Video Relay Service

Video Relay Service

A Video Relay Service (VRS) is a telecommunication service that allows deaf, hard of hearing and speech-impaired individuals to communicate over the phone with hearing people in real-time, using a sign language interpreter. In America, the service is regulated by the FCC.

How it works

#An individual who communicates by American Sign Language, or another mode of manual communication, such as Signing Exact English, contact signing (Pidgin Signed English), Cued Speech, or Linguistics of Visual English, uses a videophone or other video device, such as a webcam, to connect via broadband Internet to a Video Relay Service.
#The caller is routed to a sign language interpreter, known as a Video Interpreter (VI). The VI is in front of a camera or videophone.
#The video user gives the VI a voice number to dial, as well as any special dialing instructions.
#The VI places the call and interprets as a neutral, non-participating third party. Anything that the audio user says is signed to the video user, and anything signed by the video user is spoken to the audio user.
#Once the call is over, the caller can make another call(s) or hang up with the interpreter.

Hearing people can contact a Deaf, Hard-of-Hearing, or Speech-Disabled person via VRS. To initiate a call, the hearing person calls the VRS, and is connected to a video interpreter who then contacts the video user.

Some VRS services also offer:

* Voice Carry Over: The video user may use his/her own voice instead of the interpreter speaking;
* Hearing Carry Over: the video user may listen for him/herself instead of relying on the interpreter;
* Language Preference: The video user requests that the interpreter use American Sign Language;
* the ability to connect to a sign language interpreter who can interpret into another language, such as Spanish.

History of VRS

Building support for trials

Ed Bosson of the Texas Public Utility Commission (PUC) envisioned Deaf people communicating with videophones more than 10 years before the FCC mandated it nationwide. Ed contacted Mark Seeger of Sprint Relay and discussed the possibilities. Mark contacted Sprint technicians to see if Ed’s vision was feasible. They reported that it was, so Ed brought the idea to the Texas PUC.

It took Ed a long time to be able to convince the PUC and get some help from a lawyer in interpreting. First, Ed convinced his supervisor and then one-by-one, the Commissioners, that video relay should become a part of statewide Telecom Relay Service offerings. They authorized Ed to manage the first video relay service trials. Sprint was the first service provider to conduct the Texas video relay tests. Bosson would later receive national awards from Smithsonian Computerworld and TDI for his work with VRS.

Initial trials

In 1995, the first trial was run by Sprint in Austin and was limited to four public call centers.

The second trial occurred in 1997 and served ten cities in Texas. At that point, Sprint and Hanwave Interpreting partnered to provide service. Jon Hodson of Sorenson Communications worked with Ed Bosson during the early stages and provided video conferencing software during the VRS trial in Texas. (At this point the service was called "Video Relay Interpreting" or VRI, which a name that now refers to Video Remote Interpreting. Linda Nelson is credited with changing the term from VRI to VRS.) Later, Hanwave Interpreting Service was bought by Communication Service for the Deaf, and Sprint expanded their relay subcontract to include VRS services in addition to the established TRS services.

In 2002 Washington and Texas tested a web based VRS statewide, with CSDVRS providing VRS services via the Internet to Washington state.

Nationwide implementation

In 2000, VRS officially became available throughout the state of Texas. In 2002, the FCC allowed for the reimbursement of interstate VRS providers via the interstate TRS fund administration, becoming the second country after Sweden to federally subsidize VRS nationwide.

VRS regulation in the United States

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is the regulatory body for VRS in the United States. In addition to overseeing VRS, the FCC also oversees Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS), from which the VRS regulatory framework has evolved. The FCC oversees TRS and VRS as a result of their mandate in the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) to facilitate the provisions equal access to individuals with disabilities over the telephone network.

Funding for VRS is provided via the Interstate Telecommunications Relay Fund, which was created by the FCC, originally to fund TRS services. Funding for the TRS comes from a tax on the revenue from all telecommunications companies operating in the US. The tax on revenue is set by the FCC yearly and has been steadily increasing as the amount of VRS minutes continues to climb. For 2007 the tax is 7.2/100ths of a penny per dollar of revenue, up from 3.8/100th of a penny in 2000. The current revenue tax of .0072 is expected to generate $553 million against telecommunications industry revenue of $76.8 billion. The fund is managed by National Exchange Carriers Association (NECA), which also administers the much larger Universal Service Fund.

In addition to regulating the funding of VRS, the FCC regulates the standards that VRS companies and their employees must follow in handling calls. These regulations ensure that VRS calls are handled appropriately and ethically.

The FCC issued rulings include:
*The time it takes an interpreter to answer an incoming VRS call. As of July 1, 2006, VRS providers must answer 80% of calls within two and a half minutes. Starting on January 1, 2007 VRS providers must answer 80% of calls within two minutes.
*As of January 1, 2006, all VRS providers are required to provide service 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
*Reimbursement of VRS Video Mail. If a Hearing person calls a sign language user, but there is no answer, the VI signs a message and delivers it to the sign language user's e-mail, similar to an answering machine. Previously this service was not reimbursed and the cost was absorbed by the VRS provider.
*VRS providers are not permitted to “call back” when a customer hangs up before a VRS call is placed.
*VRS providers must only process calls that either originate or terminate in the US or its territories. For example, a person in Canada may use a VRS service in the United States to call a person in the United States, but not another person in Canada.

VRS outside the United States


Sweden was the first country to implement a public VRS fully subsidized by the government.

United Kingdom

Significan't (UK) Ltd, a deaf and sign language led social enterprise, was the first to establish an IP Video Relay Service in 2004 in London. SignVideo Contact Centre employs only fully qualified and registered sign language interpreters and passed its 10,000th video call minute in 2006 and has secured national contracts with Access to Work and the National Health Services to provide Video Remote Interpreting services. Check their website out -

The British Deaf Association (BDA) allows people who use British Sign Language (BSL) to communicate with Hearing people and vice-versa through the BDA-CSD VRS or SIGN VRS services. To launch this service, BDA entered into a partnership with Communication Service for the Deaf. The service was initially operated as a free trial. []

Current issues in VRS administration

*Numbering standardization competing VRS providers have incompatible numbering schemes.
*Interconnection between the IP-based videophone network and the worldwide telephone network.

Major Video Relay Service providers

"United States of America"

*GoAmerica has finalized to acquire Verizon’s Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS) Division. []

External links

* [ FCC TRS Rules]
* [ Pinky tells the Real Story Video Relay Service VRS]
* [ Proud Geek presents: List of Video Relay Services]
* [ Clear View Innovations presents: VRS and VRI Information and Providers]
* [ Lean Mean VRS Machine]
* [ Snap Denies Interoperability Download]
* [ Interoperability Yes, No, Yes, No!]

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