The VRS Today! Campaign

Telecommunications access in BSL; 29th March 2011 (50 people)

By John Walker

Paul Kershisnik from Sorenson and the VRS Today! campaign travelled to Brighton yesterday to present to the monthly ‘Our Space’ meeting in Brighton. 

John Walker invited Paul to speak to the group and answer questions from the floor about what the campaign is about and what the Deaf community can do to help.

Over 50 people came to Friends Meeting House to listen to the presentation and ask questions for two hours.

The visit to Brighton follows a tour around the country last month, which took in London, Bristol, Cardiff, Birmingham, Preston, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

If you are interested in hearing more about the campaign, email . Most importantly if you want to help make equal access to telecoms a reality for BSL users, please tell your friends to visit the website and the sign the petition -


The UK is entering a new phase of telecommunications that will give Deaf people access to telephone calls using British Sign Language.  The VRS Today! campaign is spearheaded by an American VRS provider, Sorenson; they have brought a wealth of experience and expertise in this field. They are stepping up their campaigns by reaching out to the local regions, encouraging Deaf people and their friends to contact their MP. On this occasion, they came to the Our Space meeting in Brighton.

Here are some of the questions raised:

What is VRS?

Video Relay Service is a telecommunications system that will allow a Deaf person to make a telephone call using BSL. If you are familiar with Typetalk, you will understand how VRS works and the limitations experienced from using Typetalk. If you need to make a 999 call, order a pizza, keep in touch with hearing members of the family or manage your business, VRS will enable you to do this in sign language. Upon making your telephone call, an interpreter will appear on the screen and connect you to the hearing person you want to call. The interpreter will relay the call until you hang up. It will be the end of 'GA' and 'SKSK' and slow textphone calls - a Deaf person will be communicating in real time, in their own language.

Who pays for VRS?

How VRS will be funded in the UK has not been decided yet, however VRS Today! wants to make sure that Deaf people will pay no more for their phone calls than hearing people do. In the USA telecommunication companies pay for VRS by taking a small percentage from each telephone bill. The accumulated money is then available to VRS companies to fund the service. 

What is the difference between VRS and VRI?

VRS and VRI are different. VRS is when a Deaf person makes a call to a hearing person in another location, VRI is when the Deaf and hearing person is in the same location but the interpreter is remote (ie. on the computer screen). In America, their law makes it very specific, VRS calls are subsidised by telecommunication companies but VRI calls are not. In the UK, you will find examples for VRI calls: Sign Translate offer an on the spot service to GPS who use their software, One Stop Shops are now starting to use VRI to relay communication between the Deaf visitor and council staff. VRI should be paid for by the company who requires a service, ie. a remote interpreter service.

How will VRS affect Deaf people?

Using BSL on the telephone will become the heart of telecommunications, be it between Deaf people or between Deaf and hearing people. Where hearing people can make a telephone call, Deaf people will be able to do the same using their own language, sign language. The Deaf person will pay no more for their phone calls than hearing people do. Deaf people will move one step closer to an equivalent lifestyle to hearing people.

How will it affect interpreters?

Sign language interpreters will be required in a new market place, in telecommunications. This means that there will be more work for interpreters and we will need more interpreters in the UK. Sorenson suggested that numbers should rise from the current 800 to nearly over 2,500, this is a considerable investment in interpreter training. As the focus of the campaign is on VRS, and not VRI, it will not replace community interpreting where an interpreter is booked to arrive at a location to work. A Deaf person could call their doctor to make an appointment using VRS but an interpreter will be with the Deaf person when they attend their appointment. There were questions whether VRI would replace community or Access to Work interpreting in the light of Government budget cuts, but it is not clear if VRI is part of this campaign. 

Why is Sorenson leading this campaign?

Sorenson is a multimillion $ company and has a 10-year wealth of experience, they have energy and money to push the VRS Today! campaign forward. It will need support from the Deaf community by writing to their MP or posting a video message on their website. They made it clear that they are positioning themselves to tender but accept that it is an open market, Deaf people should be able to choose between different suppliers; healthy competition results in a quality service.

It was clear from all who attended that the Deaf community wants VRS.

Text written by Sussex Deaf History and VRS Today!

This page was added on 30/03/2011.

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