Overdue: FCC Needs to Upgrade Video Relay Services for Deaf Community

Laptop showing man and woman on screen with man communicating in sign language.
Credit: Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Summary: The FCC makes a decision on compensation for Video Relay Service (VRS) providers soon. The deadline for comments is July 15, 2021. If VRS providers don’t receive adequate compensation, communications access for the deaf and hard of hearing community suffers.

At the end of your article, you can find out how to voice your support for VRS provider compensation.

Amanda Tuite, an Accessibility Leader, sent me a very important message on LinkedIn. In that message, she linked to an article by Sherri Turpin: It’s Time to Invest in Infrastructure for Deaf Americans on SEE Change Magazine.

I read Sherri’s post and I 100% support the message: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) needs to invest more to ensure the deaf and hard of hearing community has accommodations (e.g., VRS) in place that keep pace with advancements in communication and ultimately provide for equal communication access.

Right now, those who are deaf and hard of hearing face a number of difficulties when it comes to communication access. Sherri’s article lists some of the challenges:

  • “Emergency services can automatically locate you whenever you dial 911, but not if your language is American Sign Language (ASL).”
  • Slower connections
  • Service sign-up is delayed by days
  • “The inability to have one phone for calls and texting or to easily hop on Zoom for a job interview.”

The great news is that we’re at a critical point in time where the FCC has the opportunity to provide additional funding to improve communications access.

There are many different relay services including TTY, Voice Carry Over (VCO), Hearing Carry Over (HCO), Video Relay Service (VRS), and more. Moreover, there are many different service providers — generally phone companies — who are compensated from either state or federal funds.

The reason for this article is this compensation to VRS providers needs to increase (and rules need to change to reward excellent service) so that those who rely upon VRS — deaf people, those who are hard of hearing, and/or those with speech impairments — have equal communications access.

Read the FCC Telecommunications Relay Service guide to find out more details.

The relay services provided are extremely important, but, at the same time, they’re outdated and need to be upgraded to match with recent innovations and technology. For the purposes of the current FCC agenda, the focus is on VRS.

Here are three key ways the VRS system is outdated:

  • Deaf people have two separate numbers, one for text and one for video — why two separate numbers? #NotEqual.
  • To change a VRS provider, deaf people must wait at least 3 days or more. #NotEqual.
  • For a hearing person to contact deaf people, they need to use at least two numbers: one for text and another for VRS. #NotEqual.

To get an idea of what we’re talking about, the video below provides a demonstration of VRS. In the video, two screens show. In one screen, a woman signs to an interpreter to book a flight. In another screen, the interpreter relays the woman’s questions and answers to a booking agent. The interpreter also relays the agent’s questions and answers to the woman booking the flight.

As Sherri highlights in her article, the current VRS used to make calls falls short when it comes to emergency access, technology, interoperability, and options.

In a nutshell, when it comes to functional equivalence in access to effective communication through telecommunication services, the government hasn’t kept pace with key advancements.

This makes communication and connection that much harder for those with hearing impairments.

ADA Title IV Requirements

Relay services are an accommodation the FCC needs to keep pace with under Title IV of the Americans with Disabilities Act (Section 255).

The statutory language requires:

“…the Commission shall ensure that interstate and intrastate telecommunications relay services are available, to the extent possible and in the most efficient manner, to hearing-impaired and speech-impaired individuals in the United States.”

“The Commission shall ensure that regulations prescribed to implement this section encourage, consistent with section 157(a) of this title, the use of existing technology and do not discourage or impair the development of improved technology.”

How You Can Support

Time is of the essence in showing the FCC that investing in the existing system (especially in compensation for VRS providers and research and development) is essential.

The deadline for the VRS compensation decision is July 15, 2021 so this Thursday. Even if you’re after the deadline, you can still support the deaf community with your action.

If you would like to join the push for equal communications access, here are three great actions you can take:

  1. Share Sherry Turpin’s Invest in Infrastructure for Deaf Americans article on your website, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. #FCC #Deaf #equalaccess #Accessibility
  2. Send a message to the FCC with your support for investing in the deaf community at https://www.fcc.gov/ecfs/filings/express.
  3. Encourage others including organizations, groups, teams, and communities you’re a part of to do the same.

Here is a video on how ask the FCC to invest:

Sample comments provided by Purple Communications, Inc. (https://lnkd.in/g9jcbvX)

“Communication access is a human right”

“The deaf and hard of hearing community deserves functional equivalency and equal access that hearing people take for granted every day.”

“It’s past time for the deaf and hard of hearing community to have full functional equivalency and equal access.”

“Taking from any VRS provider is wrong for the community — give provdiers what they need to offer full functional equivalency and equal access for the deaf and hard of hearing community.”

Here is what I wrote to the FCC:

My FCC message:

“Video Relay Services must be updated and improved for equal access. I strongly support the FCC in 1) Significantly increasing compensation to VRS providers and 2) Updating rules to reward providers who provide excellent service and features / go above and beyond meeting the minimal standard. Beyond Title IV requirements, these actions are the right thing to do and benefit everyone.”

Note:

If you fill out the FCC form (https://lnkd.in/gb5SbSJ) to show support for #VRS compensation, make sure to use 10–51 and 03–123 as the proceedings labels.

Improved access is a win for everyone, not just the deaf community.

Attorney. Author of The ADA Book: https://amzn.to/3lHIyjT (affiliate). https://Accessible.org founder.