Using Speech to Text Transcription via TypeWell

One of the access options available to a deaf student in the classroom is TypeWell. What is TypeWell? It is a system that transcribes speech to text in real time using licensed TypeWell software, but not verbatim (which is what Communication Access Realtime Translation -- CART -- does). TypeWell only translates speech meaning for meaning (m4m). Deaf students watch the transcription appear on a computer.

Meaning for Meaning

Meaning for Meaning transcription is similar to sign language interpreting. Sign language interpreters do not interpret every word. Likewise, a TypeWell transcriber focuses on the "meat" of what is said, disregarding what is "noise," such as repetitive language. Students do not miss out on the nuances of classroom life, as things like jokes are transcribed.

Advantages of TypeWell

TypeWell can offer some advantages. One advantage of TypeWell is that due to its conciseness, the transcript can include emphasis that may not be possible in a verbatim transcript. Another advantage is that a TypeWell transcript can be easier to study from. One more advantage is that becoming a TypeWell transcriber requires less training than for CART, making the cost of TypeWell lower than for CART.

TypeWell Transcriber Training

TypeWell offers a distance learning training course that consists of 29 lessons that take between 35 to 60 hours to complete. To become a TypeWell transcriber, a candidate must be able to type a minimum of 55 words per minute with no errors.

From a TypeWell Transcriber

In an email, a TypeWell transcriber explained more about TypeWell:

Q: How did you become interested in becoming a TypeWell transcriber?

A: I was drawn to this profession after a friend of a friend told me about it. I was a fast typist to begin with. I absolutely love being in the classroom learning new subjects. The challenge of transcribing really appealed to me. Now that I've been doing it a while (five years), I've come to appreciate the flexibility in hours and the fact that I can do it anywhere, including from home. I've also enjoyed the opportunity to mentor new transcribers.

Q: Can you explain more about meaning for meaning?

A: One reason that students request CART services is that they believe that it is a "perfect representation" of everything that the hearing students are getting. In fact, verbatim is a translation, not a perfect representation, since it does not include information such as the speaker’s intonation and pauses. A false start or a misplaced negative (such as "not" or "doesn’t") can even make the reader think the opposite of what the speaker meant. For example, if someone says, "Capitalism doesn’t sometimes it solves this type of problem," the intonation is needed to understand whether the speaker meant that Capitalism solves the problem.

Meaning-for-meaning transcription, on the other hand, is a translation of the speaker’s intended meaning into concise sentences that can be understood quickly. That is why m4m transcription is also referred to as "text interpreting." Think of text interpreting as capturing all the meaning, in fewer words than were spoken.

Taking spoken English and converting it into clear, written English does involve some changes. A TypeWell m4m transcript often includes the very same words that the speaker uses. However, the word order and length of sentences may be modified, in order to capture that content clearly and concisely. For example, "Capitalism sometimes solves this." In addition, transcriber comments are occasionally inserted to key the reader into other nonverbal information that the hearing students are getting (unlike verbatim).

Transcriber comments can direct the reader where to look, such as [On overhead], or can clarify what is going on, such as [Teacher reading: poem on page 34.] TypeWell transcribers are trained how and when to use such comments and directives appropriately. We are trained to accurately represent the speaker’s level of vocabulary and grammar (including mistakes), since those, too, are part of the speaker’s overall message.

Q: How physically demanding is TypeWell compared to CART or sign language interpreting?

A: The job of transcribing is very much like that of a sign language interpreter, in terms of pay, risk of repetitive motion injury, working hours, etc.

Q: The TypeWell site says most jobs are part-time, from 10 to 30 hours a week. Even working part-time could someone support themselves with only the income from a TypeWell transcription job?

A: Most recently, I worked in New York City, where the pay rates were far higher than what is quoted on the TypeWell website. Pay levels are comparable to those of sign language interpreters. I was able to support myself through graduate school working as a transcriber part-time, even with the high cost of living in NYC.

Q: What comments, if any, have you had from people who experienced both CART and TypeWell?

A: Several consumers that I worked with who had experienced both CART and TypeWell said they preferred the transcripts generated by TypeWell when studying for exams, writing papers, reviewing lectures, etc. They said the format of the finished transcripts was much easier to read, and they appreciated not having to print out and sift through so much material. One consumer specifically told me that they preferred to use TypeWell during class because it was easier to read than CART. They just wanted the content that "mattered."

I recall another consumer who preferred to use TypeWell after having sign language interpreting for several years, because they were learning English as a third language. They realized that TypeWell would provide the exact vocabulary they needed to know for the major licensing exams. TypeWell helped them immensely with their English spelling and grammar skills, because they got so much practice reading.

Q: Could a high school dropout become a TypeWell transcriber if working at the high school level or below?

A: The training is actually what sets TypeWell apart from other transcribing systems. One thing, though, is that transcribers need to be sharp to start with. The school-level qualification that you asked about is really about topic and vocabulary knowledge, more than general education level. Once you understand the cognitive processes involved in m4m transcription, it becomes obvious that a transcriber must understand the topic of a lecture. I know the requirements for entry into TypeWell training can be stringent.

Q: How difficult is it to learn via the TypeWell online training program?

A: The training is the most critical part of the TypeWell software system. It allows trainees to come up to speed relatively quickly because it is high-tech and customized to each trainee. That’s really the secret to producing qualified transcribers. As a professional transcriber, I appreciate the responsiveness of TypeWell for information, technical support, and general queries, even though years have passed since I graduated. They are very focused on the quality of transcribers –- and ultimately, the quality of services provided to consumers. So while they are very supportive of trainees, they hold the line on transcript quality so that only qualified transcribers graduate.

TypeWell training is not just about learning how to type quickly using an abbreviation system. It is about capturing a speaker’s meaning accurately; learning to transform even most dense information into clearly worded sentences; quickly identifying questions or cues from the speaker and communicating those to the reader; and a host of other skills that are needed to provide high-quality communication access.

Q: Could a competitor easily imitate TypeWell?

A: The TypeWell software itself is a pretty advanced technology with years of refinement. I imagine it would be hard to imitate, since it’s got such a large built-in dictionary with over 200,000 words and interlocked features that allow us to transcribe fast. It has been refined over the years (now up to version 5, with new features that allow transcribers to quickly type math/science equations and use the software remotely).

Q: Anything else you would like to add about TypeWell?

A: Your readers may be interested in knowing about the difference between communication access and information access. I consider note taking to be just information access, while communication access requires a much more faithful recording of what was said, and how it was said. The ideas are presented in full sentences. Speakers are identified. Major points are written rich detail. This way, the reader gets the feel of the whole context, in addition to the content.

Related Blog Posts on TypeWell

TypeWell has been discussed on the Deafness blog in these blog posts:



email interview, April 2009

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