PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil – A judge’s simple idea has revolutionized how the workflow is handled at a criminal court in Porto Alegre, the capital city of Rio Grande do Sul.
An enormous quantity of cases was at a standstill because massive amounts of depositions of defendants and witnesses hadn’t been transcribed.
Judge Salise Monteiro Sanchotene suggested hiring the visually impaired to provide transcription services. Through the concentration and agility of these transcribers, the 2nd Federal Criminal Court of Porto Alegre solved a three-month delay in just five days in 2008.
“We found out that the visually impaired are quite skilled at transcribing texts due to their power of concentration,” Sanchotene says. “We decided to invest in this partnership and the results have been rewarding.”
The government signed a contract with the Rio Grande do Sul Association for the Blind (ACERGS), which provides about 65 hours of audio transcription monthly.
“We’re not talking about charity work: This is a high quality service with a 99% approval rating,” Sanchotene says. “Before, we had cases where entire portions of the deposition would be missing, and we would have to listen to all of the recordings again in order to make sure they matched the transcript.”
The nine ACERGS transcribers use special software in which audio commands are used to enter information in computers.
When the number of hearings in need of transcription services increases significantly, ACERGS hires freelancers.
The deadline for each transcript request is five business days. On average, it takes eight hours to transcribe an hour of audio.
The performance of the transcribers for the 2nd Federal Criminal Court of Porto Alegre has caught the attention of other court systems. There are now 35 federal courts in Rio Grande do Sul that have agreements with ACERGS.
The Federal Court System for the 4th Region, which includes the states of Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina and Paraná, also hired the visually impaired to provide transcripts. The example has also been followed by courts in Rio de Janeiro and Alagoas.
In December 2011, the initiative of the 2nd Federal Criminal Court of Porto Alegre in partnership with ACERGS received the Innovare Award, which recognizes the best practices for modernizing the Brazilian justice system.
“We got a lot of calls after we received the award asking for information about the agreements we had,” Sanchotene says. “The goal is to publicize the practice so the idea gains support across the country.”
Pedro Freitas, the CEO of the Innovare Award, says the initiative will spread throughout the Brazilian justice system.
“It wasn’t just the visually impaired who benefitted from the opportunity, but the justice system itself also experienced a significant increase in efficiency,” Freitas says.
Grazieli de Oliveira Dahmer, 29, has been working at the Transcription Center for a year. She was born with vision problems and gradually lost her sight a few years ago.
“I became depressed, stayed at home and didn’t want to do anything,” she says. “But then I decided to turn things around.”
Dahmer’s life has changed dramatically. She took courses in Braille, telephony, computers and massage therapy, as well as English and administrative assistance.
After completing a few internships, she joined the ACERGS transcription team in 2011.
“Here you have stability [and] guaranteed income,” she says.
In addition to providing transcription services for the federal court system, ACERGS produces accessible books.
Publications are converted into Braille, transformed into audio books (MP3) or into the DAISY talking book format, which is recorded on CDs.
“We translate textbooks, tests for competitive exams and schools, menus and even medicinal inserts,” says Lucas Reis Silveira, leader of the Accessible Books Production Office at ACERGS.