ON HAND: VRS vs. Internet Relay

This originally appeared in The Tactile Mind Weekly in Trudy’s ON HAND column.

I feel old-fashioned, because I prefer using Internet relay rather than using video relay services (VRS). Whenever I tell friends this, they look flabbergasted. “But you strong ASL! Why prefer type? Time waste, slow.”

I can’t seem to get comfortable with VRS yet, even though there are so many pluses to using VRS. When I called my grandmother using VRS for the first time, her immediate response was a surprised “Oh, this is fast!” It was definitely much more convenient for me to use my native language, and I loved how quick the conversation was. It was so much more natural for both my grandmother and me.

But I hated not being able to save the conversation, and I hated not being 100% in control of the words used. That’s the control freak in me: I like knowing that the words spoken are the exact words I have in mind. When I use interpreters in “real life,” I monitor, usually by lipreading, the interpreters constantly to make sure they’re speaking the exact words I have in mind. It’s a bit harder to lipread VRS interpreters, and that’s a drawback for me.

I also feel almost a bit too exposed when I use VRS. It’s that much less private for me, even if I have no idea of who most of the VRS interpreters are, and they’re bound by ethics. I just feel exposed when I discuss personal matters via VRS.

Good example: I received a letter from the Internal Revenue Service saying I owed back taxes to the State of Illinois for the year of 2001, even though I didn’t live in Illinois that year. So I had to call and try to straighten this out. Before I gave the phone number to the VRS interpreter, I felt compelled to defend myself, explaining to the poor interpreter that I didn’t owe taxes, was a law-abiding citizen, and didn’t owe anything. After it was confirmed that the letter had been sent to me by mistake and I was disconnected from the hearing caller, I smiled and said, “See? I knew I was innocent.” The interpreter nodded politely with a knowing smile, and we hung up. She probably thought I was crazy.

I don’t think I’d have felt as self-conscious if there hadn’t been a face staring back at me on my computer. I’ll continue to use VRS whenever I can, but if it’s a personal matter, I’ll use Internet relay services. I guess I’m just funny that way.

UPDATE (10/07/05): I now prefer VRS to Internet Relay. 🙂

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