In this interview, Leslie Schultz, Strada Tech Support Manager and a TypeWell Transcriber, clues us in to some new captioning options for presentations, discusses the future of AI in accessibility, and champions accessibility advocates.
How did you find your way to Strada?
During college, I was an undergraduate research assistant for a faculty member in the ethnomusicology department and spent a lot of time digitizing and transcribing primary sources. A few years later, I was new to the Portland area and came across an ad seeking academic transcribers. The job description really piqued my interest since it seemed to align with my prior experience and would be a positive contribution to the lives of others. The opportunity to learn a new skill and be back in an educational setting (which I was really missing at the time) was also very appealing.
Shortly after submitting my resume and taking what turned out to be the TypeWell screening exam, I met with Chanel and learned more about the role of a TypeWell transcriber and about Strada as a company. Strada sponsored my TypeWell training, and after serving several years as an independent contractor for a number of clients, I was thrilled to join the Strada team as an employee in 2012.
What do you do at Strada?
In my primary role of Tech Support Manager, I spend most of my time planning and coordinating support for our clients, service providers, and staff members. Since we provide services throughout the U.S. (and beyond) and have a remote workforce, there's a technical component to nearly every aspect of our business, from our virtual office infrastructure to the provision of actual end-user products and services.
We do a lot of advance training and testing with providers and clients to set everyone up for success, particularly for remote captioning/transcription and video remote ASL interpreting (VRI). We also have staff on-call and available during all service hours to assist with troubleshooting and questions. We don't want anyone feeling like they're left hanging out on their own in the case of an unanticipated issue!
Other roles of the Tech Support department include research and testing of new products and platforms to expand on what we can offer to clients. In many cases we also configure and lend out equipment for services. This includes laptops and audio equipment, which we also regularly update and maintain.
I also really enjoy getting to continue working as a TypeWell transcriber, keeping my skills up and directly providing communication access for people with disabilities. Since I mostly work out of my home, it's always a nice change of pace to go out into the community and get to work with people face-to-face.
What do you love about your work?
More than anything, I love and appreciate the opportunity to get up every day and make a tangible contribution to people's lives. The ripple effects of individuals meeting their potential, with the support of communication access services, go far beyond a single class or meeting. It's also very rewarding to help educate businesses and organizations on the benefits and importance of accessibility so that they can hopefully move forward with these ideas and let it inform other parts of their work and lives.
What’s something interesting you’ve learned on the job recently?
There are several new products (StreamText.Net's StreamCast and 1CapApp's 1Fuzion) which allow caption text to be overlaid on top of other material on a computer's desktop image, including PowerPoint slides, videos, graphics, etc. These services are affordable and scalable in cost and also easy to use, bringing a polished captioning appearance to consumer-level presentations and other events without the need for a separate projector and screen for the captioning. A/V teams with more specialized video equipment can also use these features combined with a video switcher with PIP capability to add captioning to a live camera feed for events such as graduations or large conferences without the expense of renting a caption encoder.
These platforms are compatible with the writing software used by CART captioners, voice writers, and even TypeWell transcribers. If you have any questions or if you’re interested in a demo, please feel free to contact us at email@example.com!
How do you think accessibility will change in the next ten years?
Artificial intelligence is going to continue evolving in the accessibility field, and I think we'll see a continued shift to human labor being used to verify and polish the raw output from AI sources. It's already significantly easier for content creators to add their own captioning to videos and make their websites and documents fully accessible with a variety of automated tools. Computerized voice recognition is certainly not yet a viable alternative to human captioners in most situations, as anyone who's watched YouTube's automatic closed captioning is aware, but the algorithms are only going to improve with time. It will be crucial for consumers and those in the industry to advocate for quality controls and best practices so that reducing labor costs doesn't come at the expense of the end user.
What do you love to do when you’re not working?
Outside of work, I enjoy spending time with my husband, Chad, and our dog, Maeby. My leisure activities involve listening to as much live music as much as possible, cooking and taking advantage of the amazing restaurants and breweries in the Portland area, and being outdoors in nature. When the rainy season arrives, there's a good chance I'm watching sports of some kind, particularly Oklahoma Sooner football (my undergraduate alma mater) or the Portland Trailblazers.
What do you wish people knew about accessibility?
A commitment to ensuring that materials, events, and spaces are accessible to those with disabilities is a crucial piece of an organization's values around diversity and inclusion. Just one or two accessibility advocates can make a huge difference, even in a large organization, by standing up for what's right and being persistent.
Curious about the rest of our team? Visit our team page.