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Glitch in TV service for deaf

Deaf people finally got a chance Tuesday to watch their county commissioners in action without having to read their lips.

But it didn't happen without a glitch or two.

Tuesday's County Commission meeting was broadcast on government access television with a captioning system that showed viewers what was being said.

Through a system called open captioning, all viewers see white letters on black background at the bottom of the screen. A closed-captioning system limits the service to those with specially equipped televisions.

But viewers might have wondered about some of the words they saw scrolling across the bottom of their screens. Commissioner Phyllis Busansky's last name came out as "Bulz Buzz."

"Dilemmas" came out "dhim mass."

"Corridors" became "car dors."

And that ever-popular bureaucratic favorite "impacted" came out "I am packed."

It's all a matter of interpretation.

The computer program that turns the language of stenography into English is having a little trouble grasping the language of government. Those problems will be eliminated slowly as the computer learns that Busansky is preferable to Bulz Buzz, and that impacted really is a word government types like to use.

It's simply a matter of including these strange words in the computer's dictionary, said Allen Greenly, the consultant hired to get the system running. Those viewers watching rebroadcasts of the meetings should have cleaned-up versions of the dialogue.

None of this apparently posed much of a problem for the hearing-impaired.

"I think it's wonderful," said Davelis Goutoufas, an advocate for the deaf who proposed the system to the commission.

"It's great to have the technology," said Goutoufas, who is deaf. "I think it is remarkable."

Deaf people are used to interpreting words phonetically, which is what the captioning computer tries to do.

"Deaf people can understand," Goutoufas said confidently.

And once the computer catches up with the language, the service can help people who speak foreign languages to learn English, Goutoufas said. That's one of the reasons an open-caption system was chosen, he said.

The words are typed into a stenography machine that has a built-in computer that interprets the key strokes and transmits the words directly to the TV.

The county spent about $26,000 on equipment and has budgeted another $20,000 for stenographers for six months.

Goutoufas, 24, lost a bid for the Tampa City Council last year. He said he hopes the council will follow the county's lead. The city wants to study the county's system before going ahead with its own.

Three stenographers work 45-minute shifts to avoid fatigue.

Transcribing every word uttered by politicians and bureaucrats can be strenuous.

They tend to interrupt each other. They tend to talk in run-on sentences. Some thoughts are never quite completed. And all of the foibles of speech are there to be typed onto viewers' screens.

"It's a challenge," said Dale Tice, one of the stenographers working at Tuesday's meeting. "I'm excited about it. I think it's providing a great service."