Berkeleyan
Betty Atanasu Betty Atanasu (Wendy Edelstein photo)

It's my job

Betty Atanasu, Coordinator, Real-time captioning, Disabled Studentsí Program

| 28 August 2009

Fifteen years ago Betty Atanasu trained to be a court reporter, but then decided to use her stenography skills in a different venue. Since 2003, Atanasu has coordinated a team of five captioners who provide in-class lecture transcriptions for 6 to 10 hearing-impaired students per semester.

Q. What is real-time captioning?
A. In the classroom, a captioner records a lecturer’s words on a stenography machine, which feeds into a laptop computer that translates the steno into English, which then appears on a screen for the student to see. After the class, the student can access the transcription on bSpace.

Q. That seems like a tough typing task.
A. It is. You can’t type every letter, so to write fast — 200 or 250 words per minute — you create keystrokes for common words and phrases. For example, I’ve developed macros for words such as “therefore” and, well, “for example.”

Q. What is trickiest about captioning?
A. If you think about anything else while you’re doing it, you’ll drop 20 words. You have to be very focused when you’re in the classroom.

Q. Are there any words that trouble the captioners?
A. The F-word always raises questions. Should we write it or not? I say write it, because you want to make sure that the student gets the complete experience in the classroom. If somebody’s using profanity, the student needs to know that.  

Q. How do you measure success?
A. We measure success by our ability to provide the lecture to the student at the same time as the rest of the class is hearing it. Although we make the transcript available on bSpace right after class, we hope the student is able to participate in real time and doesn't need to refer to that long document after the fact.

Q. What sets your service apart?
A. We do tons of preparation before the classes meet — putting terms common to particular subjects in the computers from the courses’ textbooks, syllabi, and readers to simplify our task.

Q. What do you like best about your job?
A. I like seeing the students graduate, and knowing that captioning helped them attain their goals and go on to their chosen fields.