In a typical interpreting scenario, there are three main actors: Deaf user, sign language interpreter, and hearing non-signer(s).  When the deaf user signs, the interpreter would voice, so the non-signer hears the conveyed message.  When the non-signer speaks, the interpreter will sign accordingly, so the deaf user receives the communication from the speaker.  With the right technology, Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) enables an interpreter from anywhere in the world to facilitate the conversation.  Whereas, the on-site or traditional approach would require the interpreter to travel and come in person.

NON-SIGNERS: Please enable CC to display captions for the above video

When to Use Remote versus On-site Interpreting

So, which one do I use? The short answer: It depends. Even though I will be emphasizing the benefits of leveraging pre-scheduled VRI in the professional space, it is not necessarily the best way in all circumstances. At IBM, I have the choice to request on-site or VRI interpreting. Since most of my meetings take place in video conferences, they correspond well to VRI. It is also excellent for face-to-face meetings as the remote interpreter can listen in typically via video capabilities on tablets or laptops.

On the other hand, on-site interpreting is better suited for meetings such as team lunches, conferences, and events because of the background noise and technical limitations, such as poor network connectivity and device arrangement in a dynamic environment, that will render VRI useless. Typically, the drawback of on-site interpreting for regular meetings is a minimum 2-hour booking plus the cost of travel time, which isn’t ideal for meetings that sometimes only last 15-30 minutes at a time. Because they serve the community, sometimes, my preferred interpreters are not available during the requested times.

VRI in the Professional Space

Admittedly, I was hesitant to the idea of utilizing remote services, but after getting a taste of VRI capabilities offered, I became hooked on it. I no longer needed to book daylong or half-day on-site interpreting and try to schedule all meetings to coincide. I immediately recognized the convenience and availability of VRI services, which enabled me to save time and avoid the typical nuisances of meeting with the interpreter in the lobby and accompanying them to secured areas. The booking is seamless, and all requests are submitted via Slack messaging, returned with a near-immediate confirmation yielding peace of mind. I also can inquire about availability if I have scheduling flexibility. They have a dedicated team of interpreters who work from various locations and develop familiarity with a breadth of technical terms, acronyms, and vocabulary at IBM. The flexibility and power of choice all helped improve my overall productivity and enabled me to concentrate on my work.

Being mandated to work from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic was not a significant adjustment. Thanks to the VRI infrastructure already in place, I can continue working without interruption. Had I depended entirely on on-site interpreting, I’d have to scramble and figure out a solution and collaborate with the interpreters to get them set up with remote interpreting. Thankfully, I did not have to worry about any of that.

Give It a Try and Decide for Yourself

On-demand VRI has its share of controversy and criticism, particularly in hospitals and medical settings. Perhaps, technical or network issues may be behind the negative views of VRI, but I believe it has a lot to do with the absence of choice. If the user has the freedom to choose the VRI platform, device, interpreter preference, and, most importantly, between remote and on-site interpreting, it could remove the stigma associated with VRI and bring in a more positive light.

Granted, VRI in the professional space is not for everyone. Everyone’s situation and circumstances may be different. I am sharing my experience in hopes that it may shift perspectives on VRI, so it may help deaf professionals do their job more effectively. It may end up saving the employer some money while yielding more productivity. With virtually everyone working from home, the playing field has been leveled for deaf professionals, thanks to the VRI. Remember, we have years of experience leveraging video chat apps and video relay services, so we have an edge in this space. Go ahead, give it a try if you have not done so already.

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