Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) vs. Onsite Sign Language Interpreter

Going to the doctor is personal and sometimes embarrassing. Consider if a third party had to come in and provide sign language interpreting services for you at that appointment. If you think in-person sign language interpreting can be uncomfortable, consider Video Remote Interpreting (See our blog on VRI). Though VRI does work well in some cases, many times being seen on video is impersonal and uncomfortable.  It may be impractical for many appointments and procedures.

Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) or Onsite sign language

Video Remote Interpreting Limitations

Remember that a sign language interpretation is the voice of the D/deaf patient.  Let’s consider the limitations to Video Remote Interpreting. For example, current challenges or complaints with VRI are that many hospitals or physicians use it in inappropriate settings as with trauma one (1) victims. Video Remote Interpreting is done through “video.”  So it is useful in the interim while a sign language interpreter is traveling to the site.  It is not effective long term with patients at a trauma one (1) level or with ER situations in general.

Benefits of Onsite Sign Language Interpreting

The job of sign language interpreting is to bridge the gap between languages.  It is also a series of decision making based on a client’s behavior and language choices. For example, an onsite sign language interpreter is better able to distinguish pain or other non-native sign language gestures.  They have a full view of the D/deaf patient.  Over time they can learn the patient’s mannerisms (just as a physician or nurse would). The onsite sign language interpreter is better able to note variations in signs and then report it to the medical staff for further medical discretion.

Sign Language Interpreter Consistency

Video Remote Interpreting is used in shorter increments to save costs on interpreting.  But they are not given a full view of the D/deaf patient. Additionally, since it is billed in shorter increments, you are more than likely to work with several sign language interpreters for one patient.  There is not enough time for one interpreter to distinguish changes in specific sign choices and tone of the patient.  It can be very detrimental to the patient’s overall care not to have a consistent sign language interpreter or agency working with one patient. In summary, in the short term Video Remote Interpreting in some cases may work well for medical staff to access vitals, but it is not a substitute for an onsite interpreter.

Knowledge of Local Signs

It is important to consider hiring a local sign language interpreting firm for sign language interpreting services. Check out why to hire a local firm. Since a Video Remote Interpreter can be set up anywhere around the world, many times there is no way for a sign language interpreter to distinguish what is a “local” sign or an incorrect sign (which could occur with a head/brain injury).  Additionally, all sign language interpreters must be certified and licensed at the appropriate level.  This may vary per state.

Certification and Licensure by State

They must also be certified and licensed to provide sign language interpreting services in any state they serve. Getting certified and licensed is a matter of paperwork processing and doesn’t necessarily mean that the sign language interpreter is familiar with the variations in language.  It only means that if need be a grievance could be filed against their license (as with licenses of medical staff) if there are any concerns.  Sign language interpreters and interpreting firms must adhere to laws similar to hospitals and doctors offices.

In closing, VRI is cost effective in some situations. It is inappropriate and unethical in other situations. The cost to benefit ratio should be highly considered before replacing an onsite Sign Language Interpreter with a Video Remote Interpreter.


National Association of the Deaf (NAD) article on VRI

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MT & Associates | Sign Language Interpreting Practice BBB Business Review