DeafTalk: When taking notes is serious business

Amazing grace.. and speed.

“I’m Grace Tan and a staff notetaker with the Singapore Association for the Deaf.

Being a notetaker is interesting because it’s not a common role. It’s one of a kind, in fact. Many people don’t even know what my job is about or that it even exists!

Basically I go to different venues and sit with the clients to note-take for them. This means, during the lectures, meetings or discussions, I type out what I hear as closely as possible. Then the client can read the text on the laptop screen and understand what is going on.

Notetaking is very dynamic. In the course of my job, the places I go and situations I encounter are always different and changing. The work sounds simple but it is not so straightforward in practice. For example, there are people who speak really, really fast. Or there are lectures that are very, very technical. I had also faced difficulty in entering a venue because I’m not a registered participant (only my client was!).

In such cases, I just try my best. I let the client know it’s something beyond my capability in some ways, like, what I typed would not be 100% and might be lacking in certain areas, so that they understand. When I’m not allowed into a certain venue, I would very politely explain why I’m there.

My typical daily routine is to schedule assignments comfortably across the day. Before each assignment, I would ask for reference materials for context. I read up on them so that I don’t get surprised by technical jargon or difficult words. If it’s a new client, I reach out to them first to check their preferences, such as whether they want me to sit next to or away from them. And if it’s a new venue, I head down earlier, because some of the venues and campus can be hard to navigate. 

What makes for a good notetaker? Of course, you need to be able to type fast and accurately, and also be able to pay attention for long periods of time. I also believe in practicing my typing – the more I do it, the more comfortable I get and the more I improve. But I feel what really helps, and keeps me going, is the willingness and heart to understand the needs of a client and to want to be there for them.”

Behind the DeafTalk series
DeafTalk is an interview series that features SADeaf staff sharing about their roles in serving the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community. This aims to create more awareness and understanding of the work we do at SADeaf.

Video interviews conducted by Rabiayatul Adawiyah, Gaius Wong
Coordination, logistics, scheduling, video editing: Firdaus Bahri, Nabilah Bte Zakariah, Melissa Lim
Camera setup, filming,: Lee Wan Ling, Allie Naqia Bte Ahmad
Text (adapted from video interview) and photography: Alvan Yap

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