COVID Impacts on TypeWell Transcribers

COVID Impacts on TypeWell transcribers. White thermometer on red background. Text: "Taking Our Temperature: TypeWell Copes with the Coronavirus Pandemic"

Earlier in the summer, we asked TypeWell transcribers about their work experience during the coronavirus pandemic. We expected a range of answers from “there is no change” to “there is no work.” We got that and much more about the COVID impacts on TypeWell Transcribers.

Your heartfelt responses have been difficult to read, but also remarkably reaffirming.  There is much we can learn from this difficult and unprecedented experience.  Thank you for your candor and your commitment to providing TypeWell services for individuals who need access to real-time communication.

We’ll touch first on your responses to how COVID impacts TypeWell transcribers’ job security and well being.  Let’s begin with some of the starkest responses.  Here are a few.

“I have lost all my contracted hours due to COVID-19.  I am the only one supporting my family.”

“Almost overnight, I went from 35 hours of work a seek down to two hours.  At the time I’m taking this survey, those classes just ended, too.”

As an independent contractor, I have only had a very few opportunities to provide services since the pandemic started. I offer my services as each and every available job is posted, but I’m sure the competition is high and am rarely awarded any jobs.”

“I have always felt extremely fortunate to have this skill, but even more so now.  With all classes being online now through at least the summer, I’m just as busy as ever. I’m beyond grateful to have a job where even if the location changes, we can adjust and continue providing services.”

“Though I’m thankfully still paid for the same hours of work, the actual work I’m doing takes much less time and is very remote.  I miss the people and the nonverbal cues I was better able to capture with everyone in the same room.  Remote transcribing after the fact does not jibe with me, as I was hired as an in-class transcriber. I wish I could continue to do that!”

“I’m concerned that our students aren’t being appropriately accommodated.  Just because transcriber contracts were canceled by universities moving to online learning doesn’t mean our students don’t need us.”

“I was worried that my students weren’t going to have access, because most of my classes did not need me to transcribe.  Only one class went to live virtual class out of the six I was transcribing. What did the others do?  How did my students fare?”

“I was lucky and qualified for unemployment due to another job.  That said, the gig economy is really hard and I doubt I will come back to TypeWell unless there is an uptick I clientele, but I don’t see that happening.  Sad and frustrating.”

“Ultimately, this event likely will improve and extend the need for these services, even though it is hard right now and an unfortunate event.”

“Working from home is increasingly isolating and lonely. I’m staring at a computer all day without human contact.  I get eyestrain daily.  I got into this job to work with people, but I’m not happy with the lack of human contact with transcribing in general. … After 15 years in this field, I’m thinking of making a career change.”

“Captioning in Zoom is fine. The loss of income is terrifying.”

“I’m afraid of what the fall semester is going to look like.”

COVID-19 impacts on transcribers: average 14.5 hours/week for TypeWell services, down from 25 hours/week before the pandemic.

COVID-19 impacts on transcribers: 34% applied for financial assistance from either federal or state/province programs.

Next, many of you commented about the unforeseen technological barriers that you and your students now face in virtual classes, and how this “new normal” affects your job satisfaction. COVID impacts on TypeWell transcribers flow intermittently between the transcribers, students, and education systems.

Some said that the transition to online learning has worked surprisingly well, although not without some adjustments. Most, however, had specific criticisms about the limitations of Zoom technology and its interface with TypeWell along with concerns about long-term effects on job satisfaction. 

Remote transcribing is not new for most transcribers; the key difference is that classes that once took place on campus are now meeting online, largely on Zoom or other videoconferencing platforms.  Following is a sampling of your comments about adjusting to this new virtual class environment:

“It wasn’t too hard to transition to being a remote provider, having done many remote classes before. However, it was actually better because the instructor could speak directly into the microphone rather than relying on the student to place a microphone in the room, and I had the same visual experience as other students. So, actually better than other remote transcribing experiences, but not as good as being in the classroom.”

“It’s like having the rug ripped out from under you and landing on a concrete slab. I trained when remote captioning wasn’t a part of the training. Though I know I can do it I’ve no idea what ‘typing into a textbox’ or ‘1CapApp’ or ‘Streamtext’ are or how to use them. Being self-employed, working through an agency, I do not have IT people to help me and cannot afford to pay for additional training.”

“What I enjoy about Zoom Meeting is that I am able to see the instructor’s PowerPoint presentation and because of that I feel like my remote transcription is better. There are times instructors provide the PowerPoints prior to class, and that has always helped, but seeing the PowerPoint as they discuss helped me to chunk better and spell some unfamiliar terms.”

“I normally do remote only, so working remote is not new. Working within the Zoom captioning box isn’t ideal because: 1) it makes on the fly PAL additions not really possible; 2) the caption box is hard on my eyes, even when I increase text size, and there is no way to position the box so either neck isn’t turned or so the presentation isn’t obscured  (so it’s bad ergonomically); 3) I transcribe foreign language classes and there’s no way to switch F key modes/dictionaries/languages within Zoom, so foreign language classes would be nearly impossible to do unless they stuck to that foreign language for the entire session; 4) the transcript is saved with time stamps; 5) the transcriber must be quick on the draw at the end of class to save the file before the host ends the call; 6) the writer can’t go back and correct mistakes or misspellings once a line break is made; and 7) the writer can’t set up her software in the way that’s most comfortable and easy on her eyes, e.g. black background yellow text, chosen font. We also can’t 8) see the best abbreviations for words we type on the bottom of the window like we would in TypeWell Transcriber.”

“I am quite concerned about typing within the Zoom platform using TypeWell Everywhere. It works, but I don’t like loss of control over the notes or even connecting to captions. Professors are not the most reliable and not always responsive to chat. Zoom combined with StreamText or web linking works great, however.”

“Coordinators should also advocate harder on behalf of their service providers to use methods that are less harmful, such as using the TypeWell web reader or streaming text instead of the caption box.…Using browser add-ins that keep the reader window on top of other windows, for example, should be standard practice. Also if Zoom will continue to be used with embedded captions, there should be better tools to embed into Zoom using native software (rather than tools that have a 30-second delay). Zoom is not going away and neither will this issue.”

Members of the TypeWell team met with a Zoom employee who works on accessibility features, and we discussed some bug fixes and feature requests. While we were able to relay our transcribers’ top concerns to Zoom, the timeline and roadmap for those feature requests and bug fixes are not within our control.

We continue to monitor the overall landscape for transcribers and the COVID impacts on TypeWell transcribers. We will continue to solicit your thoughts about a situation that will likely be challenging and require flexibility, patience, and adaptation.