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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Video Relay Service Interpreters: Intricacies of Sign Language Access
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When asked whether Kathryn had confronted management about the inconsistency she witnessed, she stated:
Yeah, I asked. I have asked several times. The first time I was told that it was based on seniority. Then after a couple of weeks of not getting the schedule I wanted and seeing others with less seniority getting the schedules they wanted, I went back and talked to the manager. He then said, that it was not only based on seniority but they also considered a personís [billable minutes].
Kathrynís experience could have been due to the scheduling needs of the center. Whether an interpreter is meeting the numbers of a center does not change when interpreters are needed. Most businesses, including VRS, have peak hours and off hours. Kathrynís ideal schedule may have been during the off hours when they did not need additional people.

Management is also responsible for seeing the big picture. Because we do not have managementís account of this situation, it is not clear if there are other reasons for not giving Kathryn the schedule she wants. It is not unreasonable to assume that management may have information that Kathryn does not, such as when others are available to work. Regardless of the reason, it has been communicated to Kathryn that based on her numbers she should have the schedule she wants. Her frustration comes from the seemingly arbitrary awarding of schedules. Regardless of managementís motivation, inconsistencies in adherence to policies can be just as frustrating as strict adherence.

Kathryn is the only person who complained about the seniority issue. In my own experience, I was always given the schedule I wanted at one center but at another center I was often not given my ideal schedule. Given that I was working for Ease Communication two years before the second center was opened, I figured I would have the highest seniority. When I asked management about this, I was told that seniority only counts at the first center worked at. That is, because I started at another center, I would have high seniority there but since others had started working at the second center before me, they had higher seniority. I never pressed the issue.


The manager is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the center. Managers are responsible for hiring interpreters and for seeing that there are enough interpreters to cover the call volume. Even though they are responsible for making sure there are enough interpreters to answer the calls, managers do not supervise schedulers, a point that has irritated at least two managers with whom I spoke who complained about this. This is because managersí annual evaluations are dependent on whether they are able to staff the center with enough interpreters to cover the call volume for the day, which in turn depends on the schedulersí abilities to do their jobs. Since the managersí evaluations depend on the work of others, they feel they should also supervise the schedulers.

In both centers, the manager is also an interpreter.12 In terms of the company, this comes in handy because the manager is also able to interpret calls, which will increase billable minutes. While I was working in one of the centers, I received a call that required two interpreters. It was a conference call that was going to continue for approximately two hours. All of the other interpreters in the center were on calls, and my manager was able to assist with the call.

While it is useful to have a manager who can help out when you are interpreting, it is also nice to have a manager who understands what it is you do. In discussing some of the dilemmas faced during a call, a manager who is also an interpreter is able to relate.

The field of sign language interpreting is very small and most interpreters in a particular area will know each other. The managers are chosen from the community in which the center is located, and this helps with recruitment of other interpreters. Often interpreters have worked with each other in a variety of settings. They have seen each other interact with members of the Deaf community and have had deaf people tell them about what they like and do not like about certain interpreters. A local interpreter who is hired as a manager knows the strengths and weaknesses of their colleagues. They are better equipped to assess whether a particular interpreter is going to meet the needs of the center and handle the type of calls they are likely to receive. Furthermore, when the manager is a respected and a well-liked colleague, as was the case in one center, she is able to staff the center with friends who are willing to work hard to make the manager look good.

The manager is also responsible for ensuring that new interpreters are trained. In some cases, new interpreters are assigned to an experienced interpreter who will train them. However, more often it is the manager who sits with the interpreter and walks them through the protocols for various calls. Once the interpreter is done with training, he will sit with an experienced interpreter and begin to take calls.


In addition to the manager and the scheduler, a three-tier center also has a director. Whereas managers are responsible for the day-to-day operations, directors may have managers at multiple centers who report to them. Even though the director is also an interpreter, he rarely does the training for the center; that is left to the manager.

Video Relay Provisional Coordinator and Other Support Personnel

Some centers also have trainers. These trainers, called interpreter-in-training coordinators, are responsible for training. The interpreter-in-training coordinator will also coordinate trainings for the rest of the interpreters. These people report to the national training department of Ease Communication, which is part of the national office.

Whether a center has an interpreter-in-training coordinator depends on whether it can support an interpreter-in-training program. If there is enough need (i.e., an abundance of noncertified interpreters available), then a center can request to be considered for the interpreter-in-training program. This is not dependent on whether the center is organized in two or three tiers.

Some centers also house technical support staff. The technical support staff responds to both internal and external customers. They do not report to any person within the center. Like the interpreter-in-training coordinator, whether a center houses technical support staff does not depend on the tier category of the center, but on other factors, such as size of the facility.

12. Only in one video relay service center where I worked was my direct supervisor not an interpreter.

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