The Quiet Musings

Attending conferences with a text interpreter

- June 20th, 2018 -

I started attending conferences, workshops, and meetups around 2012 or so. I have been deaf since late 2007. But it wasn’t until three years later that I found out there existed such a thing as a text interpreter. It took so long because doctors refer patients who lost their hearing to get an CI implant. They don’t supply folders and information on living as a deaf person. They just want to “fix” the problem. But that is a story for another time.

With a text interpreter, a new world opened up for me with many possibilities. And even more when I found out that some of the interpreters can also transcribe English. Some of them transcribe English to English, others English to Dutch. This meant I could also attend talks, meetups, and workshops that are in English.

What is a text interpreter and what do they do exactly?

A text interpreter types everything being said for me on a laptop or tablet. For this, they use a special keyboard that makes it able for them to type more quickly than with a regular keyboard. To become a text interpreter you have to get a degree and many hours of training. Plus they need to learn sign language. It’s not an easy job.

The text is not error-less nor an exact wording of what is being said. It’s not ‘smooth’ like the subtitles on Netflix. Because real life is not scripted into short sentences. People talk fast, low voice, several talking at once, etc. There is also the matter of attending a technical talk, say about SVG, Javascript or even CSS. A text interpreter has zero knowledge on the subject and has to make sure I get a comprehensive translation of what is being said.

A lot of speakers at events talk really fast. They pack a lot of information in one talk that needs to be given in 50 minutes. Hearing people have told me it keeps the talk interesting and upbeat. For me, it becomes very difficult to get everything. A text interpreter can’t keep up with all the information. On a normal tempo, I already get the text with a couple of seconds delay. When someone is talking very fast, it gets even more delayed and incomplete.

Right now, it is better than nothing. At Fronteers conference they supply English subtitles for their conferences which is awesome. These are done by a team of interpreters who also have experience transcribing technical talks. This is great for me and other deaf or hard of hearing people. Also for people who are not fluent in English. They can use the subtitles to take in the information at their own pace. I still take a text interpreter with me. Because if there is a connection error to the subtitles screen I miss everything while they work on restoring the connection. At such time my interpreter takes over so I don’t miss everything.

My text interpreter also translates for me during breaks and lunch. When I can’t lipread someone she’ll repeat it to me and use supporting Dutch sign language so I can follow along. She might even type it on the phone if it is too complicated. You could also just use your phone when talking to me, it’s just like sending a WhatsApp, only I’m standing right there! 🙂

‘What is that noise?’

During events, workshops, and meetups I always sit in front. My text interpreter can hear it best from the front and have a clear view of the slides. They also need the room to sit comfortably with the keyboard. As for me, I read body language to compensate for not hearing the tone. I’m tiny, sitting in the back or even middle makes it almost impossible for me to see the speaker or have a clear view of the slides.

Text being transcribed for me during a conference

Obviously, every time I get stares, looks and some people even ask what it’s all about. Which is normal human behavior. We always answer and explain what, why and how. Unfortunately, there have been complaints about the keyboard noise. I have no idea how loud it is. I do know most people are not bothered by it. I have no idea if the people complaining (sometimes in not a very nice way) know that there is a text interpreter in the room. Which inspired me to write this blog to bring awareness to the existence of deaf people or hard of hearing people attending conferences, meetups, and workshops with a text interpreter or a sign language interpreter.

the more accessible events are for everyone, the more knowledge we all gain

I have been informed that some people find sign language interpreters distracting. They have to stand in front to sign to the deaf person. Even tho I don’t use a sign language interpreter, I have been to events with them and have not found it distracting at all. I’m fully aware that they are a necessity for deaf and hard of hearing to participate equally.

It would be great if in the future all events provide text and sign language transcribers, and wheelchair accessible locations by default. I know it costs money, hopefully, companies will be more willing to sponsors these things. After all, the more accessible events are for everyone, the more knowledge we all gain to apply to our work and daily life. A win-win situation for everyone.

Accessible Train Travel

- June 8th, 2018 -

Since I moved to the Netherlands in the year 2000, my main transport mode has been public transport. During my college years, I lived in another city than where I attended school and had to travel a total of 3 hours daily by train with NS and by default ProRail. The past 7 years, I travel for work 4 days a week by tram, train, and metro. Suffice to say I’m a seasoned train traveler. I’ve seen train travel improve, from making them all non-smoker to adding digital screens and an app. Gone are the days of trying to figure out on the yellow boards how to travel.

But for me as a late-deaf person, train service still leaves a lot to desire. Even with the screens in the train and an app. I always have a hard time figuring what is going on when there are train delays. It happens often that the screens in the trains are turned off. When they are in use the only information they show are the stops, current time and eventual time delay. If for some reason the train is standing still on the tracks a long time there isn’t a message on the screen explaining why. The only way to know what’s going on right away, is to hear it on the intercom from the conductor.

And most importantly yet. Safety. NS takes(rightfully so) the sign of doors closing very serious. You can get a hefty fine for trying to sneak in last second between the closing doors.

But I’m deaf, I can’t hear when the conductor whistles for doors closing. In Rotterdam when I get out of the metro sometimes I have about 4 minutes to make it to my train. I’m busy jogging up stairs, navigating the mass of people, checking-in, dodging more people, then going up the escalators to the platform. Even when I see on my watch there is one minute left, it might be less. Once I was just getting in when the doors closed, almost getting my backpack stuck. I thought I still had time left. But obviously, the conductor had already whistled. This could have been a potentially unsafe situation and I could have gotten a fine of hundreds of euros because I can’t hear the whistle signaling doors closing.

It made me think about why there aren’t any visual alert system that the doors are closing? If all doors were fitted with a red light that turns on or flashes, signaling doors closing. I wouldn’t have to stress if I’m trying to catch a train last minute. I would know if I still have time to get in or not. It would be handy too for hearing people who were still too far to hear the whistle but running fast enough that they’d think they still can get on the train.

Train travel would be so much more relaxing, accessible, safe and fun for hard of hearing and deaf people if we had easy access to last minute information and if the doors closing signal is also visible instead of only accessible to hearing people.