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VRS and VRI: What's the Difference?

Thanks to recent technological advancements, Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals have more options for language services. Two of the most common — and most commonly confused — are video relay services (VRS) and video remote interpreting (VRI). 

While VRS has been around for years, VRI has quickly gained popularity. But what exactly is the difference between these two services? Keep reading to find out. 

What Is VRS?

The United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) funds various telecommunications relay services for people with speech or hearing disabilities. These include things like captioned telephone service, text-to-voice, and, of course, VRS. 

VRS started in 2003 as a way for Deaf individuals to make phone calls. Traditionally, Deaf callers relied on a text-to-voice system where they typed everything they wanted to say, and a calling assistant spoke the words to the recipient. However, this system proved to be a bit slow as typing takes time. Also, the Deaf caller must be fluent in written English for it to work. 

For people whose primary language is American Sign Language (ASL), VRS offers a more natural and faster way to make calls. This internet-based system connects a Deaf caller with an interpreter through video-conferencing technology. They communicate in ASL while the interpreter interprets the conversation into English or sometimes even Spanish for the call recipient. 

Benefits of VRS

  • Calling capabilities — Unlike early phone communication services, VRS lets individuals who use ASL communicate in their preferred language. 
  • Available anytime — The FCC requires VRS providers to offer interpretation services 24/7. Plus, they must answer incoming calls promptly to avoid long wait times. 
  • Fully funded — VRS providers receive funding from state or federal organizations, making this service free to users.  

Despite these benefits, there are significant drawbacks to using VRS. First, the FCC has only currently certified four providers of VRS services, so Deaf consumers have limited choice of which providers they will be able to use.

Another issue is that VRS services are only allowable for point-to-point telephone calls and cannot be used in other situations that require ASL interpretation. For example, a Deaf individual could use VRS to call their doctor's office but it cannot be used while onsite for an in-person visit. 

A critical disadvantage of VRS is that only the calling assistant and the caller can see each other. The recipient can't see any facial expressions or body language during the conversation, which are essential forms of expression in ASL. While the calling assistant will interpret as much as possible, the setup isolates the caller from the recipient. 

Most recently, the #StandWithTheDeafCommunity campaign shines a light on the many disadvantages of VRS and calls upon the FCC to improve technology and communication access for Deaf and HoH individuals using the service. 

What Is VRI?

Video remote interpreting uses video conference technology like VRS to connect Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals to an ASL interpreter. The difference is that VRS works for any appointment or meeting, whether remote or in person. 

Callers simply use their phone or computer to access on-demand interpreters anytime, anywhere. The time to connect is immediate — no planning is necessary. Of course, they can also schedule a VRI session if they know the appointment time and date ahead of time.

Since VRI is not limited to phone communication, ASL users can use VRI whenever needed. Let's say a patient unexpectedly went to the ER, and the hospital had no interpreters available. Instead of relying on written communication, the patient can log in to a VRI platform and immediately access qualified medical interpreters. The patient benefits from improved care and less frustration or confusion. And the healthcare provider benefits by being able to fully understand the patient. 

VRI also works for remote appointments where everyone is on video. With multi-participant VRI solutions, several people can join the same video call and participate in the conversation. 

Benefits of VRI

  • HIPAA-compliant — Many VRI providers offer HIPAA-compliant portals and medically certified interpreters to ensure a patient's privacy. 
  • Group calling capabilities — Multi-participant VRI solutions enable group calls so that healthcare providers, family members, or support people can all participate in the conversation. 
  • Increased visibility — Unlike VRS, VRI ensures that all parties can see each other for better communication. 
  • On-demand services — Callers can immediately access interpreters 24/7.
  • Ideal for more than phone calls: VRI is not limited to a single use. Whether the person is in the room with a doctor or on a remote call, they can use VRI for on-demand interpretation.

Experience the World of VRI

Ready to give VRI a try and provide patients with proper language support? GLOBO offers a secure, HIPPA-compliant portal that immediately connects you with medically certified interpreters. Plus, our platform integrates with video and telehealth platforms for streamlined communication. 

Your patients deserve the best, so give them the excellent, patient-centered care they deserve with GLOBO's VRI solution. Schedule your free demo today.

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