Jul 122010

The Future of VRS: How Can We Achieve Functional Equivalency?

Part 2

By Cheryl Heppner, 7/9/10

The Ingredients of Advocacy

Ed Bosson gave some tips for doing effective advocacy.  Among them were:  do homework to learn your rights, know who to contact, and what you can and can’t do.  In the area of advocacy for relay services, always understand how the government is defining functional equivalency.  He has found it useful in the past to do a lot of research  about how a government body reached its conclusion.  This helps him develop a good argument and offer solutions that address their reasoning.


A good website to learn more about your rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act is at www.ada.gov. To learn more about Section 255 of the Communications Act, go to www.fcc.gov.

Tell your consumer organizations like NAD and TDI about your concerns and experiences, and be proactive in working with them on your cause.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is often willing to work with people who have rational proposals.

The National Exchange Carriers Association (NECA) is a good source for information on the financial side of relay.

How You Can Help

Ed offered these tips on how you can help with advocacy:

Consider serving on a board or advisory committee dealing with relay services.  Become a member of NAD, TDI and other organizations that do advocacy. Subscribe to get their email updates.

Visit Ed’s website at www.Edsalert.com.  He gets information from the Federal Communications Commission and analyzes it.  His information is provide in either video with sign language or text, and sometimes both.

When Ed worked for the Texas Public Utilities Commission, if they got a handwritten letter it was considered very powerful because they knew the individual sending it had made a big effort to speak up.  If they recognized the mail they received as mostly a form letter, they didn’t pay the same attention and would just count the number of letters received.

Questions, Answers and Comments

Question:  Should we have to wait as hearing people get new technology before we can have equal access to the technology and its features?

Ed:  Section 255 says that access is supposed to be provided in new technology.  What has been happening too often is that the technology comes out, consumers complain, and the company says that the consumer needs to buy another piece of equipment to provide access to its product.  There are exceptions.  The new iPhone4’s ability to work with VRS may be an example of a product actually exceeding access that hearing people have.

Comment:  The term “functional equivalency” is hard for people to understand.  We need a better way to define it.

Comment:  States are going for the lowest possible bid for their relay services and this does not serve consumers. Without the additional money for research, relay services do not improve.

Ed:  The FCC’s recent Notice of Inquiry (NOI) touches on this.  It has a question about how much money should be available for research and development when setting rates.

Ed:  In a VRI workshop on Thursday morning, the Department of Justice talked about releasing a notice of proposed rulemaking on access to 911.

Q:  If money was made available to develop anything you’d like to have in a relay service, what would it look like?

Ed:   I am a long time science fiction addict.  It would be an artificial intelligence hologram that I can take everywhere as a personal interpreter. That has been my dream.

Q:  What is the funding source for relay services?

Ed:  You don’t see the charge for VRS funding on your local phone bill.  It’s from a fund to which all phone service carriers contribute.

Comment:  Consumers should define what they would like to see from relay services in measurable terms and what should be the priorities to accomplish those items.  We should consider giving this information to those in the engineering community and involving their international association.

Final Comments

Ed:   Something to consider is whether, with more medical innovation, there will be fewer people who are deaf.  Does that mean we’ll lose the quality of our relay services?  Individuals with speech disabilities get less attention for their relay service needs due to their smaller numbers.

Greg Hlibok:  The FCC is having a workshop on Saturday at 3 pm, where they will talk about the recent Notice of Inquiry on relay services.

Claude Stout:  We should think of ways to explain what functional equivalency means and why advancements are so important.  One thing that has helped is to talk about the experience of using the traditional TTY relay. The CA might be able to type at 40 words per minute, while a hearing person could talk several times faster.  Video relay services have given the ability for us to have smoother, more natural conversations at a rate that is normal for hearing persons talking to each other.

– Thanks to NVRC, Fairfax