but we are very, my company is a small company focused company. And I intend to keep it that way. I like to, I, you know, I could just start taking every job and expand my team to that size, but I would not be able to maintain the quality. So quality control is a huge, you know, that’s, that’s what my brand is, like, my brand I I claim to be the best and and that I only hire the best. And I really mean that. And so controlling the growth is a thing that’s happened to us in the last year I’ve had to in the toward the last several months, I, on average, turned away about six clients per week, saying we can’t we don’t have the coverage, or we don’t, we can’t take this on because we already are too busy. And, you know, in that timeframe, whatever. And I’m able to curate my clients list, which is lovely. Because he so you can like, you know, if clients are problematic in some way, which we all know can happen. We are thankfully in the position of being able to say, well, maybe we’re not quite the right captioning company for you. And so that’s pretty much it. Yeah, I’m trying to expand carefully, while maintaining the high quality that we’re known for.

Santiago Leon 27:44
We’re coming to a close, I’m normal, what is the best way for people to reach you about your services? or, or, or to find out more about you and your company? White Coat captioning?

Norma Miller 27:59
Well, love it. If you follow me on twitter at White Coat captioning and it’s spelled a little strangely, at the end the captioning is, is shortened to see a PXG. So white coat captioning spelled that way. I have a website, of course, and there’s contact forms on the website. It’s white coat And I also have a UK branch of my business. So whatever the domain ending is, I can never remember which one

Santiago Leon 28:33
that contact UK Yeah,

Norma Miller 28:35
yeah. And by email, I’m Norma at what code

Santiago Leon 28:42
definitely, if if you are going to work camp, you might see him there. So and just wave Hello. You know, they’re just not just captioning. They’re also trying to meet other people as well. I’ve met most of your team. They’re all nice, very approachable. Their service is I mean, just amazing. Definitely. If you’re you know, not just because you know, you’re not listening maybe because if you want to take notes, you know if the speaker said anything, it’s probably there in the screen when you see the caption, so it’s definitely a huge benefit. You’ve been a very inspiration to the tech community for the WordPress and I glad you came on the podcast.

Norma Miller 29:28
Thank you so much.

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