What is VRI?
Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) is a supplemental technology enabling businesses to communicate with their Deaf clients using an off-site interpreter. With VRI, the interpreter and the business must have a laptop or tablet, a high speed internet connection, video-conferencing technology, and a web cam.
The interpreter and the business connect with each other via the videoconferencing program when the Deaf client arrives. The computer is directed toward the Deaf person so they can see the interpreter on the screen and the interpreter can clearly see the Deaf consumer. The interpreter voices the message which is heard via the computer speaker in your office. The rate is charged by the minute and with a 30 minute minimum.
VRI is one technology that can take interpreting to a whole new level of access. It is also not to be taken on lightly or without educating yourself to see if it’s a good fit for your business. Don’t be sold on the “it’s cheaper and quicker” pitch that many VRI companies try to sell you on.
But is VRI cheaper?
Maybe. It really depends on what the cost is to hire a physical interpreter. Many interpreting agencies charge all kinds of extra unnecessary fees just to have a warm body show up to your office. In some cases, an onsite interpreter is cheaper for an hour and half appointment than using a VRI service for that same time frame. You should question all the fees suggested by the interpreting agency for both the on-site interpreter and VRI services.
Is it quicker?
Yes, it definitely can be, however, computer connections may be lousy or drop causing you to reconnect again. You, also, have no assurance that the remote interpreter knows the regional signs not used in other parts of the country which can lead to ineffective communication – exactly opposite of what the law requires!
Technology can help, but it’s not a perfect fit for all situations. There have been several lawsuits about this technology being used as a replacement to a ‘warm body’ rather than a supplement. VRI within a small/confined space where lots of movement takes place makes it not-so-practical and very frustrating for both the interpreter and the Deaf person. Just think, if you were in pain or had to lie on the exam table, could you focus on a laptop screen at the same time? Could your patient sit up the entire time they need to communicate? Could your employees stay out of the way of the webcam? What about our elderly?
In fact, its effectiveness and appropriateness has been such a hot topic that the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) wrote a standard practice paper on the proper use of VRI. Using VRI for medical situations is risky, and CbH follows NAD’s recommendations that VRI is used only when an on-site interpreter is not available. We believe knowledge is power when it comes to issues like this, so educate yourself as much as possible. At the very least, the Deaf should have a choice when using VRI – it should never be forced on them. The Affordable Care Act Section 1557 specifies that the Deaf are to have a choice in their auxiliary aids, so do new ADA regulations.
Our motto here at CbH for using and providing Video Remote Interpreting services is that it’s a SUPPLEMENT, NEVER A SUBSTITUTE.
If you do decide to try VRI, CbH is ready and able to make it happen. No fancy equipment is needed – just a laptop or tablet with a good quality webcam, high speed internet and a videoconferencing account. It does work best and is most appropriate for those situations where the Deaf person is stationary, as well as others in the room. Your staff will need to be trained on how to set it up and use it effectively – CbH can help with this too. Ultimately, providing in-person interpreters to a disabled and therefore disadvantaged population is the right thing to do.