I do not remember anything specific about my many firsts at UQ St Lucia: the first time I visited the campus, library, computer rooms; the first class, assignment, exam I completed; the first lecturer, tutor or student I met…
One ‘first’ I do recall is visiting a very small office; a room, hidden behind the student bookshop and beside the food-court. One room that was almost swallowed up by the books and papers that covered every available surface. One room where my total number of visits could be counted on one hand.
Yet, in that room, a hand was extended and a new world opened up.
It was there that I was introduced to the real-time captioning (and peer note-taking) services offered by UQ Student Services to support my learning journey.
Already traversing the delicate balance of relying on lip-reading and my personal assistive technologies to manage and “fit in” amongst my peers, I knew I’d need some way of levelling the playing field. I was spending too much time and energy trying to pick up on information that everyone else was receiving loud and clear. Driven by high personal standards, I wanted to succeed…yet I was two minds about using the support offered. Would I stand out as different, or be accused of having an unfair advantage?
A balance was struck: captioning services were provided for tutorials (which were highly interactive) and elective lectures (where there were no tutorials and which were often held at night). I managed all other lectures and classes, supplemented with post-event peer note-taking where available.
Peer note-taking is a fantastic idea. Students who were attending the same classes were paid to supply a copy of the notes they made in lectures. I still attended the classes, and could cross-reference my own notes with theirs—filling in the gaps when I hadn’t quite picked up every word or aspect of the discussions. However, it was the captioning that had the biggest impact on my being able to fully participate.
After a few curious looks—and questions from me as well as from by staff and peers alike—we began. It was marvellous to watch the skill of the stenographers, as they captured everyday and technical speech. Their work, on the phonetic keys of the stenotype machine, was then transcribed to text on a laptop in front of me.
My own ‘real-time’ captioning. It was truly amazing.
When I didn’t catch what had been said, being able to refer instantaneously to the transcript assisted me in keeping up with the conversation. In being engaged. In helping me to understand. In enabling me to contribute.
Real-time captioning was invaluable during our Moot competitions—particularly against rivals, QUT and University of Sydney, when we were finalists in the competition. Following the ebb and flow of questioning and cross-examinations, captioning enabled me to better support my team seek out the details and respond. What fun was that experience!
Looking back, the stenographers—Sandy and Xanthe from Reporters Ink—became as much a part of my on-campus life as my friends, lecturers and tutors. This vital service, and their stenotype machines, became as much a part of the campus as the sandstone and concrete structures that housed the places I would come to know well.
Ten years on, I realise how much extra effort I personally exert in an attempt to hear the information others may take for granted. While the equipment did make me stand out, seeking out support and using the service helped to level the playing field and empowered me to chase my own success.
Jessica Sharp, Bachelor of Business Management (Real Estate and Development), 2006, Brisbane.
Main picture (L-R): Winners of the 2006 Intrastate Valuation Moot Challenge—Con Ganis, John Monarski, Jessica Sharp, Sarah Scruby, Angela Buckley