Advocating Steno By All, For All.
About four years ago, I came across a project by Mirabai Knight, and around that time, it was explained very simply to me. This profession had given her everything, she wanted to keep it alive forever. In my mind, there’s one truth: Stenography is easy to learn and hard to do fast. If ten people try it, maybe one in that group of ten is good at it. If 100 people try it, maybe 10 people in that group of 100 is good at it. If a thousand people try it, maybe 100 people in that group of 1,000 is good at it. So, it stands: The more people that try stenography, the more people will find out they are good at it.
The issue we face, without offense to our beloved manufacturers, is that it is expensive for people to attempt to learn stenography. Even if school is somehow free, the costs of a student writer and student software in 2010 were maybe $2,000, and the costs of those same things in 2017 are maybe $2,500. Realistically, starting costs act as a bar for entry, fewer people try stenography, and fewer people find out they’re good at it. The cheapest I have seen anyone part with any machine was $50, so the cheapest bar to entry I could imagine was still around $550 for a writer and student software.
The Open Steno Project creates a lower bar for entry. It introduces a free software program called Plover. It comes with some basic dictionaries and lets you export steno into free or common programs like Notepad, Microsoft Word, or Open Office. You can even load RTF Dictionaries into it. This software works with many different stenographic machines and is constantly being worked on. It also works with various mechanical keyboards, or keyboards known as NKRO keyboards, which can have costs lower than $100. You position your hands on the NKRO keyboard like you would on a stenotype, with the Q being the top left, initial S, and the TYGH being a double-wide asterisk key.
The big benefit of this idea is it has created a community that absolutely loves steno. One brave, magnificent self-teacher built a $200 stenotype that works with Plover and is perfect for learning. Its mechanical keys, though different and noisier than a stenotype, are in the same hand positioning, and make it a perfect tool to train someone for one tenth the cost.
But wait. Can you believe that statement? Someone found out about stenography, and loved it so much, that he made a keyboard to emulate stenographic keyboards! What does this tell us? Open stenography up to the world, and we’ll find 10, 100, 1,000 people all ready to bring their skills, hobbies, and interests into the fold! There’s a chat room filled with people to talk about steno, steno ideas, and life in general; some share their practice sessions, and everybody helps everybody.
Helping All Learners.
We all have different paths to walk. I personally had a traditional stenographic education and earned an AOS in Court Reporting, but I accept that there are millions of people in this country and billions around the world with different learning styles. I think if we all begin to promote different ways to learn, people will be drawn to our profession naturally. Pulled from the Open Steno community, we already have the NKRO Keyboard Learning, Official Plover Learning, textbook, and free textbook. If more stenographers take an interest, one day perhaps we can have full Youtube series dedicated to teaching people, and open and accessible to any who want to learn. It is down to all of us to advocate for the field, and we get there by acknowledging that the brick and mortars, online courses, and self-teaching methods all have the potential to bring us Steno Stars, and advocating that people join by whatever method they can!
(An audio version of this blog post can be found here: https://youtu.be/uN1B4-DiaiE )
(July 2019 Update: Ted has apparently moved his textbook to a different source or server.)