Video remote interpreting (VRI) is a videotelecommunication service that uses devices such as web cameras or videophones to provide sign language or spoken language interpreting services. This is done through a remote or offsite interpreter, in order to communicate with persons with whom there is a communication barrier. It is similar to a slightly different technology called video relay service, where the parties are each located in different places. VRI is a type of telecommunications relay service (TRS) that is not regulated by the FCC.
In a typical VRI situation, the two parties are located together at one location with a videophone or web camera, and a television or computer screen. The interpreter works from another location—either an office, home-based studio or call center—also using a videophone or web camera and television or computer screen. The equipment must provide video and audio connectivity, or a separate telephone line can be used for audio. The video interpreter facilitates communication between the participants who are located together at the other site. In the case of Sign Language interpretation, the interpreter hears the voices of the hearing people through the microphone or telephone, and renders the message into sign language, via a video camera, which the deaf person views on his or her video display. In turn, when the deaf participants sign to the camera, interpreters view it from their screen, and speaks the aural interpretation into a microphone or telephone for the hearing people.
VRI is a growing field. One popular application is in the hospital emergency room. In this setting, it is essential that patients and caregivers communicate readily with medical personnel, but it may take time for a face-to-face interpreter to arrive onsite. Hospitals with VRI capability can connect with a remote interpreter quickly and conduct triage and intake surveys with the patient or caregiver without significant delay. Also, employees who work in office settings are increasingly converting to VRI services to accommodate brief interactions or regular meetings which would be difficult to schedule with an onsite interpreter. Schools and businesses located in areas not adequately served by existing community interpreters can also benefit from increased access to professional interpreters and save the expense of vendor travel reimbursements.
Using VRI for medical, legal and mental health settings is seen as controversial by some in the deaf community, where there is an opinion that it does not provide appropriate communication access—particularly in medical settings where the patient's ability to watch the screen or sign clearly to the camera may be compromised. This is balanced by many in the services and public services sectors who identify with the benefits of being able to communicate in otherwise impossible (and sometimes life-threatening) situations without having to wait hours for an interpreter to turn up, even if this initial contact is used just to arrange a further face-to-face appointment. Therefore, businesses and organizations contend that it meets or exceeds the minimum threshold for reasonable accommodation as its principle is built around offering "reasonable adjustment" through increasing initial accessibility.
VRI is distinct from Video Relay Service (VRS): typically VRI is a contracted service used by organizations to help them communicate with Limited English Proficient or Deaf/Hard of Hearing customers. VRS is principally a service provided to the deaf community, whereby a deaf person can contact the service, and use the interpreter to contact a third-party organisation. In the past, the term 'video relay service' had been used interchangeably with 'video relay interpreting', but currently the terms refer to two separate and distinct services. However, a 'video interpreter' (V.I.) may refer to the practitioner working in either setting.
According to U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations, deaf and hearing people in the same room are not permitted to use VRS to communicate, because the service is designated only for telephone calls, and receives funding from telecommunications relay service taxes. In the United States the FCC requires that if a VRS interpreter determines callers are in the same location, they must advise both parties that the interpreter must terminate the call. Video remote interpreting however, can either be provided for persons in the same location, or different locations, as long as the parties can see or hear the interpreter respectively, and vice versa.
Despite criticism, VRI is proving to be a crucial tool in facilitating communication between those who ordinarily could not converse. For unplanned or emergency interactions, many organizations recognize significant benefits with the instant support provided by videotelephony. Face-to-face interpreting support is a much more personal method of advocacy, however such an interpreter needs to be scheduled in advance and is subject to travel (and associated) delays, also costing more than any other method.
In 2010, Chicago's Mercy Hospital and Medical Center carried out an investigation into new ways that the hospital could effectively meet the needs of its deaf and hard of hearing patients, with the ultimate goal to improve patient care and satisfaction, increase hospital efficiency and provide better value for money for all. Their conclusion focused on implementing an on-demand VRI service whereby hospital staff were able to access qualified, experienced Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) / National Association of the Deaf (NAD) certified American Sign Language interpreters via the Internet with delays as short as minutes. Dedicated laptop computers were made available for use by clinicians and are to this day the service is utilized across the hospital's departments. Notably the hospital has measured tangible results in increased patient flow and overall satisfaction.
In June 2011, the Windsor, Ontario, Canada, Police Service piloted a VRI service aimed at improving communication with the deaf, hard of hearing and people with other language barriers. The 30-day trial was deployed in the Emergency 911 Center, and proved so successful that they went on to incorporate the program into their Windsor Police Service Human Rights Project as a way of expanding services to people who are deaf or are Limited English Proficient. The cost to Windsor Police Services at that time was $50 per month and $3.25 per minute of use.