Winter 2016

The Latest News from VRSCA

by Sharon Hayes

On Dec. 23, 2015, the VRSCA filed comments to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). To read VRSCA’s filing, visit

What is the Difference between VRS & VRI?

Often, we see confusion among people who do not understand what VRS (Video Relay Service) and VRI (Video Relay Interpreting) do. This article is devoted to explaining the difference between VRS and VRI.


VRS is a form of telecommunication relay service that is sent through the internet to a videophone (VP) and TV or computer screen or to a wireless mobile device (with a web camera) onto which VRS software has been loaded.. An individual who is deaf or hard-of-hearing and uses sign language to communicate can use this technology to call a hearing party who uses a standard phone. The caller signs to the interpreter on the screen who, in turn, voices to the hearing party. The interpreter signs back to the caller what the hearing person says. Because communication between the two parties is almost simultaneous, this “visual” form of communication is valued by many people who rely on sign language to communicate. A voice telephone user can also initiate a VRS call to a person who uses sign language by calling a toll-free number or by calling the person’s direct number.

Features of VRS:

  • Used for communication between a signing and non-signing party via the telephone and a VP or mobile device loaded with VRS software
  • Service provided for two callers in separate locations, with an interpreter in a third, separate location
  • Is a subsidized program funded by the FCC that is free for all callers
  • Only the signing party is visible to the VRS interpreter.


Video conferencing equipment or a television with a VP is used to allow people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing to communicate with people who are hearing at the same location through an interpreter. The interpreter is not physically present, but is available via the video equipment. There is a fee for this service. VRI is a convenient resource for parties in need of interpreter services when or where an interpreter is not available to be present onsite.

Giving Feedback About Interpreters
One way to support interpreters who do an outstanding job or suggesting changes for those who do not is to provide feedback directly to VRS providers.  Don't hesitate to compliment interpreters who provide an optimal VRS experience.  You can submit complaints about interpreters who are less than professional by contacting VRS providers' customer service departments.  Here is contact information for all six VRS providers

Features of VRI

  • Used for communication between a signing and non-signing party during a face-to-face meeting
  • Service provided for two or more people in the same location
  • The service costs, much like a freelance interpreter
  • Interpreter is in a separate location than the other parties
  • Both parties are typically visible to the VRS interpreter, and vice versa.

Vendors for VRS provide free VPs to qualified persons and vendors for VRI provide video equipment for rent or purchase. For more information, search the Internet using the following key phrases: Video Relay Service, Interpreting Online, Video Remote Interpreting and/or Video Interpreting.

Source: Minnesota Department of Human Services

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