Thanks to advances in video and interpreting technology, American Sign Language (ASL) interpreting services are more accessible than ever. Today, individuals who are Deaf or Hard of hearing (D/HoH), along with the organizations that support them, have the option to engage with an interpreter remotely, rather than relying on an onsite professional.

Video Relay Service (VRS) is one such approach for remote interpreting. This FCC-regulated service is designed to serve as a telephone alternative for D/HoH individuals when participating in voice-to-voice calls. 

However, it is important to note that the FCC prohibits the use of VRS for providing free interpreting services when the two parties seeking communication are in the same room.

While both VRS and Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) only make it easier for D/HoH individuals to communicate—no matter where they are—it’s important to understand the difference between the two services and recognize the best situations to use them in.

What Is VRS?

Video Relay Service (VRS) allows someone who is D/HoH to communicate with a hearing person via telephone. The VRS caller uses a computer or device with a camera and an internet connection to contact an interpreter. They communicate in ASL through a video link. The interpreter then places a telephone call to the person the ASL user wishes to call. The interpreter relays the conversation in ASL with the VRS user and by voice with the hearing party. When a hearing person calls a Deaf person, the call is also routed via VRS.

This service is available 24/7, and is free for the ASL user and the hearing person on the call. It’s paid for by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

What Is VRI?

Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) allows D/HoH individuals and service providers to access remote professional interpreters using video technology over the internet. For example, a Deaf person can have a telemedicine appointment with a doctor using VRI. Or they can use VRI at a medical facility when no ASL interpreters are available onsite.

VRI calls can be made on-demand or scheduled in advance. Some language service providers offer 24/7 service. Like onsite interpreting, there is a fee for this service and the organization that hires the interpreter must pay the cost, per the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  

Advantages of VRI

Although both services fulfill communication-related mandates under the ADA, VRI has several important advantages over VRS.

As we noted above, you can use VRI whether the D/HoH individuals are in the same room or all three parties are in separate locations. VRS, by FCC regulation, can’t provide free interpreting services when the two parties wishing to communicate are in the same room. VRS is limited to providing the equivalent of voice-to-voice communication over the telephone for D/HoH individuals. 

Another advantage is that VRI allows all three parties to see each other. This is important because ASL includes facial expressions and body language that can change the meaning of what someone is saying. VRI better replicates the onsite interpreting experience, which reduces the possibility of miscommunication.

Additional Advantages:

  • VRI allows for interpretation where the signed language is not ASL. A common use case in the US is Mexican Sign Language, for example.
  • VRS does not allow for relay interpreting between two signed languages.
  • VRI allows for the addition of CDI (Certified Deaf Interpreters). 
  • VRI allows the D/HoH individual to observe the provider’s facial expressions and body language, not just the interpreter’s “translation” of the provider’s emotional content.
  • VRI can more easily facilitate meetings where more than the client is depending on the ASL interpreter – for example, the ASL-speaking relative of a Deaf child who is there to advocate or their family member.

VRI and Boostlingo  

With the Boostlingo platform, you can connect with a remote ASL interpreter on-demand. Our ASL/24 Service, and pre-scheduled request for other signed languages and CDI interpreting, makes it easy to assist Deaf and Hard of hearing individuals in healthcare, legal, and numerous other settings.

All you need is a high-speed internet connection and a computer or mobile device to get started. Think Boostlingo may be right for you? Book a demo today!

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