Section of a keyboard with large black letters on yellow keys.

 Scopist: A Great At-Home Career for Someone With Low Vision

By: Deana Decker

Why did I become a scopist?

I have always been interested in true crime and solving puzzles, that's just how my brain works. I'm always coming up with alternate ways of doing things.  After my first choice of careers didn't pan out, I went back to school and earned an associate's degree in paralegal studies.  I found that so interesting and logical in my thought process, I even considered law school.  At this point, my Stargardt's disease,  a form of macular degeneration which results in various degrees of loss of central vision didn't prevent me from reading normal-sized print. Anything was possible.

Fast-forward 20-something years and I found myself with complete central vision loss, not being able to drive, and needing to carry around a 30x magnifying glass to be able to read anything. Because of the lack of accessibility, many employment options were not available to me.

With the help of the New York State Office of Children and Family Services, they provided equipment and enrolled me in an online scoping program run by Best Scoping Techniques through a program at the State University at Buffalo.  I have never looked back.

This work is perfect for a visually impaired individual because you can work from the comfort of your own home, you are paid by the page, not the speed, so you can virtually work at a comfortable pace, and you can find clients, resources and support online.  Best of all, you can feel accomplished, productive and more independent. 

Judy Rakocinski and Cathy Knox who own and operate Best Scoping Techniques are knowledgeable, supportive, friendly, and they provide post completion support and job leads.  Their goal is your success.

Note:  There are several online scoping schools out there and I am sure they also have their pros and cons.  I am only speaking through my personal experience. I am also not receiving any compensation from Best Scoping Techniques for this article.

What is a Scopist?

A what?

This is a question I asked when it was first introduced to me.  I had never heard of scoping, but a career in the legal field intrigued and excited me. I was thrilled to do anything in the legal field and be able to stay home with my young children. defines "scoping" as “Slang. the act or practice of eyeing or examining, as in order to evaluate or appreciate.”  Indirectly, this is actually what a scopist does. 

A scopist examine the transcript from a deposition, hearing, or trial that a court reporter has taken down with a steno writer, the steno notes are then downloaded into software which translates into English, and then the court reporter  contracts the scopist to take that document, using the same software, to examine, edit, research spellings, and prepare it for the final product which gets sent back to the court reporter.

Skills you will need

What do I need to know? 

Believe it or not, you don’t need to be a fast typist.  I highly recommend taking a typing course for several reasons:  the faster you type, the more pages you complete, the more you get paid.  Also, sometimes an attorney requests a transcript ti be “expedited” or “immediate turnaround.”  If you can get it done faster for the court reporter, your page rate goes up. 

There is also working “Real Team” with a reporter, which means you are on live with a reporter while they are in a courtroom or in a deposition and you are scoping the document behind the reporter, sometimes with another scopist, and sometimes even a proofreader behind you in order to create a finished transcript by the end of the day.  This is an even higher rate.

Finally learning to type without having to look at the keyboard had been a lifesaver since I can't see the letters (even with large print), and it saves my back from a lot of hunching over.

Attention to detail.   

The better you are at searching the web, the better scopist you will be.  A scopist is responsible for finding the spellings of streets, people, companies, towns, medical terminology, etc.  Reporters will usually have these spellings, but what they have may not be correct.  Sometimes you have to be very creative to find the spelling of a doctor’s name from the state of Florida or the name of the CEO of some company that closed five years age.  Oh, and if you do medical depositions, be prepared for a lesson or two in anatomy!

Do I need Formal Training?

It's harder than it seems.

As much as I want to encourage everyone, this career is not for everyone.  And as much as you think, "Oh, I just have to check for punctuation and spelling," it's more than that. Scoping and court reporting have their unique terms like macros, global, daily, rough, plus you need to be familiar with the structure of legal procedures, like examination and colloquy.  But don't worry, this is why you enroll in training.  They will teach you everything you need to know about scoping.  Continue reading to learn about online training courses.

I an Visually Impaired, how can I possibly do a job that needs me to "see"?

Let technology do it!

First, don't sell yourself short.  If you have made it this far in the article, you have made it past the first step -- interest.  Now for the "how."

There are all kinds of technology out there, from screen readers, large-print keyboards, large monitors, CCTVs, foot pedals, etc., that will aid you in your quest.  Depending on your visual level, you may have to experiment with the best balance of all of these  Again, I highly recommend taking some kind of typing class (there are free courses available online). If you can type without looking at the keys, that will lessen your stress.  

I describe this in more detail below in the training and equipment sections.

What Hardware and Software do I Need?

The basic equipment you will need is a desktop or laptop with a reliable high-speed internet connection, a good set of headphones. and I recommend a foot pedal quickly turn the audio on and off.

Knowledge of e-mail, downloading and uploading documents, navigating websites, and eventually a type of software such as Case Catalyst, Eclipse, ProCAT, Stenocat, Aristocat, and Digital Cat, just to name a few. I have used Case Catalyst for about 12 years now and I like them because they do have a Zoom feature to enlarge the size of the font in the document itself, providing better fluidity of production.  

These items do come with a price tag, but this is where working with an agency comes in:  they may be able to provide most of this at little or no cost to you.

I'm in, where do I go from here?

Since you are visually impaired, your first step should be to contact your local agency for the blind and visually impaired to see what is available for career and vocational services.  In many cases, they may be able to provide tuition, fees and equipment for little or no cost.  You may find some of these state services here.

BeST Scoping Techniques Training Program

BeST Scoping Techniques has designed its program for the blind and visually impaired in mind. According to owner/instructor Judy Rakocinski, "We designed an entire program to be screen-reader friendly and easy to navigate.  There is even a private entrance on the BeST campus so the lessons can be located easily." 

The course is self-paced with most students finishing in four to six months. To date, they have had about 15 students of various degrees of vision loss go through their program.  

Normally the program costs $2500, but they work with SUNYAB and state vocational agencies from all over the country to help with the cost.  They also provide a $200 discount for self-pay students who show financial need.

Interested in learning more about the BeST Scoping Techniques online program?  Click here for link to their website.

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