Introduction to Video Remote Interpreting and What Businesses Need to Know About It

Published September 10, 2020

What is VRI?

Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) is a video telecommunications service utilized through an external or a built-in camera and audio system. The service is used to provide sign language interpreting between hearing and deaf parties at the same site via videoconferencing, instead of on-site interpreting. Some usable technologies include: iPads, tablets, laptops, and videophones.

Under the current COVID-19 circumstances, VRI can also be used in conjunction with video conferencing platforms like Zoom.

How does VRI work?

Under normal circumstances, the customer, the provider, and the interpreter will connect virtually; the customer and the provider are in a room together, while the interpreter joins virtually from a remote location. Both locations will require video conferencing equipment. The interpreter will often wear a headset and will sign, using a webcam to transmit the information. Any auditory information the interpreter receives will be relayed to the deaf consumer. When the person who is deaf signs their reply, the interpreter will voice what is signed. The hearing and deaf parties can communicate back and forth as if an interpreter is in the room with them.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be preferable to hold all meetings virtually. This means the customer, the provider, and interpreter can all join the meeting remotely.

VRI is provided on a fee-for-service basis. Organizations can contact local interpreting agencies to schedule VRI services. Prices may vary based on how immediate the need is. Emergency rates may be higher, while rates for appointments scheduled in advance may be closer to the normal range.

What do businesses need to know about VRI?

The Americans with Disabilities Act states that covered entities are required to provide reasonable accommodations to ensure effective communication with people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Qualified interpreter services may be necessary.

VRI can be especially useful when there may not be enough qualified interpreters in the area to meet appointment needs (like a rural area). It is also useful when an interpreter is needed immediately and there is not an on-site interpreter available.

VRI works best with a strong internet connection and sufficient bandwidth, so the video and audio are clear. Choppy video or audio could severely impact the interpretation services, therefore impacting accessibility to communication. The screen should be large enough for the consumers to easily see the interpreter. A phone screen may be too small and may cause eye strain. If you are unsure of the accommodations, just ask the deaf consumer what they would prefer.

Make sure to ask the consumer who is deaf what their preference is; some people who are deaf prefer on-site interpreting services, while others are okay with using VRI. Some people from the Deaf Community have expressed they are comfortable using VRI if basic information is being exchanged, or if the appointment is 10-15 minutes long. But, they would prefer an in-person interpreter for more complex or lengthy interactions. Keep this in mind when considering options for interpreting services.

It is also important not to confuse VRI with VRS (Video Relay Service). VRS is when telephone conversations from separate locations take place through an interpreter. While VRS is also compatible with some video conferencing platforms, like Zoom, it is wise to hire a VRI interpreter for your appointment instead. Most of the time, VRI interpreters have a chance to review the information ahead of time, leaving them more prepared for the appointment. The person who is deaf can also provide a list of preferred interpreters that they have worked with before, making the communication go more smoothly. When using VRS, the deaf consumer will connect with a random available interpreter who does not have access to preparatory information or who does not have an established rapport with the client. Not having the information or an established relationship with the client can present some challenges when processing an appointment. Again, when in doubt, ask the client who is deaf what their preferences are.