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Video Relay Services (2)

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

By Kelsey Shaw

Video Relay Services

               A Video Relay Service (VRS) is a service that enables Deaf and hard of hearing people to use sign language to make and receive calls using video equipment. This service provides access to a Video Relay Service (VRS) operator who functions as an interpreter for when the VRS user wishes to make a call to or communicate with another individual who may not know sign language fluently or at all (de Sa, 2011).

When a VRS user dials the number of their state's relay service using a television or computer with a video camera and high speed internet connection for the sake of signing, the VRS operator answers the call, and then places a call to the desired contact person of the VRS user. The operator is simply the "interpreter" and relays information between two parties (Gotherstrom, 2004 & de Sa, 2011).

VRS operators have been trained to facilitate communication for Deaf and hard of hearing. Many are certified interpreters.  For example, Sorenson Video Relay Services specifically guarantees that their interpreters are certified by the National Association of the Deaf or Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, hold a state interpreter certification, or hold a Masters degree in sign language (Burdett, 2011).

Since video relay services involve the use of a third party, a big concern raised with using these services is privacy. The VRS interpreter is usually (but not always) a stranger to the VRS user.  The confidentiality of a VRS user's conversation is at stake each time a person uses this service. The seriousness of this matter is evident in an information sheet printed by the Illinois Department of Public Health which states, "Accommodation services are covered by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) so that confidentiality is protected" (Quin, 2011).  Additionally, Interpreters have been obliged to abide by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf Code of Ethics and the Federal Communication Commission's regulations to help assure privacy for the VRS user. These protections help reduce the likelihood of confidentiality being violated by the third party when using VRS, so much so that VRS services are said to be more secure for communication purposes than using email (Quin, 2011).

               Over the years, VRS has become an extremely well-known and popular service among the hard of hearing and the Deaf. VRS offers benefits that previous text-based communication devices never could, namely: the user is able to communicate in their language (American Sign Language), conversations are much shorter and quicker when done through VRS, and when using VRS, conversations are much more fluent and natural in that users can interrupt one another like a face to face interaction (de Sa, 2011).

Video Relay Services and related technology enable members of the Deaf and hard of hearing community to go about daily life in a much more streamlined manner and to communicate with others through their preferred mode of communication, American Sign Language.


Burdett, Ron. (2011, June).SVRS interpreters. Sorenson Video Relay Service. Sorenson Communications. Retrieved 7, July 2011: <>.

de Sa, Paul & Karen Strauss. (2011, May 5). Video relay service reform. Federal Communication Commission. Consumer &  Governmental Affairs Bureau. Retrieved 8, July 2011: <>.

de Sa, Paul & Karen Strauss. (2011, May 5). Video relay services. Federal Communication Commission. Consumer &  Governmental Affairs Bureau. Retrieved 8, July 2011: <>.

Gotherstrom, Ulla-Christel, Jan Persson, & Dick Jonsson. (2004). A comparative study of text telephone and videophone relay services. Technology & Disability. 16, 101-109.

Quinn, Pat. (2011, July 8). Video relay service (VRS). Illinois Department of Public Health. State of Illinois. Retrieved 8, July 2011:  <>.



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