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A video relay system is a telephone system in which cameras are used to allow a sign language interpreter to facilitate a conversation between someone who is hearing impaired and someone who does not know sign language. The interpreter often will speak for both sides, using sign language to communicate with the hearing-impaired person and speaking to the other person. There are video relay systems in which both people are in the same room, but a true relay is via a telephone line between separated parties. The visual nature of this communication means a videophone or a computer with a web camera is needed to carry out the conversation.
A rather simple thing, a video relay system involves three people: the hearing-impaired person, the hearing person and the interpreter. To start the conversation, one person will communicate with the interpreter, who will then pass along the information to the third party, using sign language or speaking, as appropriate. After that, the third person will respond and the interpreter will pass that response back to the first person. Most major telephone companies provide this system, as of 2012, though some may charge an extra fee because the increased resources needed. Interpreters used for this service commonly work on their own or with a company separate from the two communicating parties.
Similar to a video relay system is a video remote interpreting (VRI) system. This works in basically the same way with two parties communicating and an interpreter facilitating the conversation. The major difference is that the two parties are in the same room, so the conversation does not occur over a phone line. An Internet connection commonly is used instead. VRI systems may incur different charges, as a result, and most phone companies do not provide this service, because it does not involve a telephone line.
Hardware needed for a successful video relay is not very complex, making this easy for most people to set up. This system needs video if the interpreter and hearing impaired person are to effectively use sign language with each other. This most commonly comes from a videophone or a computer with a voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) that has a Web camera. Interpreters also need to be able to switch between both parties, requiring the use of at least two phone systems or similar hardware.