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 Disability Program Navigator: Navigator Frequently Asked Questions 

6(Advanced)  What are Video Relay Services (VRS) and Video Remote Interpreting (VRI), and how can video based communication services enhance access in the One-Stops for customers whose primary language is American Sign Language (or other manual sign language)?

The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc. (RID), a national organization of professionals who provide sign language interpreting/transliterating services for *d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals, proposes that video based communication provides many benefits to *d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing citizens by allowing real time communications and native language accessibility, leading to increased career, educational and social opportunities. While sign language interpreting has been a recognized profession for only forty years, video based interpretation has only been around for the past few years. There is still much ongoing research into issues surrounding effective practices and standards, especially given the strong code of ethics and professional standards in the sign language interpreting profession. Therefore, before making recommendations on implementing video based communication in your One-Stops, it is important to first assess the need and market for the services in your community, as well as the compatibility of technology in your One-Stops.

A. Video Relay Services (VRS)
Video Relay Service (VRS) makes it possible for individuals who use sign language (American Sign Language or other manual forms of English/Spanish) to communicate via video-conferencing with a video interpreter through the internet and webcam. The sign language user communicates with the video interpreter via webcam, who then voices/relays the signed conversation over the phone -in real time- to the hearing caller. By using sign language over the full motion video, sign language users may fully communicate in their natural language and convey facial expression and cues to ensure nothing gets lost in the translation. With VRS , there's no typing, no extended delay, and no "GA"s (“Go Ahead” in TTY turn-taking lingo), which can make for hassle-free, faster communication that flows as freely as a natural conversation. As one deaf VRS user states, “for many deaf people, particularly those not yet fluent in English, video relay services that use broadband and webcams are faster and easier to use”, (About.com, ‘Internet Relay Services, Making Calls with Convenience’ 2006).

Video Relay Services are free of charge to all telephone users, d/Deaf or hearing, as mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates VRS services and provides the services under contract with a number of agencies. VRS cannot be used as a substitute for in-person interpreting services where both d/Deaf and hearing consumers are in the same location; VRS may only be used when consumers are connecting with one another through a telephone connection. Be sure to read and share the federal guidelines for using VRS with your One-Stop management and staff before implementing and marketing the system to customers (a web link to these regulations is listed below in RESOURCES). The FCC indicates that VRS has become a very popular service and offers many benefits to its users, including the following:

  • VRS allows persons whose primary language is American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate in ASL, instead of having to type what they want to say.
  • Because consumers using VRS communicate in sign language, they are able to more fully express themselves through facial expressions and body language, which cannot be expressed in text.
  • A VRS call flows back and forth just like a telephone conversation between two hearing persons. For example, the parties can interrupt each other, which they cannot do with a TTY call (where the parties have to take turns communicating).
  • Because the conversation flows more naturally back and forth between the parties, the conversation can take place much more quickly than with text-based Relay Services. As a result, the same conversation is much shorter through VRS than it would be through other forms of text-based Relay Services.
  • VRS calls may be made between ASL users and hearing persons speaking either English or Spanish.


For more information on the technical specifications to make Video Relay Services available in One-Stops for sign language users (i.e., computer, internet, software and video camera requirements, as well as Firewall support and Macintosh compatibility), visit the websites of VRS providers::

  • Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Regulations for Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS) pursuant to Title IV of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Pub. L. No. 101-336, § 401, 104 Stat.327, 366-69 (adding Section 225 to the Communications Act of 1934 , as amended, 47 U.S.C. § 225
  • Federal Communications Commissions - FCC Consumer Facts on Video Relay Services
  • Federal Video Relay Service (FedVRS), for federal employees
    http://www.fts.gsa.gov/frs/vrs.htm and http://www.fedvrs.us/
    FedVRS allows natural telephone communication between sign language and standard phone users.
  • Directory of Video Relay Service Providers
    This material was compiled by TDI to provide information on the various options in Telecommunication Relay Services throughout the United States. TDI is a resource and advocacy center promoting equal access to telecommunications and media access for people who are deaf, late-deafened, hard-of-hearing or deaf-blind. It includes information on VRS options, as well as links to Video Relay service providers.

B. Video Remote Interpreting (VRI)
Video Relay Service is not the same as Video Remote Interpreting (VRI). With VRI , both the *d/Deaf and hearing individuals are located in the same room and the interpreter is in a remote location. Instead of having an interpreter physically present with the d/Deaf and hearing parties, the interpreter is located at another location and facilitates communication through a video connection, saving the cost of mileage, travel time, and two-hour minimums. VRI can be used in situations such as staff meetings, doctor visits, conferences, or training sessions. Many businesses can utilize the teleconferencing equipment that they already have on site. Keep in mind that conversations may be a little slower than having an interpreter present in person, due to occasional technical glitches. Also, reading sign language on a two dimensional screen is more difficult than watching a live person, so signs may need to be slower and more clear, necessitating a slightly slower pace.

While many still feel there is no substitute for highly qualified "in person" interpreting service, VRI may be the only option in several situations and may be appropriate when:

  • You have no local interpreter available.
  • Your regular interpreter is out sick or otherwise not available.
  • The local interpreter is not qualified for the situation.
  • You prefer not to involve a local interpreter in a very private matter.
  • The travel costs for the interpreting service are too expensive.
  • You need the interpreter RIGHT NOW! (24/7 Availability).
  • You have high speed internet available in your meeting location.
  • You can move your meeting to a location that has high speed internet access.

Conversely, according to SignOn, a communication access consultation service, VRI may not be optimal in some of the following situations in which in-person interpreting services may better suit communication needs:

  • Situations which are highly emotionally charged.
  • Situations with many participants.
  • Situations with individuals who are deaf-blind.
  • Situations with individuals who are not frequent users of interpreting services.
  • Situations with children.
  • Situations with some individuals who are mentally ill.


  • Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) and Computer Aided Real Time (CART) Captioning Services in Minnesota Workforce Centers: A Technology Project to Improve Job Access Opportunities http://sunsite.utk.edu/cod/pec/products/2002/ (scroll down to abstract in Section V: Using Technology).
    This session described and reported the results of the Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) pilot project that used videoconferencing technology to help increase access to WorkForce Center services in three Greater Minnesota locations. Through the project, deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) consumers accessed VRI and computer aided real time (CART) captioning services. While DHH consumers prefer face-to-face communication, direct and timely communication is not always possible due to the shortage of qualified interpreters and captioners, particularly in rural Minnesota. The pilot project pooled resources of the United States Department of Labor; United States Department of Education - Rehabilitation Administration; Minnesota Department of Economic Security - Rehabilitation Services; CSD of Minnesota; The University of Arkansas - Little Rock Rehabilitation Research & Training Center; and the Minnesota Department of Human Services Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services. The full article can be accessed at: http://sunsite.utk.edu/cod/pec/products/2002/latz.pdf.

  • SignOn: Communication Access & Consultation for d/Deaf, Deaf-Blind, and Hard-of-Hearing People
    SignOn’s mission is to provide quality interpreting services to the community and to foster continued growth and development in the profession of interpreting. VRI uses videoconferencing technologies to access sign language interpreting services without an interpreter on site. SignOn can provide this service to customers all over the country.

*TERM: Big “D” Deaf vs. little “d” deaf. Using a capital “D” for Deaf is a cultural distinction, while small “d” refers to physical deafness. You may also see d/Deaf, which refers to both those who have a hearing loss and do not associate with the Deaf culture, as well as those who do follow the culture. Culture results from a group of people coming together to form a community around shared experience, common interests, shared norms of behavior, and shared survival techniques. The essential link to Deaf culture among the American deaf community is American Sign Language and a common sense of pride in their culture and language. For more on Deaf culture - http://www.aslinfo.com/deafculture.cfm..

*TERM: ‘Deaf-first’ language - In the d/Deaf community (which can include d/Deaf, hard-of-hearing, or hearing people), to say 'Deaf person' or 'd/Deaf & hard-of-hearing people' is widely accepted and used by the leaders in this community like the National Association for the Deaf, Registry for Interpreters and Gallaudet University. The belief behind this is that many people in the Deaf community feel that it is good and right to be deaf and saying 'Deaf person' is a positive term, indicative of pride and a communal identity. Some Deaf people prefer 'Deaf person' to 'person who is Deaf', as this is how they identify themselves and do not feel that this labels them as having a disability. In most cases, when reference is made to the d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing community, the Deaf cultural aspect (that is, the term Deaf as a positive identification and not as a disability) takes the lead and cultural rules apply.

Note to DPNs: If you have comments, suggestions or questions relating to the above topic, please email DJ Diamond at ddiamond@ndi-inc.org . They may be added to this FAQ and the archived one on the One-Stop Toolkit website.