Wanting to help someone in need: Note-taking project for hearing-impaired members

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There are people with very diverse backgrounds gathered at Mercari. For us, Diversity & Inclusion is not a special initiative, but a philosophy that dwells in our everyday business. We interviewed one of the members who have been thinking about and putting into practice how we can make a more energetic and comfortable workplace for everyone.

Seiyo Kurita is a software engineer in R4D, Mercari’s research and development organization, who takes notes at meetings for hearing-impaired members. We asked him about this project, which he started not as a special D&I initiative but with the simple thought of wanting to do what he can to help.

Wanting to improve my skills

– First, what kind of work are you doing now?

Kurita: As part of Mercari’s research and development organization, R4D, I do research and development related to blockchain. This involves working with various other companies and organizations regarding everything from how blockchain can work with Mercari to social topics like how we can find the right relationship between blockchain and the law.

– I hear that in addition to your work, you also take notes for hearing-impaired members. What led you to start this?

Seiyo Kurita (Mercari’s research and development organization, R4D)

Kurita: It all started when someone asked a Slack chatbot, which responds to questions you ask it, “Is there a way to use AI to transcribe speech?” I wondered what they wanted to use that for, and it turned out that they were looking into automatic transcription using AI to support hearing-impaired members.

– I see.

Kurita: At this point in time, it’s really difficult to transcribe speech using AI alone. When you watch videos online, you sometimes see captions done with AI that don’t make sense, right? You can tell from those that humans are more accurate. So I thought, this looks like something I can do myself to help, instead of AI.

– Yourself?

Kurita: When I was in university, I actually had a part-time job transcribing speech to text for students with hearing impairment. Because of that, I have experience transcribing, and I thought I could use my skills to provide support. Normally, Mercari employees have GOT (Global Operations Team) translating and interpreting for us, and we help each other out within our teams. I just thought, “This is something I can do, so I want to help.”

Someone who’s in need of something that I can do

– What kind of support do you provide?

Kurita: I attend meetings with members with hearing impairment and type out the content of the meeting in real time. I use Google Docs, so I can sit anywhere, and more than one person can type at the same time. Some of the people holding the meetings think that note-taking makes it hard to focus, so they don’t want members of the meeting to do it, but I want to change that assumption.

– What do you mean?

Kurita: For me, typing doesn’t distract me from the meeting, it’s actually a habit I have to help me concentrate more. It’s not anything special. I’m so used to it that sometimes I even start falling asleep if I’m not doing it. (laughs) I want to show other people that it can be done casually, so everyone can help each other out.

– And after that, it gradually became a regular activity.

Kurita: Right. After that, we thought it might be good for other members to help out rather than just doing it all myself, so we started a Slack channel called #pj-notetaker where members can request note-taking help.

– When you were doing this, did you think of it as a D&I initiative?

Kurita: Honestly, I didn’t even know about the D&I movement within the company. I offered to help because I was good at transcribing; only after that did I realize people were seeing it as part of D&I. I just had the really simple feeling of wanting to help where I can. At Mercari, we can control what we do with our work hours, so I don’t feel guilty or anything for spending my time doing this. When someone’s struggling with something that is out of their control, I just want to do what I can to help.

– When you talk about it, it sounds very noble, but you’re just doing what you can to provide support. Do you keep this in mind in your everyday life, too?

Kurita: I’m not actively thinking about it all the time. But I think seeing someone who’s in need of something that I can do and that I’m good at motivates me to take action.

– When you were a student, why did you take up transcribing?

Kurita: When I was in university, I thought I needed to be able to do touch typing in order to become a software engineer, and just so happened to find a part-time job transcribing for students with hearing impairment. In doing so, my typing speed naturally increased, and I was in a situation where I had to do it no matter what. The person reading the transcription relies on the words that I type, so I have to do it right. By putting that kind of pressure on myself, I was able to improve.

– So that’s how you started.

Kurita: After becoming an iOS engineer, I realized there are so many conferences and study sessions out there where engineers exchange useful information. But what about the people who can’t participate? Could I help them by transcribing what’s said at the events? So I started posting transcriptions on my blog as soon as conference sessions ended. After continuing that for a bit, a tech media site posted about my blog, and I became known as the “iOS transcription guy.” (laughs) I livetweet study sessions too, and I’ve been told it’s really helpful by people who can’t attend these events in person and the volunteer staff members at the events.

– Do you have any thoughts on issues faced now or the future of society?

Kurita: I hope that we can make a habit of recording and logging all sorts of things, not just support for those with hearing or visual impairments. If we can save information as text in a more easily searchable way, anyone should be able to access the information they want equally. I think that the custom of people taking notes at meetings on a regular basis is the first step towards that.

Seiyo Kurita

Researcher at Mercari, Inc.’s R4D. In 2012, joined Asterisk Inc., where he worked as an iOS engineer in app development. Joined Hatena Co., Ltd. in 2016. After joining Merpay in September 2018, worked on research and development for blockchain, and assumed his current position in April 2019.

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