An Interview with Randi Friedman

Brooke German

April 26, 2019

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Randi Friedman is a wonderful, kind soul. I am fortunate to know her and call her my friend. She generously shares her passion for her career as a captioner.

Brooke German (BG): How did you become interested in working with the hearing impaired?

Randi Friedman (RF): As a freelance court reporter, I had the skills—the ability to stenotype at 225 words per minute and a good command of the English language—to become a Captioner/CART (Communication Access Real-time Translation) provider.

A colleague invited me to provide CART to students at a well-known university in New York City. My first consumer was a student at the law school. When I sat down next to the student, s/he watched my laptop as I captioned the class. I chatted with the student after class, and it was the first time I realized a deaf person could speak and hear, but also needed captioning so they wouldn't miss out on critical words and phrases.

Brooke German (BG): What is one thing people should know about the deaf community?

Randi Friedman (RF):Whenever we say "deaf," people usually start waving their hands around, assuming all people who are deaf can speak sign language. The distinction must be made between this group and those who are deaf and use captioning for accessibility. One in eight people who are deaf or hard of hearing live, work, and play in the hearing world and do not speak sign language. They use captioning for communication accessibility.

All stakeholders, from CEOs and VPs of communication to ITs and AVs (audiovisual teams), need to be trained to understand the differences in the deaf population and how to remove the barriers to communication accessibility to oral deaf people.

Captioning should be in every budget.

Brooke German (BG): You type out all the words and sounds during a conference. Is this ever stressful?

Randi Friedman (RF): Yes. It's like a dance; I follow the speaker—the clearer the communication, the better the captioning. I have observed just about every communication snafu out there. Many people have what I call a "communication tick."

Also, most people who may be experts in their field have not had presentation training and are unaware of how to communicate with listeners who are oral deaf or hard of hearing (yes, the people who use English and captioning, not sign language). I offer training in microphone awareness and presentation skills (MAPS)© and removing unconscious barriers (RUB) to address these issues.

Brooke German (BG): What does an average day at work look like for you?

Randi Friedman (RF): I begin my day with practice. First, I address rhythm and accuracy, using my stenotype machine and computer, doing "book practice." Then I use speedbuilding software at speeds over my ability (up to 260 words a minute), to deepen concentration and increase speed.

I don't have many average days. One day I might be in a university classroom. The freshmen students like to sit next to me and look at the captioning feed on my computer. When they become juniors, they want to view the captions on their cell phone or computer and sit with their friends.

For open captioning, I could be onsite at a conference that a deaf professional is attending; or at a deaf advocacy group, where most of the audience has hearing loss; or at a Town Hall held by a corporation or municipality; or a court proceeding in which one of the litigants, attorneys, or judge is deaf or hard of hearing.

One of my favorite onsite events is open captioning graduation (commencement) ceremonies. I cry every year at this beautiful transitional moment in young people's lives. I also do Celebration Captioning©, where I provide personal captioning on a small monitor to a deaf honoree or guest at a family celebration.

I do remote captioning at my home office, listening to a teleconference or webinar, along with attendees and presenters who can be anywhere in the world. I send the captions to the deaf professional's desktop computer, laptop, or electronic device.

Brooke German (BG): What type of education did you need to become a remote captioner?

Randi Friedman (RF): The skills I mentioned above. Also, learning how to work in different platforms across the internet, and testing to achieve the national certification of Certified Real-time Captioner (CRC). It is important to learn about the population of deaf people we serve and specifically about each consumer's need or preference.

Brooke German (BG): What's your favorite part about your job?

Randi Friedman (RF): The people. I love "my" students; some I have stayed with from freshman year until graduation. The professionals that I provide captioning to are some of the most intelligent, articulate, hard-working people I've ever met.

I'm astounded at the variety of subject matter I've captioned, from scientists to social workers, United States presidents to a 100-year-old gentleman's birthday party, to a deaf bride's wedding.

Brooke German (BG): Is there any other technology on the horizon for deaf individuals in STEM?

Randi Friedman (RF): The brain is still the best technology. We need the deep intelligence of a skilled, expert captioner to capture the spoken word accurately, along with nuances of speech, demeanors of speakers, and the dynamics of the conversation, which sometimes arise in unspoken cues. Communication requires the deepest intelligence of the brain and is layered with meaning.

Communication accessibility raises the bar even higher.
The latest is not always the best when it comes to people with disabilities, who depend on access to the spoken word. A split-second delay may cause discomfort or even anxiety for the untrained or non-deaf people who are unaware of the communication process.

That said, our software developers and hardware providers are experts who listen to our needs as captioners and explore side-by-side with us the use and flow of language, which evolves with the culture; how to capture meaning, not just words; and the dynamic interplay of captioning speed and accuracy that makes communication accessibility a reality and useful to our consumers.

Our software developers continue to create new opportunities for us to sync with technology so we can serve our consumers best. As a result, our consumers can view streaming, real-time text on their smartphones, computers, and any other smart devices. It feels like we are living a miracle.

Brooke German (BG): What advice would you give to someone interested in this career?

Randi Friedman (RF): Develop expertise in English and a wide vocabulary. As far as your social life is concerned, be prepared to turn down most invitations. You may only have time to attend weddings and funerals for the next two to five years because the training to become a skilled Captioner/CART provider requires devotion. Get your national certification and keep learning.

Randi C. Friedman has provided CART for 18 years. She has captioned United States presidents, Bon Jovi, and ordinary people. She is a computer conference and STEM captioning specialist and also enjoys providing personal captioning for 100th birthday parties and weddings for people with hearing loss.

Randi and her company, The Open Captioners, educate business and government leaders, clergy, educators, and the general population on removing unconscious barriers (RUB©) via workshops and seminars. Randi gives speaker training and Microphone Awareness Tips© to presenters in all venues.

As Randi sees it, "An evolved society seeks to include all its members. Inclusion benefits everyone."

Brooke German is WITI's content manager and digital editor. She has a BA in professional and technical writing from Youngstown State University.

Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.

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