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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Saving VRS

Video Relay Service (VRS) enables persons who use American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate with voice telephone users through video equipment, rather than through typed text (like the old TTY). Videoconferencing equipment, videophone, or computer and webcam links the VRS consumer with an interpreter/operator - referred to as a "Communications Assistant" (CA) - so that the deaf consumer and the CA can communicate with each other in sign language and via voice to the hearing participant. VRS has become tremendously popular.

High VRS rates paid to service providers - and lax supervision - led to fraud and arrests.

Recent proposals to lower the rates significantly have generated protests from the largest VRS service providers.

I want to highlight that the following proposals are my own individual opinion. I consult for a sign language interpreting agency, but not for any VRS providers.

Modest proposition for reforming Video Relay Services (VRS):

1. Separate the telecommunications/technical/bandwidth section of VRS from the sign language interpreters.

To become a licensed VRS provider, a service provider must supply not only the technical side but also hire sign language interpreters. The types of businesses have nothing in common and should be licensed and paid separately.

Major telecommunications companies (ATT, Sprint, Verizon) ought to be able to bid on providing the telecommunications piece of VRS calls without worrying about hiring ASL interpreters.

2. Have the FCC assign a 10 digit geographical phone number to each deaf consumer - not providers.

As it stands at the present, 10 digit numbers are assigned by the default VRS service provider who initially signed up a deaf individual for VRS service. Unless the deaf caller has the technological confidence to adapt the equipment, any calls he or she makes is handled through the default provider.

SorensonVRS has taken about 70% of the VRS market by aggressively promoting VRS and by giving away their VP-200, a simple but effective videoconferencing device. Switching providers is possible but cumbersome.
Emergency calls - e911 - are now the responsibility of the individual VRS service providers. I would pass this to a central organization or to the telco who wins the technical bid for VRS.

10 digit numbers permitted fraudulent VRS calls to be directed to a particular agency.

3. Let sign language interpreting agencies bid on providing just ASL interpreters.

Communication Assistants (CAs) are the sign language interpreters who use video to communicate with deaf callers and who voice to hearing callers over standard telephone lines.

In late 2009, fraud involving interpreter subcontractors representing VRS service providers nearly ruined Video Relay Services for the deaf. The FBI arrested a number of asl interpreters in 9 states who were inflating VRS minutes and bilking the TRS fund out of tens of millions of dollars.

4. Least cost routing.

Instead of having calls directed to the default provider, I would have all calls to 10 digit numbers registered to the deaf routed through a central switch.

Sign language interpreting agencies would then submit bids to the FCC for providing CAs. Calls would be routed to the agency with the lowest bid who had an interpreter free to accept the call.

At this time, VRS service providers are compensated per minute of interpreting. Proposals for new, lower rates have produced claims that the new rates will drive providers into insolvency.

By having the service providers bid on what it costs them to handle VRS calls - at a cost and with a income they would be able to accept - the fight over rates would disappear.

5. NAD/RID Certification for CAs.

As it stands now, the FCC allows VRS providers to determine the qualifications of their interpreters. This allowed criminal agencies to hire unqualified interpreters to process "run calls" and bilk the government.

Everyone would be better served if each CA met a minimum level of competence in ASL, and had something to lose if they engaged in fraud.

The National Association for the Deaf (NAD) and the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) have certification programs in place. CA certification could be easily added.
Every CA would have his or her own identification number. Complaints or fraud could then be tracked to the exact individual responsible. Bad interpreters can be weeded out of the system.

Pass legislation to allow the FCC watchdogs to examine random phone calls, much like wiretapping regulations for police.

Privacy is a serious concern. Attention would have to be taken not to record genuine conversations. Monitoring could be restricted to 30 or 60 seconds unless suspicious activity is present.

However, fraud is tough to catch or prevent if calls can't be checked at random.


Market forces through least cost routing provide a viable technique to decrease the cost of VRS calls to the government, maximize efficiency in the sign language agencies, and keep the rates at a point that allows VRS service providers to survive.


Charles Lamm is a retired attorney now serving as a legal/technical consultant for Accessible Communication for the Deaf (ACD) in Sunrise, Florida - ACDVRI - News for ASL Interpreters

Monday, May 17, 2010

Why Marriage is Important for LGBT Couples

Personal and economic commitments are at the core of matrimony. Love, honor, obey - and support.

At the core of the gay marriage deliberation is the absense of equality and evident discrimination based on sexual preference. Marriage is sanctified by religious ceremonies where a man and a woman stand up in front of their families, friends, and for believers, before God, and declare their commitment to each other and only to each other.

LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) couples also desire to publicly affirm their promise for the same reasons as straight couples - love and support. For myself, I am not so sentimental.

Unfortunately, the federal government and the majority states confer exclusive, exceptional benefits only to married couples made up of one man and one woman. In the United states, married couples receive more than 1,300 legal and monetary benefits not offered to unmarried individuals. That is just on the national level with regard to taxes, estates, housing, employment, survivor, social security, and military dependents, along with others.

One of the fundamental flaws of democracy is mob rule. We have protections in the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights which are set out to protect individuals, but governments have created ways to benefit one group above another predicated on race, gender, national origin, or sexual preference.

In the situation of 1,300+ benefits in favor of married couples, the pair must be one man and one woman. All other partners need not apply.

To confine marriage privileges and benefits solely to opposite gender partners required the passage of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996. This law prohibits the federal government from acknowledging anything other than a one man-one woman marriage and permits the states to disregard same-sex marriages performed in other states.

In a one-page law, Congress discarded "equal protection" based on sexual preference and the "full faith and credit" clause of the U.S. Constitution which requires states to recognize marriages performed in other states.

For instance, when I was growing up in Virginia, couples too young to get married would drive to South Carolina to lawfully get married then come back home. Virginia would acknowledge the "underage" marriage as legitimate. (Before 1967, however, Virginia would not recognize interracial marriages performed in other states.)

Most gay partners want to have their commitments revered as are traditional marriages.

Until same-sex marriages, domestic partnerships, and civil unions are acknowledged by the federal government, LGBT and alternative families will have to rely on a mixture of a Secure Couple LLC ™ and additional legal documents to achieve even a small percentage of the 1,300+ legal and monetary benefits available to married couples.

Visit for more information on how to arrange your life to assert your relationship until the general public and society catch up with reality.

Charles F. Lamm is a retired attorney now supporting Secure Couple LLC - - for couples who cannot or who choose not to marry.