JOB: Staff secretary in the office of text conversion with the Division of Rehabilitation-Education Services. She helps students with vision disabilities access the books they need after they have registered for classes. The UI is the only university in the state that has a separate text-conversion office. And it's the only university in Illinois to offer the extent of text-conversion services that it does. UIC and UIS are starting up text-conversion offices.
Is your job mainly converting books into Braille?
We do a lot of Braille. We scan or hand-type material and pull it up into our Braille translation program and convert it into Braille on the screen and it's sent to the Braille printer, just like you would send it to the laser printer. We also scan books for the voice output programs that will read books out loud. The technology over the last couple years has really changed. With these computer programs we can take a student's book and scan it and convert it into a text file. And then we put it up on the Web. The student has a password, and the student can go to the Web with that password and find the book, download it onto a ZIP disk or hard drive and then pull up the speech program. That program will read the book to them. We're trying to get away from books on tape. They're very labor-intensive to do. We could almost never keep up with the syllabus. And when a person reads a book it takes about an hour to read nine to 10 pages, and that's not very much. And we were having trouble getting volunteers.
How many students are served?
There are about 15 students with varying disabilities we do books for. We have three blind students, and a fourth will be coming in the fall.
How far ahead do you work? Are you already working on the books students will need in the fall?
We guarantee the students that if they get us the books six weeks before classes start, then the books will be ready when classes start -- as long as it's not Braille, which takes longer. If it's just scanning books and putting them on the Web or disk, we can get them done pretty quickly.
You've been doing this for nearly eight years. Was this your first job at the UI?
Yes, when I started I was a temporary worker here. But they decided they wanted to keep me on and it became a permanent position about six months later.
You're taking university classes too. What degree are you working toward?
Special education. I started maybe two to three years ago, taking one to two classes a semester. I think I'm considered a sophomore now. Next fall I'll be a junior. I was interested in special ed when I was younger but I didn't have the opportunity. And then I went to Parkland for a computer programming degree and decided that I needed more interaction with people. And then I came here and the special ed degree just seemed to fit.
What are your plans when you get your degree?
I'm torn between being in a post-secondary setting or being in a classroom. I didn't think that I wanted to be in a classroom when I graduated, but I really enjoy what I'm doing now. My son is in first grade and I volunteer once a week in his class. I'm the vice president of the parent-teacher organization, so I get to spend time in the school to see what it's like.
How busy do your classes keep you?
Not as busy as they probably should. With working full time, and a family at home, it's difficult to find study time. I don't get to study until after Josh gets to bed at 9 o'clock. I've got a high-B average, but it could be better if I studied more.
Plus, I started cake decorating on Josh's first birthday. I bought the material and made his birthday cake. And then people here at work would ask me to make cakes for their events. And just recently, a friend of mine who works here got married and she asked me to make her wedding cake.
What else do you do for fun?
I do a lot of cross stitch. I usually do big pieces -- that take me two to three years to do sometimes because of all the other things I do. And I'm usually making them as gifts for other people.
A few years ago I got interested in genealogy. It's become a big passion. I haven't touched it for a couple months because if I start working with it, I don't get anything else done.
What do you like the best about your job converting text for UI students?
I'm never bored. I also really enjoy the interaction with the students.
This job never gets humdrum. You get new students all the time; new problems to deal with. There's always an emergency; always someone who is bringing an assignment in who needs it done by tomorrow. Students, however, do stay the same.