SOURCE: Sorenson Communications

Sorenson Communications

January 25, 2016 14:22 ET

Sorenson Statement on the Introduction of Video Relay Service in Canada

SALT LAKE CITY, UT and BURNABY, BC--(Marketwired - Jan 25, 2016) - Five years ago, in February 2011, Video Relay Service (VRS) was available 24/7 to a select number of Deaf users in Alberta and British Columbia. The service was being provided by Sorenson Communications of Canada, ULC, a subsidiary of Sorenson Communications, Inc. (Sorenson), in a market trial conducted by TELUS Communications Company (TELUS) and authorized by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). There were a total of 306 Deaf participants in the market trial, supported by 90 qualified American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters who were based out of Sorenson VRS interpreting centers in Edmonton and Vancouver.

As required by the CRTC, the TELUS trial was completed in January 2012, and the results were presented to the CRTC in a public hearing. TELUS informed the CRTC that the Deaf participants reported the VRS service provided by Sorenson in the trial was an outstanding product that dramatically changed the manner in which they could communicate.

Sorenson was prepared to expand the service, initially provided through the TELUS market trial, on a national basis, using Sorenson VRS interpreting centers, located from coast-to-coast -- in Victoria, Burnaby, Langley, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Toronto and Halifax.

In December 2015, the Canadian Administrator of VRS, Inc. (CAV), a new not-for-profit corporation mandated by the CRTC to design, implement and oversee the delivery of VRS in Canada, issued a Request for Proposal that would result in the awarding of multiple contracts to video interpreter providers. Sometime in 2016, those providers would initially introduce VRS in Canada on a limited basis. Because of the terms and conditions being imposed by CAV on the potential video interpreter providers, Sorenson made the difficult decision not to bid on the contract. There were many reasons for this decision. The most fundamental was that the VRS service that was so successful in the TELUS market trial in Alberta and British Columbia could not be replicated by Sorenson on a national basis in Canada under the terms and conditions established by the CAV. 

It is important for Deaf consumers to understand that VRS will be controlled and ultimately provided by the CAV and not by experienced companies like Sorenson. CAV will do this by having different companies provide the various components, such as the technical platform and the video interpreter services that together provide VRS. Critically important planning and operating decisions like the number of interpreters on duty at any one time will be made by yet another company. This means the video interpreter companies selected to provide the interpreter services (there will be more than one) will be told the time they can operate (not 24/7), the number of interpreters they can have on duty, the qualifications of the interpreters, the customers they will be permitted to serve and the way in which reimbursement will be made (to be negotiated). There will be no direct connection between the technical platform provider company and the video interpreter companies to troubleshoot and address inevitable system issues. Furthermore, the CAV will require the video interpreter companies selected to transfer, without any payment to them, their operating standards, training materials, methods, procedures, documentation and supporting materials for the unfettered use of the CAV. Collectively, this represents the intellectual property that has taken Sorenson some 13 years to develop and is one of its most important assets. This defines and protects Sorenson's cutting-edge solution and is the basis for Sorenson's ability to provide our high-quality service in the competitive marketplace. To give it away would be irresponsible.

This was not an easy decision for Sorenson. Since 2008, Sorenson has been active in the public discussion regarding the introduction of VRS in Canada. Sorenson has engaged in community outreach, participated in every CRTC public hearing and has demonstrated the feasibility of making VRS available to Canadians in a timely manner. Sorenson also made a significant investment in Canada through the establishment of nine call centers and provided advanced training for skilled Sorenson Canadian interpreters. This investment was made based on Sorenson's experience in its leadership role in developing, implementing and providing VRS in the United States. During this time, Sorenson had an "open door" policy and provided interested persons from the Deaf community and government with tours and demonstrations of Sorenson activities. 

In Sorenson's view, and based on our direct experience, VRS could have and should have been introduced in Canada a number of years ago. It is not an exaggeration to say that VRS is a transformative technology and service, the only technology that provides functionally-equivalent service for Deaf people and empowers them to fully participate in their own lives and in the greater community. Given the successful implementation of VRS in many other parts of the world, it is highly unfortunate that it is taking so long to be introduced in Canada. 

This view is shared by others. In December 2015, when the Ottawa Police Service announced that persons who are Deaf, hard-of-hearing or unable to speak will be able to use their cell phones to text 911 with information about their emergency starting in 2016, representatives of the Canadian Hearing Society responded, noting while it is a step in the right direction, what they also want is VRS. Sorenson agrees with the Canadian Hearing Society's conclusion and anticipates that 2016 will finally be the year for the initial introduction of VRS in Canada. 

Sorenson remains interested in providing VRS in Canada should the terms and circumstances ever change.

About Sorenson Communications
Sorenson Communications® (www.sorenson.com) is a provider of industry-leading communications products and services for the Deaf. The company's offerings include Sorenson Video Relay Service® (SVRS®), the highest-quality video interpreting service; the Sorenson ntouch® VP videophone, designed especially for use by Deaf individuals; ntouch® PC, software that connects users to SVRS by using a PC and webcam; ntouch® for Mac®, software that connects users to SVRS by using an Apple® computer; ntouch® Tablet, which turns the Apple iPad® with a front-facing camera into a larger-screen mobile VP; and ntouch® Mobile, an application empowering SVRS communication via mobile devices.