FCC Makes Permanent At-Home Call Handling by Sign Language Interpreters for VRS

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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission) has authorized compensating video relay service (VRS) providers for calls handled by at-home sign language interpreters by adopting a Report and Order, not yet released. VRS is a Telecommunications Relay Service Fund-supported program that enables people with hearing or speech disabilities, who use American Sign Language, to communicate with voice telephone users through video equipment and interpretation by trained professionals. The Commission had sanctioned a two-year pilot program permitting at-home call handling for VRS and due to its demonstrated effectiveness and efficiency, the FCC determined that the practice should be allowed permanently. Additionally, the new rules, as set out in the Report and Order, include safeguards to ensure service quality, confidentiality, and fraud protection.

The Commission cited a litany of ways in which permanent at-home handling for VRS will improve this program: (1) with the flexibility of home workstations, it will be easier to attract and retain more qualified sign language interpreters; (2) working at home may reduce staff stress and improve productivity and performance; (3) providers will be better able to maintain staffing levels during weather emergencies that would affect interpreters ability to reach a call center; and (4) providers may be able to reduce overhead costs for facilities and other related expenses.

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