IM this article to a friend!

November 25, 2002

Mysterious typist reveals her location

From: The Argus, CA - 25 Nov 2002

Closed captioner for Fremont council, school board in Wisconsin, throughout U.S.
By Melissa Evans , STAFF WRITER
FREMONT -- The words appear on a monitor almost as soon as they're spoken. But who is the mysterious typist transcribing dialogue for the hearing impaired at local city council and school board meetings?

Fremont school district trustees wondered themselves at a recent board meeting. One school official finally asked: "Where are you?"

They waited for a moment. And finally, the word "Wisconsin" came up on the monitor.

The typists, formally called closed captioners, can be located anywhere in the country. Linda Chavez, whose San Francisco-based closed-caption company contracts with the city of Fremont, has workers transcribing local meetings who live and work as far away as Hawaii.

Because it still is a relatively new profession, the demand for good captioners requires that concessions be made, Chavez said.

"There's not a lot of good captioners out there," said

Chavez, whose family-owned company, Chavez Group, also contracts with the city of San Francisco.

Captioners -- most of whom are former court reporters -- sit in a room with headphones, listening to the audio of meetings transmitted through a phone line.

In order to type quickly, they use a special phonetic keyboard that wouldn't make much sense to the average typist. The captioners hit combinations of letters to create their own alphabet. With the stroke of one key, the captioners can type a whole phrase.

"It's really like learning a whole new language," said Chavez, adding that the captioners type an average of 200 words per minute.

Because everything is written by sound, problems sometimes arise. At a recent Ohlone Board of Education meeting, for example, the word "Ohlone" was spelled "Aloni."

"(The profession of captioning) is more highly skilled than court reporting," Chavez said. "Court reporters can go back and fix their notes. With captioning, the moment you write it, people see it. If you make a mistake, it's for the whole world to see."

The Fremont City Council takes frequent breaks to allow the captioner time to rest, said Renee Elliott, deputy city clerk. The city, which has used closed captioning for the past decade, used to have a live person in the room transcribing dialogue.

"It became apparent that more and more the norm seemed to be remote," Elliott said. "With travel time expenses and that sort of thing, it's just easier to provide the service remotely."

Cable subscribers pick up the tab for this service with a surcharge on their monthly bills, Elliott said. Captioning is provided for public meetings of the city council, planning commission and school district, as well as Ohlone board meetings.

The cities of Newark and Union City do not yet use the service. Most cities, however, eventually will be required to provide closed captioning under new requirements of the American Disabilities Act, Chavez said.

Are there sites or issues you are curious about? Contact Robert Airoldi at (510) 353-7011 or , or send your story idea to "Ever Wonder?" at The Argus, 39737 Paseo Padre Parkway, Fremont 94538.

©1999-2002 by MediaNews Group, Inc. and ANG Newspapers