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Interview with Bill Graham, ALDA co-founder and speech-to-text entrepreneur

Bill Graham is exceptional in at least two ways: 1) he is deaf, and 2) he is a successful business owner. His start-up firm, CaptionAccess, provides primarily TypeWell and CART services on a remote basis to clients across the United States. Our interview was conducted via email.

Ken: Bill, how have you made the transition from someone receiving services to someone providing them?

I've been a consumer of CART services since they first came onto the scene... there was no way for people who become deaf as adults to interact with one another except by reading text. Few knew any sign language, let alone had fluency. Few lip-read very well, and none of us could hear.

Bill: I've been a consumer of CART services since they first came onto the scene. I co-founded the Association of Late-Deafened Adults (ALDA) in 1987 when there was no way for people who become deaf as adults to interact with one another except by reading text. Few knew any sign language, let alone had fluency. Few lip-read very well, and none of us could hear.

At first we had a hearing person type on a Smith-Corona with three carbon copies stuffed into it. Every ten minutes she would pass around the carbons so people could catch up on what had been said. Maybe this method of speech-to-text can be considered a Neanderthal form of the TypeWell system. 

When I became a provider of speech-to-text services it was natural for me to offer CART, using both voice-writers and stenos. I had never experienced TypeWell so it wasn't on my radar at first. I became increasingly aware of its popularity in post-secondary settings, and so ultimately began to offer TypeWell services, too. I've been very impressed with TypeWell. I saw immediately that it could be used effectively in non-classroom settings. If I were still a corporate employee, I wouldn't be disinclined to use TypeWell for meetings.

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"At first we had a hearing person type on a Smith-Corona with three carbon copies stuffed into it," says Bill. "Every ten minutes she would pass around the carbons so people could catch up on what had been said. Maybe this method of speech-to-text can be considered a Neanderthal form of the TypeWell system."

Ken: You attended the U.S. Business Leadership Network® (USBLN®) conference, which you described as, "major corporations trying to hire people with disabilities or procure their services." You were also a finalist in their Idol Competition. Can you explain what this organization is all about?

Bill Graham in his office

Bill: USBLN® is, according to its Web site, a "national non-profit that helps business drive performance by leveraging disability inclusion in the workplace, supply chain, and marketplace." In lay-speak: "hiring people with disabilities and purchasing their services and products."

USBLN® certifies Disability-Owned Business Enterprises, or DOBEs, and assists them in making connections with major corporations. The Idol Competition takes place each year at the USBLN convention. Prior to the convention, DOBEs are asked to submit an "elevator pitch" (brief description) about their company in 25 words or less. Five finalists are picked to compete for the coveted Idol title. The final five are given one minute — a stop watch is used — to expand on the 25-word pitch as if they were in the elevator for a couple more floors. There is a panel of three judges from major corporations which picks its favorite. Judging is based on conciseness about what your company does, word choice, poise, a personal touch, and the ability to beat the clock. I didn't win, but as the emcee was quick to point out several times, there were no losers. Next year I'm in it to win it.

Ken: And what is the "elevator-version" of your company's description?

Bill: CaptionAccess provides communication access for deaf and hard-of-hearing people via captioning, both for live events and pre-recorded video. We specialize in company meetings, webinars, school classes, and online videos and audios. We want to caption the world, one word at a time.

Ken: And captioning includes TypeWell?

Bill: "Captioning" may seem a misnomer with TypeWell in the mix, but it's easier for people to understand in an elevator.

Ken: What is your basic business philosophy and how did you get to where you are now?

Bill: I've been a consumer of speech-to-text services most of my adult life. My business philosophy is to treat customers how I'd want to be treated, which includes top-notch service. And I am in awe of speech-to-text providers — they have helped me achieve things in my personal and professional life that I never dreamed of when I lost my hearing. What they do takes tremendous skill. I let them know that what they do means a lot to the people who use their services — when one of their students graduates, they should toss a cap in the air, too.

Ken: How did you learn about TypeWell and what do you like best about it?

Bill: I worked part-time with ACS (Alternative Communication Services) for 18 months and became aware of how popular TypeWell is in the post-secondary market. When I started my own company providing CART services, we lost out to TypeWell enough times in bidding for contracts that I'd have to be a giant dope not to make sense of the tea leaves. I like the clarity and conciseness of TypeWell and also the user interface. It's easy for me to read.

photo credit: Marilyn M via photopin cc

Editor's note: If you follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, or Facebook, then you know that October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), a national campaign that raises awareness about disability employment issues.  

To kick off NDEAM next year, USBLN® will hold its 17th Annual Conference & Expo in Orlando, Florida, September 29 – October 2, 2014 at the Renaissance Orlando at SeaWorld hotel.

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Ken Deutsch

Ken is a TypeWell transcriber, examiner and blogger who likes to dress up as "Kyp" on Halloween.

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