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For members of the deaf community comfortable with 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. requires the use of a high speed Internet connection plus a web cam or video conferencing equipment to access a Communications Assistant (CA) in a call center

4. the CA signs to the deaf person and speaks to the hearing one

5. also permits a hearing person to initiate a call to the deaf individual

Costs for VRS calls are covered by the Interstate TRS Fund which is managed by the FCC. Calls are free, and the VRS provider almost always picks up any domestic long distance charges.

The FCC mandates that VRS is only to be used in a situation where the person with a hearing disability would have made a regular voice call through the telephone system were it not for the disability. VRS may not be used as a replacement for a live interpreter.

VRI has a different goal in mind. With VRI, both the deaf and hearing persons are situated in the same place, such as a hospital, school, college classroom, courtroom, police station, jail, or any other location where an in-person ASL interpreter is unavailable.

Fees are paid for by the party requesting VRI services - not by the government. Depending on the situation, a qualified interpreter may be necessary as a reasonable accommodation required under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), especially in hospital and legal 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 has increased in popularity in emergency situations or for short assignments.

Traditional live sign language interpreters usually:

* have to be booked in advance (or extra fees apply)

* require a two-hour minimum fee, no matter how short the actual interpreting needs

* charge a 2 hour minimum fee if the job is not canceled 24 hours in advance

* charge if the client is a no-show, such as a deaf student skipping a class

VRI is an ideal solution to:

1. substitute for in-person interpreters when not available

2. cut the cost to private medical offices and colleges who are required to provide sign language interpreters but who are not reimbursed by the government

3. make sign language available in secure environments such as prisions, interrogation rooms, and hazardous medical environments

4. available on demand at no extra charge

5. no additional charges for last minute assignments or cancellations

6. cut out "in-person" interpreter fees for travel and parking

FCC concerns over illegal use of VRS instead of VRI continue. While VRS service providers have systems in place to detect abusive calls, no system is infallible.

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Occupation: legal/technical consultant
Charles Lamm - retired attorney, junkyard philosopher, amateur anarchist - now chooses to make his living on the Internet from wherever he happens to be. For more on Affiliate Genie and other Internet marketing tools, visit his website at: ChazL.com - http://www.chazl.com
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