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Bilqis Rashidi

Sam Farley

IPP 250 Specialized Interpreting

15 May 2015

VRS, VRI and its Impact on Deaf Community Communication


Access to communication is one of the many stressed topics of

discussion within the Deaf and Interpreting communities, mainly

because it is one of the major aspects that connect the two. In Jeremy

Brunsons extensive and informational book Video Relay Service

Interpreting, he states that most Deaf individuals reject the label of

disability and blame their lack of access on societys inability to

accommodate and include their needs. However, accessibility can only

be acquired through work, as Deaf individuals need to work in order to

communicate with others. This can be accomplished through a number

of intermediaries, sources and methods that information can be

acquired. This can be done through the use of pen and paper, or, one

of the most common forms of an intermediary, a hearing individual

(Brunson). For many centuries prior to officiating the label of signed

language interpreters, hearing individuals with knowledge of sign

language have been used as a bridge that connects the

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communication gap between the hearing and deaf worlds. This

connection was apparent and ongoing in many societies until one of

the major innovations of technology, the invention of the telephone,

enlarged the gap and created another lack of access for the Deaf

community. This was quickly fixed as a result of telephone interpreting

by family members and friends of Deaf individuals. As technology

continued to develop, interpreting and the different modes of

communication access began to develop and change over the course

of time as well with the creation of Teletypewriters (TTY) and Video

Relay Services. With the current impact of Video Relay Services (VRS)

and Video Remote Interpreting (VRI), it is important to acknowledge

how the Deaf community and their access to communication have

been impacted in comparison to the traditional on-site ASL

interpreters. From this acknowledgment, we can determine which

mode and process ASL interpreters need to take in order to ensure

quality service and to decrease the potential of miscommunication.

To begin with, prior to the establishment of the Registry of

Interpreters for the Deaf in 1964, the field of ASL Interpreting and sign

language interpreters was nonexistent within the professional world

(Mindess, 13). The majority of interpreters during that time were family

members, teachers, neighbors, and friends who dedicated and

volunteered their time as communication intermediaries for the deaf

individuals in their life. Through RID, interpreting has transformed into

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a legitimate vocation as the organization continuous to increase their

member count, by providing the best quality service for the

community, and assesses the knowledge and competency of potential

interpreters. The increase of interpreters led to the increasing growth

of experiences that shaped many guidelines, interpreting processes,

and the ethical codes listed in the current RID CPC. These codes and

processes have aided interpreters in developing efficiency and

becoming a trustful ally to their consumers. In the same year RID was

found, Deaf physicist and ham radio operator, Robert H. Weitbrecht,

developed a device that allowed Deaf people to use the telephone in

conjunction with old bulk, floor model, teletypewriter machines(147,

Mindess). However, his invention did not ignite the flames of popularity

with the deaf community until much later due to the fact that the

majority of the population could not afford to have the device. As the

price of teletypewriters (TTY) decreased over the years, more Deaf and

deaf individuals, and even hearing individuals, purchased the machine.

The teletypewriters led to the start of Telecommunication services,

where family and professional interpreters who owned a teletypewriter

became mediators of conversations between Deaf and Hearing callers.

By the 1990s, the civil rights law, Americans with Disabilities Act

(ADA), mandated a nationwide access to text relay services (TRS)

regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)

(Mindess, 147). It also allowed them equal access in settings such as

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education, medical, occupational, social, cultural and so on (Holcomb,

296). This brought the community closer together, and Deaf individuals

felt that the access opened the door to endless possibilities (Mindess).

Unfortunately, even with this new access to communication to the

telephone, the community was still left at a disadvantage as TTYs

showed endless possibilities led to endless miscommunications.

Telecommunication services relied heavily on the English language,

even though it was not the first language (L1) of many deaf individuals.

Most of the conversations communicated through the TTY was in

written English and did not obtain any visual feedback, for deaf

individuals who did not have a perfect understanding of the language

or the how to write, their interpretation became botched and not

clearly communicated across (Mindess). This took an effect on the

interpreters who had to transfer the information to the hearing


The continuous and ongoing advancements to

telecommunication services for the Deaf community extended on to

text pagers (cellphones), e-mails, instant messaging, and the

widespread use of Video Relay Services through broadband Internet.

Video Relay Services (VRS), just like teletypewriters, are a form of

Telecommunication Relay Services funded by a phone tax paid by all

citizens who have a phone (Brunson, 20). It is a means of free

telephone access for the Deaf Community mandated by the ADA Law
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of 1990 (Brunson). The contrasting component between the

Teletypewriter and VRS is the use of video through an Internet screen

or a TV screen. Allowing VRS to be more beneficial and favored

throughout the community. Through the use of VRS deaf people are

able to rely on their native language-ASL and communicate more

freely (Brunson, 71). Due to its faster and effective production of

communication, Deaf users are able to use their native language to

order pizza, call the doctor, call their friends and family, and so on at

all hours of the week. Brunson states that Deaf callers delight in the

clarity and comfort of using ASL on their relay calls, especially

compared to the slow pace and misunderstandings that were common

to TRS relay calls (Brunson, 153). Some VRS agencies provide a video

mail service similar to voice mail but with the use of ASL. The service

can be between two deaf individuals or between a hearing individual

and a deaf individual, in which case an ASL Interpreter would be

present to mediate the conversation (Andrews). VRS is provided to the

community on a 24 hour 7 days a week basis. In order to use it

properly, a provider or a deaf consumer would need a high-speed

(broadband) Internet connection, a video camera device, and a


American Sign Language Interpreters need to obtain an

awareness of specific FCC standards and regulations in order to handle

the VRS calls in an efficient and ethical manner. They are required by
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the RID to have an education in Interpreting, most likely from a two-

year college program, a certification from the National Testing System,

and credentials from many certification workshops of the Registry of

Interpreters for the Deaf ( According to the Registry, the

minimum qualification a VRS interpreter would need would be the

National certification. However, there are interpreters within the field

who havent received a certification, yet are able to work due to their

skill levels. According to the FCC, Video Relay Interpreters need to be

able to interpret effectively, accurately, and impartially, both

receptively and expressively, using necessary specialized vocabulary.

Adjusting to the style of the deaf consumers is also a key component of

video interpreting as there are diverse varieties, such as those

influenced by social characteristics including gender, ethnicity,

nationality, age language group, socio-economic status and, of course,

whether they are deaf or hearing. Styles can also change according to

whom someone is talking to, and where.(Napier, McKee, Goswell,97).

They would need the ability to have a stable approach to handling new

environments. It is impossible to predict what a video call would

include, unlike on-site assignments, Interpreters dont have the

opportunity to debrief with their consumers and prepare themselves

beforehand. Although Interpreters tend to be blindsided and unaware

of what to expect, they should have the ability to carry on the call with

their already present skills and knowledge of the language at hand. If a

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call becomes overwhelmingly long or too complex, Interpreters have

the option of bringing in interpreting teams and ease the transferring

of information. Misunderstandings tend to occur in VRS calls for a

variety of reasons, it may occur due to the inability to comprehend

fingerspelled words or signed numbers by the Interpreter (Brunson).

Other miscommunications can occur as a result of the computer or

television screen freezing, how the consumer is dressed, or how far

away they are sitting from the camera.

As there are multiple advantages to Video Relay Service for the

Deaf community, there are as many disadvantages and disgruntled

individuals frustrated at the service. As VRS and Telecommunication

Service agencies and companies are opening up all around the country

to keep up with the growing increase of callers, it has caused a

decrease in the number of live on-site community interpreters. Most

Deaf individuals have become frustrated with the shortage as

community interpreting assignments go unfilled or filled by

interpreters with less adequate skills. (Brunson, 154). However,

Interpreting agencies have become a supply-and-demand

phenomenon as they only place interpreters in areas where there is

most need ( Communication may seem simpler with a VRS,

but many deaf individuals still have to put in work when they use it and

it may be due to the lack of qualified interpreters in that specific field.

Deaf individuals have varying opinions on why someone is not skilled

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enough to carry on their conversations, but their opinions are

necessary to improve the lack of skill they have to deal with. Brunson

explains this in depth with a deaf individuals own experience with the


I hang up and call back. I dont feel it is my responsibility to tell the

interpreter or their supervisor that they arent that good. I typically say

something like, Oh, I forgot the number so I will call back. Sorry about

that. I know that it is unlikely that I will get the same interpreter

again. (Brunson, 75)

Brunson refers to the work that deaf individuals have to put into

making a call as the calculated consumer labor to denote the

mental and physical processes that go into this labor.(Brunson, 77).

Its not right, and it should not be continued, however for a deaf

individual to accept this and make a stand against this would indicate

the dire need of the service and the need of interpreters. Some

individuals are actually happy with VRS and feel that there are ways

that it can improve and make the lives of deaf individuals more


Furthermore, video interpreting services for the Deaf community

are not limited to only VRS, it also includes Video Remote Interpreting

(VRI). This type of interpreting is an auxiliary aid or service and

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accommodation that is only used in specific circumstances and

situations. The environments that this type of telecommunication

service could be used include schools, businesses, hospitals, law and

medical office and even in encounters with the police (Andrews).

Similar to Video Relay Service interpreting, VRI is paid for on a fee-for-

service basis ( VRI and VRS interpreters and the services are

paid the minute the calls open and until the call is disconnected. Video

Remote Interpreters are often viewed as an alternative approach to a

live on-site interpreter, however, in certain situations, it should not be

the case. To use this service, the Hearing and Deaf Individuals would

technically be in the same location, while the interpreter is in another

location ( This can work in other ways as well, the interpreter

can be with the hearing or the deaf party while the third party is in a

different location. VRI differs from Video Relay Services in that VRS is

limited to only phone calls, parties that are in the same location may

not use the service as an intermediary.

Certified ASL Interpreters are under vow to Do No Harm,

however, due to the limitations of VRI, the deaf community is

potentially under the risk of miscommunication. Just as in Video Relay

Services, VRI prevents ASL interpreters the opportunity to discuss the

consumers needs prior to the start of an assignment. The majority of

the requirements needed for the interpreters correlate with the

requirements for VRS interpreters, however VRI includes that

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interpreters in their service to have qualifications (certifications) that

allow them to work in legal, medical or education settings. There are

multiple things that can affect the interpretation within these VRI

settings, and these factors are different for each specific situation. In a

medical setting, VRS services are valuable (backup) communication

tools with the potential to ensure that no deaf person will ever be

without communication access( However, they should not

be a solution against real live on-site interpreters due to the

limitations they can cause. VRI can be inaccessible for patients that are

in certain physical positions, they need to be moved from room to

room for various tests, or if the patient is under medication and is

unable to understand and converse with the interpreter.

Miscommunication may occur with this type of service, as many

monitors may freeze and disconnect. Shelly Hansen discusses in her

article about botched VRI experiences, a patient who was mentally

under stress due to a VRI session that disconnected seconds before the

doctor could tell her that she does not have cancer, it was not a

service, this is a DIS-service(Hansen). Miscommunications can lead to

malpractice or even death. It is important for an interpreter to review

their codes of ethics and urge hospitals or medical offices the need of

an on-site interpreter. Other settings that should not use VRI if they the

access to an on-site interpreter would have to be legal settings and

encounters with the police. In these settings, it is crucial to use VRI as

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the only method of approach to communication accessibility for the

deaf community, as it can lead to unintended consequences. Other

miscommunications that may occur are very similar to the instances

that have happened to VRS interpreters such as not being able to

comprehend the signing due to the quality of the video screen or the

individuals not using familiar signs.

In conclusion, technological innovations certainly have allowed

the communication accessibility to become easier to use by the deaf

community with the establishment of Video Relay Services and Video

Remote Services. VRS allows individuals to have the freedom to

conduct calls, either business or personal, on own their own accord.

Whereas, Video Remote Interpreting allows deaf individuals the

opportunity to have interpreting services in places and settings that

may not have interpreters present. However, Brunson states that even

though VRI does not have the same impact as VRS, its untapped

potential to revolutionize the interpreting field is tremendous(252).

Each of the services has their advantages and benefits, but also

shortcomings that dont compare to how beneficial on-site Interpreters

are as communication intermediaries. Yet, it is important to understand

that all of the services and the interpreters have altogether equally

provided the Deaf community with equal access to communication and

information than ever before. VRS and VRI each have their own
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position in the Deaf world; they both provide accessibility and bridge

the communication gap within the fields they are used.


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