Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) vs. In-Person ASL Interpreting

In the “old days,” all sign language interpreting was in-person, with the interpreter in the same physical location as the other participants. Now, thanks to video communication options such as Zoom, it’s possible to access an interpreter in another part of the country with the click of a button. Video remote interpreting (VRI) has grown in popularity over the past few years, and it has become the go-to option for many businesses and individuals. In this post, we will look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of using VRI compared to in-person interpreting. When you finish, you should have a better idea of which mode of ASL interpreting is right for your specific needs.


Prior to the wide availability of real-time video communication, if you needed sign language interpreting services, you were limited to the interpreters in your city. Whether your needs were simple, complex, or extremely technical, your only options would have been those local interpreters. Now, all that has changed. With the click of a button, you can have access to ASL interpreters across the country. Do you need someone to provide sign language interpreting for a specialized, upper-level university course? Or, do you need someone to provide interpreting during the treatment of a rare or complex medical condition?

While it might be challenging to find a local interpreter to handle these situations, you will almost certainly be able to find interpreters somewhere in the U.S. who have experience in these specific areas. This holds true for any situation that calls for specialized vocabulary or knowledge on the part of the interpreter. Here’s the bottom line: VRI can be a huge benefit if you need to find a sign language interpreter with experience and expertise in a specialized or technical subject matter.


While Video Remote Interpreting has some clear advantages, there are also some significant downsides to consider, starting with the technical aspects. Anyone who has ever been on a Zoom call knows that it is not the same as a face-to-face interaction. Even when all the participants have a high-speed internet connection (which isn’t always the case), they often encounter issues such as poor lighting, video lag, or distorted audio. And, let’s be honest, it’s harder to focus on someone through a computer or tablet screen than it is to focus on someone in a face-to-face encounter.

When you add distractions to this picture, communicating with VRI becomes even more problematic. For example, if you’re dealing with background noise, numerous speakers, or a flurry of activity (for example, during an urgent medical procedure), then using VRI will not lead to great results. In general, when there are more distractions in the environment, VRI becomes less of a suitable option.


Many businesses (especially in the medical field) have started relying on VRI as their primary resource for ASL interpreting. These businesses have come to appreciate the undeniable convenience of VRI (especially since VRI does not require as much pre-planning, compared to in-person interpreting).

Here’s the truth about VRI: It can a be a great resource in certain situations (as we have seen), but it should never be the go-to option. Remote interpreting simply cannot facilitate communication and connection between people the same way that in-person interpreting can. So, unless there is a specific reason to use VRI (such as gaining access to a specialized sign language interpreter who lives outside of your area), in-person ASL interpreting should always be your first choice.

It is particularly important to acknowledge the limitations of remote interpreting because of how often it is used by medical providers. VRI is regularly used for everything from routine checkups to hospital procedures. One instance where using VRI is particularly inappropriate is in childbirth (imagine going through childbirth while having to communicate with an interpreter through a tablet screen). For all these reasons, National Association of the Deaf recommends using VRI in medical settings only as a last resort.


Every situation that calls for sign language interpreting is going to be different. In some situations, remote interpreting can be a great resource. In other situations, in-person interpreting should be the go-to option. If you would like more information about which option might work best for your specific situation, we would love to discuss it with you! You can give us a call at (512) 400-4238 or email us at


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