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Coordinator Spotlight: Tina Cowsert at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

I interviewed Tina Cowsert recently about her process of acclimation to her new position as Access Specialist for Deaf/HOH and Blind/Low Vision students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Disability Resources and Educational Services (DRES) is a bustling and extensive department, and I was aware that TypeWell was likely only a small portion of Tina's position, particularly in the first few weeks, so I checked in with her about two months after her start date for this interview.

It is apparent how pivotal a strong supervisor can be for the success of TypeWell services at a given university.

My first meeting with Tina months before, she had given an apologetic shrug about her (temporary) lack of knowledge and carefully listened to my brief description of what I do as a TypeWell transcriber, before promising to get herself up to speed. It is clear that the steps she has taken to understand TypeWell and her role as the university's coordinator and advocate for speech-to-text services were effective. When I arrived to interview her, she was prepared, confident, and warm.

What did you know about TypeWell before you were hired for this position?

TC: Nothing. I hadn't even heard of it. I had heard of court stenographers, and closed captioning for the deaf, but I had never seen or heard of something that seemed more like "live" closed captioning.

What, if anything, did you learn about it before your start date?

TC: I went into panic mode. I got on the internet and did a bit of research. At the beginning, I was confused about the different types [of transcription services]. I thought they were all the same.

Did TypeWell come up during your application process?

TC: It came up at the interview. I wasn't sure what they were talking about. I knew TypeWell was something I would have to learn more about. That was at the top of my priority list.

Tina Cowsert in her officeTina Cowsert at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, with her Certificate of Completion from TypeWell 101, a course offered through TypeWell's Learning & Enrichment Online.

What proportion of your job is related to transcribing services for students?

TC: About a third of my job is scheduling TypeWell and CART services. I also have to advocate for the services we provide. So part of my job is emailing and phoning prospective students who are inquiring about what is on offer. The beginnings of the semester are about scheduling, but two months in, most of my work is about educating and informing students about what is available.

In a related question, do you consider yourself fully informed now to help students understand what TypeWell is and how it is distinct from other transcribing services?

TC: I am absolutely the voice for TypeWell here. I explain differences from other options, and how it can be used in the classroom. I explain how transcribing options are different from receiving class notes from a peer.

Tina spoke to how she now considers herself to be a clear TypeWell advocate:

TC: I am not done learning, and I wouldn't say I know everything about it, but the class that I just took was wonderful.

Speak to the training course you took, TypeWell 101: What Service Coordinators Need to Know. Was it required? If not, what made you decide to take the course? Was it helpful, and if so, in what ways?

TC: That class opened my eyes and was a life-saver for the job I have to do. I was already impressed with Kate Ervin. She had contacted me and introduced herself, and offered assistance. She told me about the coordinator's class and I asked permission to take it.

So it was not required, but [my request] was easily accepted. It was a great place to begin understanding what it is, how it helps students, and how to explain it and talk about it to prospective students. The training course was worth my time and effort, and I am better for it.

"Every single thing about the class was useful, effective, and informative."

I printed everything just as a reference in case I forget something. We looked at students, the transcribers, the technology, and then finally, how to be an effective coordinator. The resources were also key: sample job descriptions, evaluation tools, licensing rules, etc. Those were details that I don't know how I would have gotten elsewhere.

Was there an aspect of TypeWell that you found surprising?

TC: I was impressed that transcribing is similar to sign language interpreting, because I do have experience with that. I interpreted my way through college. The idea of listening first, signing meaning-for-meaning, and then communicating — that aspect makes sense to me. There is nothing wrong with verbatim, but I see such logic in the meaning-for-meaning in terms of not exhausting the deaf student, offering them an accurate representation in a way that mirrors how their peers get it.

At the beginning, I was confused about the different types [of transcription services]. I thought they were all the same.

I also appreciate the transcripts, the fact that you can refer to them whenever you want to. With a peer notetaker who isn't trained, you may not understand their notes, they may not catch everything, etc.

I am so impressed with everything I have seen: the services, the people, even my peers in my TypeWell 101 class. They were willing to discuss, post scenarios, and exchange information, and the instructors let us figure out a lot on our own, while being supportive as needed.

When I asked if there was anything else she wanted to convey, Tina's passion for her work was incandescent:

TC: I have had so many friends, students, and peers who are deaf or hard of hearing. To have people dedicated to helping you succeed, and meet your dreams: that is what I have done with my whole life, and I want to make it as smooth as possible for students to find what they need and deserve. 

"Everyone has a calling," says Tina, "and this is mine."

Clearly, TypeWell is a key tool in the array of services that Tina has at hand to offer her students, and as a recent TypeWell aficionado myself, I share her enthusiasm. In a recent pepnet course for beginning TypeWell transcribers, one of the running themes was coordinator support and awareness; it is apparent how pivotal a strong supervisor who has departmental support can be for the success of TypeWell at a given university. Tina, with the backing of DRES, fills that role with aplomb.

April%20spisak

April Spisak

April Spisak completed her Typewell training in the summer of 2014, and she now works for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as an hourly transcriber.

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