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The Transcriber Who Knew Too Much

The TypeWell Code of Ethics dictates that transcribers should serve as a “conduit of information” for consumers. In the tale I’m about to relate, a seasoned TypeWell transcriber knew that principle, but chose the wrong action.

It was during a literature class that our remote transcriber heard the teacher make two factually incorrect statements to the class: 1) that John Kennedy was assassinated in 1962, and 2) the name of the man who wrote The Medium is the Message (1967) was McClellan.

The Transcriber

The transcriber knew that in the first case, it should have been 1963, and in the second, the real name of the author was Marshall McLuhan. This is where he took a misstep and went into a role he should not have taken, that of tutor, fellow student or even teacher. He sent the student a typed message via Skype, pointing out the teacher’s errors.

The transcriber should have just typed out what the teacher said and left it to the consumer, along with the rest of the class, to sort it out. If a transcriber provides different information than what the teacher provides, then this puts the student in an awkward situation. What does the consumer do with this information?

In this case, the consumer raised her hand in class, and when called on said that her transcriber said such and such. The teacher mumbled something about having prepared her notes in a hurry.

Potentially several things could have happened at this point, all of them unfortunate.
  • The teacher might have been embarrassed in front of the class.
  • The incident could have brought attention to the fact that the consumer was using a service to which the rest of the students did not have access.
  • The teacher could have brought this incident to the attention of the disability office at the college. Word could have gotten back to the agency that employs the transcriber. In an extreme case, the agency could have been fired in favor of a more discreet supplier.
  • The transcriber could think he/she knows the right answer, but could be wrong. In such a case, the student would be given misinformation. 
  • The student could develop an impression that the teacher makes a lot of mistakes, and begin asking the transcriber to confirm what the teacher tells the class. 

Without clear professional boundaries, the student (especially a younger student) could begin to see “teaching” as one of the transcriber's tasks. When a student sees that the transcriber really knows an area well — maybe better than the teacher — the student could begin to ask the transcriber questions about the topic. 

While it may be difficult for a transcriber to type out a teacher’s words that he/she knows are incorrect, it is not up to the transcriber to make that call. And while this situation refers to a Skype message, it would be equally wrong for a transcriber to send the "fixed" information to the student in the transcript, with or without explicitly telling the student that the transcriber had fixed the speaker's errors.

— Anonymous

photo credit: ilouque via photopin cc


As TypeWell Transcribers we often find ourselves in situations that may require an extra moment or two of thought rather than responding on impulse. When we take a minute to pause we not only serve our consumers better, we also improve upon our skills and provide whole communication access.

For me it can be especially hard to let go of the need for correctness and just allow the consumer to figure it out like the rest of the students. Even if I have to "bite my tongue" to keep from changing the message. It's more important to transcribe the pure message than to be right. Thank you so much to Anonymous for this excellent reminder of our Code of Ethics and our mission to present the message in the manner it was intended. 

Have you ever run into a similar situation?

edited by Rochelle Barlow

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