For members of the deaf community conversant in American Sign Language (ASL), Video Relay Services (VRS) and Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) both provide valuable tools for communicating with the hearing world.
VRS is a form of Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS) which:
1. allows those with hearing disabilities access to the telephone system
2. allows the deaf to use American Sign Language instead of a text telephone (TTY) to call a hearing individual over normal telephone lines
3. permits the use of a high speed Internet connection plus a web cam or video conferencing equipment to access a Communications Assistant (CA) in a call center
4. relies on the CA to relay information to and from a hearing person on their telephone
5. also permits a hearing person to initiate a call to the deaf individual
The FCC covers the costs of all VRS calls through the Interstate TRS Fund. Calls are free to both parties and are “relayed” by the CA, who is a skilled, qualified ASL interpreter.
The FCC mandates that VRS is only to be used in a situation where the deaf individual would have made a typical voice call through the telephone system were it not for the disability. VRS may not be used as a replacement for a live interpreter.
VRI serves a different purpose. With VRI, both the deaf and hearing persons are situated in the same place, such as a hospital, school, college classroom, courtroom, police station, prison, or any other location where a live sign language interpreter is unavailable.
Fees for VRI are paid for by the party requesting them. Depending on the situation, a qualified interpreter may be mandatory as a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), especially in medical and legal situations.
VRI is not limited by geography. You can take advantage of VRI from any place in the world with a webcam and high speed Internet connection. VRI is now the first choice for hospitals where the need for an ASL interpreter cannot always be scheduled in advance.
In-person sign language interpreters usually:
* must be booked 24 hours in advance to avoid higher charges
* require a two-hour minimum fee, no matter how short the actual interpreting needs
* charge a 2 hour minimum fee if the job is not canceled 24 hours in advance
* charge if the client is a no-show, such as a deaf student skipping a class
1. substitute for live interpreters when not available
2. cut the cost to private medical offices and schools who are required to provide sign language interpreters but who are not reimbursed by the TRS Fund
3. make sign language available in secure environments such as prisions, interrogation rooms, and hazardous medical environments
4. available on demand at no extra charge
5. no additional charges for last second assignments or cancellations
6. get rid of “in-person” interpreter fees for travel and parking
FCC concerns over illegal use of VRS instead of VRI continue. While VRS providers have systems in place to detect improper calls, no system is perfect.