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Video Relay Services (4)
Article series: Video Relay Services 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

By Rachele Stockdale

Video Relay Services: Development and Purpose

Technology has provided us so many ways to communicate with others. Where as the first telephone seemed cutting edge, we now experience the immense freedom that things such as cell phones, personal computers and more bring us, and at the mere touch of our fingertips. All these devices developed over the years have made it easier and more efficient for people in different locations to communicate. Programs such as Skype, for example, allow people around the world to see each other face to face while only needing Internet access and a video camera. And while technology as a whole has made incredible leaps and bounds, devices utilized specifically by the Deaf Community have not been neglected either. Generally categorized under video relay services, this encompasses a way in which Deaf and hard of hearing individuals can communicate at a distance.

A video relay service is a telecommunication service that allows Deaf individuals to communicate over a videophone using a sign language interpreter (Wikipedia, 2013).  Relatively young in terms of technology it has been well developed particularly in Sweden since 1997 while in the United States has been significantly developed since the early 2000s with VRS services being regulated by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) since 2002 (Wikipedia, 2013). A video relay service is utilized particularly between Deaf or hard of hearing individuals and hearing individuals (The Z, 2013). This service allows hearing and Deaf individuals to talk in real time because of a third party interpreter that translates between the two. Because of the particular nature of this form of communication a video relay service requires a particular type of phone that allows for the interpreter and the Deaf or hard of hearing individual to see one another. One of the first times this type of video technology was introduced to the Deaf Community was at the 1964 New York World Fair (Wikipedia, 2013).

Ed Bosson was one of the first individuals to envision such a form of technology available to the Deaf Community and has been a major component in making VRS what it is today (Wikipedia, 2013). Since his work at providing services like these to the Deaf Community, many companies throughout the United States and the world offer video relay services. Companies including The Z, a VRS company has been in production since 1999 and provides not only communication services to the Deaf Community, but also the specific products needed for this type of communication like video phones and cameras (The Z, 2013). Many other companies like The Z are funded completely by the FCC (The Z, 2013; Wikipedia, 2013).

There are many benefits to using this type of technology and as it continues to develop and become more readily available throughout the U.S. and world, the easier it will be to offer. The benefits to using this type of communication means that Deaf or hard of hearing individuals do not have to only communicate via typed text (FCC, 2011).  Because the interpreter, called a communications assistant according to the FCC, and VRS users are able to fluently use ASL to communicate, it provides for a much smoother and quicker conversation. While text messaging is useful, other benefits to VRS include being able to visibly show expressions and emotion thereby being able to better communicate which is something text messages are not able to fully do (FCC, 2011).

The benefits to providing video relay services are countless, not only does it provide for an easy and efficient way for people within the Deaf or hard of hearing Community to communicate with hearing individuals, it also allows them to communicate in their native language, American Sign Language. As technology grows and video relay services reach throughout the world, people are one step closer to being able to communicate with one another beyond the boundary of culture, society, and language. 


FCC (2011, May 25). "Video Relay Services". Retrieved March 12, 2013 from:

The Z (2013). Retrieved March 12, 2013 from:

Wikipedia: The free encyclopedia. (2004, July 22). FL: Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. Retrieved March 12, 2013, from



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