Video Relay Services are services provided for the community. It has been under scrutiny and a lot of these issues are not only impacting people that use the services but those that also provide the services. Many dialogues that have been opened by the community have missed some important issues such as how will the FCC reform impact video interpreters. That was the main topic of Convo Relay’s #OpenChatConvo that they hosted on October 29, 2014 at 5:30PM EST. For those that missed the chat, they have the video transcript up on their website.
There was a panel present and spearheaded by Jeff Rosen. The members of the panel were: Azora Telford, Convo VP of Interpreting; Julie Schafer, Director of Public Policy and Advocacy at Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf; and Betty Colonomos, Director at Bilingual Mediation Center. With the panel, they opened discussion first then allowed people to ask questions by calling in, posting on facebook and twitter with #OpenChatConvo as a hashtag. While the chat was happening, Convo also kept the audience updated on what was said by live-tweeting the conversation highlighting important points of the discussion.
A great emphasis on communication initiated the discussion by talking about some issues with the system in place. While individuals are fully aware that they can request a female interpreter or a male interpreter, they don’t realize that if there are some issues with the interpreter, they are allowed to transfer to a different interpreter. Now, with the issue of interpreters being hard to understand, it leads to the importance of qualified interpreters providing the service. FCC has not allowed two things: requiring certification for interpreters to interpret VRS calls (rejected in June of 2013), and allowing the company to choose specialized interpreters for specialized conversations (i.e. medical, legal, etc.) With the cuts in rates, there have been some concerns about the quality of interpreters and whether they will be affected.
What FCC doesn’t realize is that while they have been cutting rates and cutting wait time allowed, that is affecting the ability of the interpreter to be consistent with services. Some calls that individuals make are difficult including death of a family member or facing jail time. While the conversation does not directly affect the interpreter, it can still impact the interpreter’s mental well-being because they have only 10-15 seconds to recuperate from that call and proceed to the next call (This is a trend caused by rate cutting by the FCC). The quality of interpreters also is an issue because of lack of funds to pay for interpreting training. This means that interpreters are not being given incentive to improve or become the best, those opportunities are taken away because of funding. Not only will training/quality of interpreters possibly decrease, it can have the opposite effect on resource development.
What many people forget is that interpreters are an human element in the telecommunications industry and when FCC is not sensitive to that, they are forgetting one of the most important aspects. VRS would not exist without interpreters. Azora mentioned that Convo will continue to seek out qualified interpreters and fight for their needs. These issues are important and need to be dealt with by the community as well not just VRS providers and RID. Julie believes that FCC has no regard for linguistics by not consulting individuals that are actually involved in the process rather than overseeing the process as a whole.
With the understanding of community interpreting being different than Video interpreting, one essential service that is lacking is the allowance to use CDIs (Certified Deaf Interpreters). For those that don’t understand the importanace of CDIs, that doesn’t seem to be an issue but with the growth of CDI services being retained, the need for their services is increasing. Is that an issue in VRS? Yes, the VRS rate does not cover the use CDIs on site so that’s another service that the community misses with VRS.
RID has several research publications that focus on video relay interpreter stress levels. Research and Development for interpreters is a must and is not seen that way. Some things that research has shown (a research study by some Gallaudet students) includes interpreter stress comes from being burnt out, the speed of calls, and dealing with fear calls such as 911 dispatch. If members of this community want to continue to see qualified interpreters take their calls and provide top-tiered service, they need to be telling FCC about their issues or conerns. There has been no real feedback from the community so FCC is basically going into this blind. The panel agreed that linguistics rights equal human rights so these phone calls the community is able to make with an video relay interpreter is not a social program (such as welfare) it is something that people pay for with their tax money.
RID is pulling together a VRS Policy Statement Taskforce. They will be working on a position statement and RID wants to hear from consumers. FCC has also initiated an ASL contact line. The community needs to be using it to provide information to FCC. Educating FCC has been done through regular meetings with RID but not enough complaints are being filed. The panel has ended their discussion asking the community to please share their experience with VRS. Everybody needs to work together to reach the goal of this program becoming as effective as possible without cutting corners. Not only consumers but interpreters need to be also filing complaints with FCC.
Don’t forget these important things: people need to remember that human rights (full communication access) are a need not a want. It is okay to be thankful for the service but it shouldn’t be a question of whether the service is provided or not.