In my work with Communication Service for the Deaf (CSD), clients often ask me my recommendations on how companies can improve the overall experience for their deaf and hard of hearing employees and customers. These questions are fantastic, especially as it gives me the ability to educate decision makers on the entire breadth of services available and advise them to have an open and honest discussion with their employees to identify employee needs and their ability to choose how they want to access communication.
Who am I to make the decision on which services are best for any deaf and hard of hearing consumers, regardless of whether they are an employee, customer or patient? There are a number of extenuating factors to take into consideration (e.g., personal preferences, residual hearing, etc.).
I’ve also been asked countless times my thoughts on video remote interpreting (VRI).
It’s an excellent tool but not right for every situation.
It’s an important opportunity to reiterate the decision on whether to use on-site interpreters or VRI should not fall on the decision maker; it should be given to the consumer utilizing the services.
But why should we stop there?
Shouldn’t we make a concerted effort to ensure consumers have the ability to select their own interpreters, let alone whether they prefer to use an on-site interpreter or interpreter through VRI?
When my father was in and out of doctors’ offices and hospitals due to treatment for multiple myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow, he was fortunate to have an oncologist who was quite receptive to his needs for communication and consistency, especially as he fully appreciated how difficult and time consuming it was to re-explain the condition and treatment plans to an interpreter. Unfortunately, these experiences were not the same for my father when he visited specialists or stayed in different hospitals for extended periods of time for treatment.
As a result, while my father was battling multiple myeloma, he also battled a system of oppression, one he referred to as being “broken.”
Much like our hearing counterparts can choose which cell phone provider they would like to use, deaf and hard of hearing individuals have the ability to choose which video relay service (VRS) provider they want to utilize for their phone calls. However, when it comes to accessing sign language interpreting services, consumers are often not given the decision-making ability to select which interpreter they would like to use, let alone the method of interpreting services utilized: on-site or VRI.
Unfortunately, many deaf and hard of hearing people have been forced to succumb to the choices of decision makers — decisions I have seen first-hand more often than not are either financially driven or a byproduct of misguided, anecdotal information being shared.
Surely, the perspectives of sign language interpreting agencies must be taken into consideration; there are cost controls and overhead to consider. More often than not, bids are won based on lowest price. As interpreter rates often correlate with certifications and/or licenses held by interpreters, this often leaves interpreting agencies with two options: 1) negotiate rates with interpreters to maximize margins or 2) the unfortunate circumstance in which an agency will send a lesser-credentialed interpreters who may or may not meet minimum standards and may also not be a good fit for the assignment(s) in question.
As a result of the latter, two groups of stakeholders suffer: 1) the deaf and hard of hearing consumers and 2) the companies.
While deaf and hard of hearing consumers may object to the interpreters selected or method of interpreting for the particular assignment for whatever reasons, their objections may fall on deaf ears — no pun intended — for various reasons mentioned previously.
On the flip side, companies’ concerns for cost control while also ensuring they are ADA complaint must be taken into consideration. However, companies may actually pay more money due to interpreters not being qualified or having the required skillset to handle assignments. This, in turn, leads to inefficient communication and, then, the need for more interpretation services. In this particular instance, while consumers and companies lose out on time and money, the agencies may benefit financially.
Prior to joining CSD, I often asked myself, “What if there was a solution that disrupted this status quo while raising standards and improving the experience for all involved?”
But as the saying goes, people don’t know what they don’t know.
At the time, I had no idea I would be looking back after two and a half years with CSD saying I’m blessed to work for a phenomenal organization that just recently celebrated its 40th anniversary and is committed to “reimagining communication” for deaf and hard of hearing people.
During the time my father was battling cancer, CSD was working on Vineya, the first online marketplace that exclusively features certified interpreters. A month after I joined the CSD team, Vineya was launched to the public.
Since launching, Vineya has grown tremendously with new features to meet the various needs of consumers, interpreters and companies, as well as agencies who have partnered with CSD to make Vineya accessible to their consumers. I look forward to working with existing agencies through partnerships. Vineya cannot replace the artistry involved in complicated scheduling situations – it can only enhance the process.
When thinking back to my father’s frustrating experiences in securing interpreting services during his ordeal with cancer, it’s a reminder of why I am passionate about the work I do every day. My father would have loved Vineya, the ability to choose which interpreters he would have liked to use, as well as whether he would have liked to use an on-site interpreter or interpreter through VRI.
There were situations where he asked me to stay late at the hospital during extended stays to ensure communication occurred smoothly due to not having an interpreter. He would often say, “I wish I had an interpreter through VRI for 15 minutes so you could go home and get some rest.” But at the same time, there were situations where he vehemently renounced a hospital’s decision to only offer VRI to him, especially preceding medical procedures, etc.
The answer: consumer choice.
It is time to question the status quo, is it effective, accessible communication? Is it empowering deaf and hard of hearing people to make the choices they want?
Disruptive innovations like Vineya can be scary, but like Uber, NetFlix and Airbnb disrupted their respective industries, Vineya is challenging the status quo by enabling choice for sign language interpreting services.
At the forefront of developing technological innovations, CSD was the first to introduce this disruptive technology. While first to go to market, CSD will not be the last. Technology is the wave of the future, and the time is ripe for the community at large to give deaf and hard of hearing individuals the ability to choose how they access communication.
Wayne Dyer, a best-selling author and motivational speaker, said it best, “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” When it all comes down to it, we all have choices to make. I hope you make the choice to join me in empowering others to be able to fully appreciate the value of choice when it comes to sign language interpreting services.
— Corey Axelrod
Senior Account Executive