Changing Lives

Diana Brandin gives the hard of hearing equal access to the spoken word

By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

Diana Brandin offers a challenge. Put cotton balls carefully in your ears and then try to hear your loved ones speak. Or, imagine seeing “Hamilton” and the sound system goes out. 

That’s what it’s like to be hard of hearing.

“Nobody would be able to hear, and that would be really frustrating,” she says about the “Hamilton” scenario. “You could just hear a little bit of murmuring on the stage. That’s it. 

“Every day, persons with deafness or who are hard of hearing find activities, school or communicating in the workplace difficult for them. Sign language and captioning is what helps them.”

From its inception in 2004, Diana Brandin Realtime Captioning has focused on helping as many persons as possible to have equal access to the spoken word. Independently and collectively, she has worked and continues to work with several captioning agencies to play a major role in assisting others to have equal access to the spoken word, or “communication access,” as described by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

“We’ve gone on-site and remote, captioning for people in educational and business settings,” she says.

“With COVID happening, there’s an increased demand because everything went virtual.

“People take for granted their hearing. Persons who are deaf or hard of hearing, they don’t have the opportunity to do that. They stare at the interpreter or the captions. We offer transcripts. They need to participate in sync with everyone else. If someone’s voting in a meeting and the (leader) says, ‘Say aye,’ you don’t want them to be delayed or not have their vote count.”

Not being able to hear can leave folks feeling isolated or cut off from friends. Especially in these times of social distancing, staying connected by phone is important.

One couple told Brandin they were thrilled with her captioning service because their daughter, who was in the ninth grade, laughed in class for the first time. She was also getting to sleep earlier because she didn’t have to stay up late, struggling to learn what had been covered by the teacher.

“That really touched my heart,” Brandin says.

She works with persons of all ages, education levels and occupations. 

“So many different people use sign language and captioning just to understand what’s going on,” Brandin says. “With COVID, people are experiencing a lot of frustration and tenseness because their lives have changed. They can’t go to the grocery store or movies. They’ve had to make adjustments. Everybody has. Having captioning enables them to be able to participate in anything.”

The year 2020 was ADA’s 30th anniversary. Brandin reflects on it, saying the act made it possible for people to have a fuller life. 

“This country is excellent about that,” she says. “I’ve worked with local colleges that have a large international body of students. Students would marvel and say, ‘This is so wonderful.’ Students would not get this service if they stayed in their home country. 

“Other countries don’t even have wheelchair ramps. Elevators accommodate people, and a lot of technology is changing the landscape. There are Zoom meetings for which we provide sign language (interpretations) and captioning.”

Brandin has been providing these services as a team since 2009, and solo since 2004. Her business has blossomed to work with schools, businesses, nonprofits, courts, private events, wedding and funerals.

“Pretty much anywhere people are speaking, that’s where our services will come in handy to them,” she says.

At funerals and weddings, for example, Brandin installs screens on-site or offers the service on tablets or smartphones. Funerals, these days, are via Zoom, so they can click on captioning or Brandin provides a link to a private device. 

Captioning was a logical progression for Brandin. She took courses in court reporting but then heard about captioning. In 2004, her first real-time captioning assignment was a continuing legal education class. 

“The attorney we worked with was extremely kind and was very helpful, as he had worked with captioners before,” she recalls. “He was the perfect client back then, and still is today.”

In her business’ infancy, she worked primarily with several captioning agencies. Brandin mentored soon-to-be captioners to help them become gainfully employed. 

“To this day many captioners thank us for the experience they gained working with us,” Brandin says.

As the demand for Brandin’s talents increased, it became necessary to grow from a solo operation to a team of on-site and remote captioners. In 2006, she ventured into remote real-time captioning services for classrooms and businesses. 

Brandin added remote captioning for livestreamed videos, conferences and webinars. 

“Clients enjoy viewing captions on their mobile devices, smartphones, tablets, laptops, projectors, jumbotrons or other display devices in a variety of settings,” she says.

“I am personally so excited about the technology. It’s amazing.”

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