Michelle Finnerty in front of a grey wallThe first thing I’d have to say is that I definitely don’t think that I’m a hero, but I do provide a service that has been very important to a certain section of society.

I’m a stenographer. A stenographer transcribes spoken words by typing them into a steno machine, a kind of shorthand typewriter; and we can write at speeds of up to 300 words per minute. But what makes that an important service during the past few months?

Well, you may have noticed that when the Taoiseach or the Chief Medical Officer made announcements on tv there was always a sign language interpreter standing behind them, that is so that people who can’t hear and who use sign language could understand what was being said.

But what about if you can’t hear and you don’t know sign language? Or, if English is your second or third language and you need a little more time to understand it? That’s where the stenographers come in.

So, while the Taoiseach, or whoever, spoke, and the sign language interpreter interpreted what was said, there was also a third, secret, communication taking place. If you had turned on the ‘subtitle’ button on your tv you would have seen text appear as they spoke. The text was exactly what was spoken, and what was sign interpreted, it’s just another way to give people the same information.

Not everybody is the same and so we need different ways to communicate with each other, and realtime stenography is just one of those ways.Michelle at a Stenographer machine typing

But apart from helping out on the tv for the special news broadcasts, we were also able to help some deaf/hard of hearing students access their lectures as they went online. The students could log into their online lecture the same as their classmates and we would also log in, listen to what’s being said, and write it all down in real-time, so the student could read along and not miss out on their classes. That way, they had equal access to the lectures as their peers did.

We were also able to help some other people do their jobs more effectively during the lockdown. As you know, there are no physical meetings or conferences taking place at the moment, everything is being done online, so we were able to use the same service for deaf/hard of hearing people to help them take part in their work meetings.

So do I think any of this relates to Guiding? Absolutely, some of the most important aspects of Guiding are also important in my profession. In Guiding we are an inclusive organisation, where women and girls of all faiths and none, and those with varying abilities are all welcome; my profession is also based on the premise of access and inclusion for all. Our Guiding Promise includes a promise to be a responsible member of our Community, and I think that my job is an important one and carries a responsibility to members of my community. But most of all, fun and friendship, I absolutely love my job, it’s different every single day, and like Guiding, I’ve made many lasting friendships and I hope to make many more.