By Adan R. Penilla, Angela Lee Taylor

The videophone has replaced the TTY for Deaf people calling friends and family, making appointments, and attending to daily business needs. To set up a videophone, all you need is a videophone, Internet connection, and a screen to connect the VP, or videophone.

Deaf people do have the option, however, of having an application on their smartphones. A simple click of a button and one can download a means to chat with others via their phones. Video phones, the ones that are left at home, are given without cost from some communication companies.

Videophones allow a Deaf person to call another Deaf person without the use of an interpreter. If a Deaf person is calling a person who can hear, an ASL interpreter will answer the phone and process the call. With that, do not be alarmed if a man is calling with a woman’s voice, it is just the interpreter.

Videophone technology changes rapidly, so it’s best to read up on videophones on the Internet to see what kind of phone and service would best fit your needs. In many cases, a videophone is free for Deaf people. Start your search by typing in “videophones” on the Internet. You will see the information and options available.

Several companies provide videophones. These companies have their own equipment, technicians, and procedures for how they govern their operations. Any agency that operates a video relay service (VRS) must follow the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) guidelines for how it conducts its business.

Communicating with videophones

Deaf people can communicate using the videophone in one of two ways:

  • Communicating directly: If two people have videophones, they can communicate directly with each other. Many Deaf people have videophones, so if Deaf friends want to talk to each other, they can just call without having to use any kind of relay service.
    The system can have glitches — the camera may freeze, a disconnection may occur, or the picture may not be as clear as it should be. These problems may be common, but they also happen when hearing people communicate with each other on any phone system or on a video device as well.
  • Communicating via a relay interpreter: If a hearing person doesn’t have a videophone but wants to talk to a Deaf person, the two of them need an interpreter who has a compatible device.
    These relay interpreters work for one of several companies that provide telecommunication services. To work for one of these businesses, interpreters need to show that they have satisfied the minimum requirements of ASL competency. This requires being able to understand what a Deaf person is signing and to sign to the Deaf person what the hearing person is saying.

If two Deaf people want to converse but only one has a videophone, it’s not uncommon for the person without the videophone to use one at the local library, a friend’s home, or any agency that has a videophone. In short, two people must both have videophones to make contact to visually communicate.

However, a Deaf person can also use a TTY to call a videophone. The TTY caller dials the operator through a designated phone number, and the TTY operator calls the video relay service. The relay interpreter then contacts the Deaf person who has the videophone. This is a four way conversation: the Deaf person using the TTY, the TTY operator, the relay interpreter, and the Deaf caller on the videophone.

What to expect when using a video relay service

Using a video relay service is a straightforward process. A person calls the VRS, and the interpreter connects the call. When the other person answers, the interpreter begins the interpreting process.

Keep in mind that this is a video relay, and the Deaf person and the interpreter can see each other. Because the process involves two modes of language — one verbal and one visual — there’s a slight time delay to go from one language to the other.

The interpreter will speak as though she’s the person on the other end of the line, so although it may feel strange at first, respond to the interpreter that way. Don’t ask the interpreter to tell your friend something; just tell your friend, and the interpreter will take care of signing it for you. In a nutshell, act like the interpreter isn’t there and talk directly to your party.

Don’t get confused. The terms operator and interpreter are often used interchangeably on video relay; the relay interpreter/operator knows ASL, but a TTY operator is an operator who doesn’t sign.

Keeping quiet what is private

A VRS interpreter who is certified by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) must abide by the Code of Professional Conduct. The most important part of the RID Code is the need to keep information confidential. This is a trust issue, and all interpreters doing any type of interpreting work must follow the Code. So an interpreter cannot repeat information obtained during an assignment (each videophone call is considered an assignment).

If an interpreter violates this trust, the violation may be reported to the RID in the form of a grievance. The RID takes this type of complaint very seriously.