Funding changes for Video Relay Service

June 27, 2010 10:17:56 AM PDT
Funding changes are being proposed for the VRS -- Video Relay Service. It's a telecommunication system that enables deaf and hard-of-hearing people who use sign language to communicate with voice telephone users through video equipment.

Thousands of VRS users are worried about the potential changes with their VRS providers.

The providers are worried about staying in business with the FCC's proposed reduced rates.

Sorenson Communication is one of the largest providers of VRS.

"We provide video phones for deaf and hard of hearing customers who make calls to people who can hear and just the same as people who can hear make their phone calls," said Wendy Adams, the manager of Sorenson's Chicago center. "We hire qualified interpreters. Each center has their own hours of operation. Sorenson Communication does provide 24/7 for people that can call using their video phones making calls anytime".

VRS are funded by the FCC, the Federal Communication Commission. Services are paid based upon minutes.

"The minutes set up would be a total altogether per month. Tier one is set up zero to 50- thousand minutes. Tier two is set up from fifty thousand and one to 199-thousand. Tier three is five hundred thousand on up".

The current FCC rates are. Tier 1 $6.77 per minute. Tier 2. $6.50 per minute and tier 3 is $6.30. The FCC's proposed rates are. Tier one $5.77 per minute. Tier 2 $6.03 per minute and tier 3 $3.89 per minute.

"With the FCC rate proposal it will have a big impact on the VRS community. For example Sorenson Communication will be faced with a 40% rate cut to their funding. Which in turn will impact thousands of deaf employees and interpreters as well and they could face losing their jobs".

In a statement, the FCC explained the purpose of public notices about rating changes.

"The only way to safeguard the VRS program is to adopt reasonable rates for all forms of relay services. Thus it is our goal to adopt rates that are rationally based on the reasonable costs of actually providing VRS", FCC Statement.

Mark Gresholdt is the operation coordinator at Sorenson and is also a VRS users. He gave us a demonstration of how effective this service is.

"With the use of an interpreter I can see what the person I'm talking to is, emotion and everything by the expressions on the interpreter", Gresholdt said.

"If I had use the TTY I would not be able to tell how the person feeling at all. VRS is the best it the technology makes communication smooth", Gresholdt added.

VRS interpreter Trudy Ray says the new proposed rates will force may interpreters to lose their jobs. "Of course we could work in the community but I believe that most interpreters have a passion for working in VRS".

"If it goes along with the proposed cut it will impact the communication, that in turn will impact the service which will impact our development with the ADA. They require functional equivalency also equal access for all deaf and hard of hearing people."

The deadline for comments is Wednesday June 30th. If you have concerns about the proposed rates, Sorenson Communication and other VRS providers recommend that you contact your senator and representative.


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