24. Video Remote Interpreting (VRI)
Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) held the promise of becoming the greatest telecommunicative advance for Deaf people since the invention of the TTY coupler. But, as so often happens, the reality did not live up to the hype.
For one thing, there’s the technical aspect. VRI simply doesn’t work that well. The technology—assuming that one can have a clearly-visible display—is not dependable. The video display can turn blurry, with huge, jagged pixels, looking like the earliest versions of video relay, which “froze” and fragmented with exasperating frequency, with their hard-to-decipher or unintelligible images.
Another problem: the VRI interpreter covering a local conversation may be from another state, and may not be familiar with local ASL usage.
And still another problem: in video-relay calls, the tiny window displaying the interpreter . . . it’s hard to see clearly even when the picture is clear.
VRI is unsuitable for emergency situations, such as Deaf patients in labor or in the ER. In situations such as these, a live qualified interpreter is the best solution. Hospitals using VRI as a cheaper substitute for live interpreters should recognize that this is false economy. They are setting themselves up for ADA lawsuits, since VRI does not guarantee the same quality of communication taken for granted by hearing patients. As a temporary, non-emergency measure, VRI is acceptable, but should never substitute for a live, qualified interpreter.
We consider VRI useful for quick, non-emergency communications and brief conversations. It is simply not suitable for long, relaxed chats or important conversations. Nor is it suitable for emergency situations. For non-medical purposes, we prefer plain text, video chat, or, in medical emergencies, live interpreters with person-to-person interaction.