VRS (Video Relay Services)

Video Relay Services (VRS) is a replacement of an old technology that was used for Deaf and Hard of Hearing users to place calls.  Previously, the technology used was teletypewriters (TTYs).

Calling through an Operator

Roughly within the past 10 years when a Deaf or Hard of Hearing person wanted to make a phone call they had to call an operator to assist them.  The service was called “relay” because the operator would relay the message back and forth between a hearing and Deaf user.  It was an interesting service when you think of some of the phone calls you place.  Some examples include:

  • “Hi Mom, my prescription number is…”
  • “Your grand baby was born!”
  • “I’d like to schedule a haircut appointment.”
  • “Uncle Tim passed away.”
  • “Do you want to go out on a date?”

The Process

The process to call through an operator was somewhat easy but took so LONG that you debated whether or not your call was truly important.  Here is how it worked:

  1. The Deaf or Hard of Hearing person would call the operator via a “mini” typewriter called a TTY.  The TTY connected via a phone line to an operator, and they would assist in processing the call.
  2. The Deaf  or Hard of Hearing person would call an operator and tell them who they wanted to call.  Then they would wait on the line for the operator to connect to the person on the other end.  Sometimes they ended up with a machine message, busy signal, or no answer at all.
  3. If the operator reached a person, they would type on the TTY to the Deaf person.  Only then would a conversation take place.
  4. The operator would read the typed information from the Deaf person to the person who could hear.  Then they would type back what the person was saying.  This took a lot of time to go back and forth and likely got more complicated when acronyms such as “lol” were created.VRS TTY relay sign language

The length of time was unbearable.  Also, if a young Deaf boy wanted to call a hearing girl to ask her out on a date, he likely had to ask the young girl through an operator.  Their voice could be female or monotone.  This is not necessarily appealing to a teenage girl.  She was asked out by a boy who had a “woman’s voice” or who was not “excited” about the date.

Development of Equipment

Overtime as conferencing equipment became more advanced, VRS was born.  Now a Deaf consumer can call through video conferencing equipment and get a live interpreter.  For a Deaf boy the interpreter’s voice may still be female.  Since interpreters, however, are trained in cultural mediation the calls are a little less awkward.  An interpreter can show excitement and emotions with their voice.  VRS has sped up the time of calls (which saves tax payer dollars).  It has also permitted Deaf or Hard of Hearing callers equal access to phone conversations.

If you ever receive a call from an operator saying, “This is interpreter 2132 with {company name}. I have a Deaf caller on the line,” you will know what to expect and why they use it.  The video below explains why VRS usage was enacted and how the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) is still working to improve accessibility.

Similar to VRS is VRI. Check out this article for more information.



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