My son is a skilled compensator for his hearing loss. At 2, before we knew he had a hearing loss, he always wanted to be held and would physically turn my face towards his. Little did we know he was advocating for his needs and using beginning lip reading skills. I write all of this not to brag (although, of course, I am a proud mama) but to help explain that even with how well he can understand spoken language with his CIs, his speechreading, and his brainpower, he still misses things. Sometimes he is able to “fill in the blanks,” but I know that takes a lot of effort all day long. He makes it look easy, but it must be exhausting. And sometimes he just plain misses things. We have conversations like:
Me: “What did your teacher say about the math assignment?”
Me: “WHAT?!?! She must have talked about it today since it is due tomorrow.”
Now, sometimes it is probably true that the teacher or coach forgot to talk about whatever I was asking about. But when this scenario has repeated itself many times over the years, I’ve grown to accept that as good a listener as he is and as skilled at compensating as he is, he misses parts of conversations that he is not aware of. That is one thing in 2nd grade, quite another in 7th. Enter TRANSCRIPTION! Transcription in a nutshell is converting speech to text.
At this point, some readers may be thinking, "my child is successfully using an ASL interpreter at school, why would transcription be needed?" In that case, it likely isn’t needed. If your child is accessing the curriculum successfully with quality interpretation, then transcription could be a redundant service.
In our case, as we prepared for middle school, my son’s IEP team agreed that he could use the support of transcription in most of his academic courses. In our school district, transcription is provided through TypeWell. C-Print is a similar service to TypeWell. Both TypeWell and C-Print provide a meaning-for-meaning transcript. Typewell’s website describes this strategy as “conveying the essential meaning of what is said, without false starts, redundant phrasing, and other extraneous text.” Other districts might use CART (Communication Access Real-Time Translation), which provides a word-for-word transcript. Think open captioning.
How does it work? A transcriber attends each of my son’s designated classes in person (in other districts, the transcriber could also be located off-site). She produces the essence of the discussion in clear English text, which appears immediately on a laptop (provided by the transcriber) on my son's desk. Critically, this includes both what the teacher is saying but also any comments other students make. Now, he can focus on learning the material being taught and not using his brainpower to “fill in the blanks." It is now ok if the teacher is talking while writing on the board. My son doesn’t break his neck swiveling in his chair so that he can read the lips of whomever is speaking. He can access the comments of the soft spoken classmate who sits across the room. If he isn’t quite sure what was said, he merely has to look at the laptop, see what he missed and continue learning. Later he may look back at the transcript to find that he misunderstood or completely missed a portion of the lesson. I asked my son what he thinks about transcription and he answered, “I like being able to see what they say.”
I am often asked if the transcript is saved and provided after the class. It can be. After class, the transcriber may clean up the transcript to remove irrelevant or incorrect information. We had one teacher who reviewed it each night to approve for accuracy (now that is dedication we appreciate!). The transcript can be emailed to the student, posted to a website, or saved to GoogleDocs to name a few options. Some teachers could decide to make it available to other students who also have unique needs or even to the whole class. Why not? It already exists.
Transcription is something that should be addressed with your child’s IEP team. To start with, you need to evaluate whether your child is ready for transcription. Are her/his reading skills strong? Is s/he able to juggle utilizing the transcript while still participating in what is happening in the classroom? For us, this happened around 6th grade, but could be earlier or later in your case. You’ll also want to hone in on the classes where transcription will provide appropriate benefit (and this can change year-to-year). For example, a science class where most of the material is taught through lecture might be a good fit for transcription. A class consisting mostly of small group projects may not. Discuss these and other related questions with your IEP team to figure out if transcription is suitable.
Some might think transcription is an unfair advantage. It is not. If my son is absent, the transcriber doesn’t attend class in his place. It merely levels the playing field, allowing my son to access his educational curriculum in a manner that works with his unique needs. Will transcription be useful for everyone? Of course not. But it might for your child. Check it out!
For more information, visit the links throughout this blog post (noted in green text) and check out this easy-to-understand explanation by Hands and Voices, as well as this info offered by the National Court Reporters Association.
Here's to an accessible and successful academic year!
DEAF Project Parent Mentor