Giving others the opportunity to freely express their thoughts and emotions is the best part of her work, says Consuelo Gonzalez.

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PROFESSIONAL LIP-READER
Consuelo Gonzalez

What do you do? I’m a professional medical and forensic lipreading translator and transcriber. I read the lips of those who are non-vocal and translate aloud so they can be understood by others. In the case of video transcription, I view previously recorded video footage in which the speakers are visible but inaudible, and create a written transcript of what is recoverable through lip reading.

How did you get started in that field? When I was in my late teens, I accompanied my mother (who is also deaf and a lip-reader) when she visited a hospice patient who was on a respirator and completely paralyzed except for her face. My mother was able to easily converse with this woman, and help her describe her dreams to her husband, pass on recipes to her children and talk about her feelings. Years later, after moving to Seattle, I was approached to work with a burn patient at Harborview Medical Center. I remembered immediately how important this service was for those who needed it.

What’s a typical day like? For the live medical translating I do, I meet with patients and their families from all over the country, using video-conferencing technology. We set up appointments that are mutually favorable to our time zones, then make the connections via FaceTime or Skype. I might schedule one or two patient meetings in the morning.

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In the afternoon, depending on what kind of transcription awaits me, I might be working on surveillance footage for a detective, security camera footage for an attorney or film footage from a historical archive. I will spend a few hours lipreading words and phrases, analyzing movement and facial expression, and writing an assessment/transcript.

What’s the best part of the work? The best part of live translating is making connections with people and being able to offer them the opportunity to freely express their thoughts and emotions. The best part of video transcription is solving fascinating video “mysteries.” I once transcribed archival film footage of Charlie Chaplin and Douglass Fairbanks singing on a yacht. I was able to recover all the words to the Christmas carol they were singing, and pinpoint where Chaplin goofed up!

What surprises people about what you do? People are often surprised at how long lipreading transcription can take: It can take a good two hours to transcribe three to four minutes of language-dense video material. People are also surprised at how rare experienced professional lip-readers are. Lipreading is an extremely specialized niche serving very specific populations, and those of us doing it professionally are few and far between.

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