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For deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals skilled in American Sign Language (ASL), Video Relay Services (VRS) and Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) both provide valuable tools for communicating with the hearing world. Video Relay Services is a form of Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS) which: 1. gives deaf individuals access to the telephone system 2. allows those with hearing disabilities to use sign language instead of a text telephone (TTY) to call a hearing person over normal telephone lines 3. permits the use of a broadband 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 customary voice call through the telephone system were it not for the disability. VRS may not be used as a substitute for a live interpreter. VRI has a different need in mind. With VRI, both the deaf and hearing persons are situated in the same location, such as a hospital, school, college classroom, courtroom, police station, jail, or any other location where an in-person ASL interpreter is unavailable. Fees for VRI are paid for by the party requesting them. Depending on the need, a qualified interpreter may be mandatory as a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), especially in medical and courthouse 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 courtrooms where the need for an ASL interpreter cannot always be predicted in advance. Traditional live sign language interpreters usually: * must be booked 24 hours in advance to avoid additional charges * demand a 2 hour minimum, regardless of the length of interpreting time * charge the minimum fee if the assignment is not canceled 24 hours in advance *charge the minimum if the deaf client is absent VRI can: 1. substitute for in-person interpreters when not available 2. reduce the cost to private medical offices and colleges who are required to provide sign language interpreters but who are not reimbursed by the TRS Fund 3. provide interpreting in hazardous situations such as prisons and medical facilities 4. be available by appointment or on demand 5. no extra fees for last second booking or cancellations 6. eliminate live interpreter charges for travel and parking FCC concerns over illegal use of VRS instead of VRI continue. While VRS providers have systems in place to detect abusive calls, no system is infallible.
Charles Lamm is a retired attorney serving as Legal/Technical Consultant for acdterps Accessible Communication for the Deaf. For more information on VRI, as well as news for ASL Interpreters, slijam visit ACD VRI.

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