Vineya, Ya, that's right, Vineya!

Vineya at a conference. 08/20/2014. Jon Sokup and Anthony Mowl were gracious enough to give the community the inside scoop on what Vineya is and how it's the biggest project of the year for CSD, a well known non-profit organization in the state of South Dakota. With that said, here are some questions presented. The two of them teamed up and were able to share some of their thoughts on Vineya.

What is Vineya?

Vineya is a national marketplace of ASL Interpreters who are available to hire through our online dashboard. If you need an interpreter for a medical appointment, business meeting or other reason, you can simply go to the Vineya website (www.GoVineya.com) and browse the interpreters in your area and see how much they cost. Interpreters set their own rates and rules, and you can choose your interpreter based on preference or price. Vineya was created and built by Communication Service for the Deaf, a nonprofit organization with a commitment to social responsibility. CSD has a long track record of reinvesting its profits and revenues back in community facing programs like support services for victims of Domestic Violence, or Adult Basic Education for deaf adults and immigrants. CSD is a rare hybrid of an organization that serves the Deaf and hard of hearing community by investing and deploying innovative services while retaining a mission of social responsibility. That mission of social responsibility is how we came up with the name Vineya in the first place. We were inspired by the story of Martha’s Vineyard, where everyone could communicate in sign language on the island hundreds of years ago. That kind of open, transparent communication should still exist today. It shouldn’t matter if you’re deaf or hearing, everyone should be able to communicate with each other. Until we’ve accomplished that goal, CSD has a lot of work left to do!

Where is Vineya now available?

Vineya has over 1,600 interpreters available in all 50 states throughout the US, and in most major metropolitan areas and deaf communities. Although there are more interpreters in some cities than others, the introduction of Video Interpreting into the Vineya platform this fall will help make Vineya available in even the most remote areas where access to an in-person interpreter is limited.

Left-to-Right:  (Holding the marker) Stephen Watters, Vice (President, Product Innovation ), Jon Soukup (Vineya Product Manager), Chris Soukup (CEO). 09/20/2014.

What are the issues that Vineya is trying to solve?

When looking at the current state of Interpreting Providers (including CSD), we see how challenging it is to find and schedule interpreters. Most interpreting providers are local, providing services in a single city, state or region. There are very few, if any national interpreting providers who provide in-person interpreting and video interpreters seamlessly. Prices are not readily available. Interpreter choices are not transparent. And many times an interpreter is signed up with several local agencies, with different rates offered to each agency. Most clients have no idea whether they are getting an experienced or new interpreter for the prices they are paying. This type of transparency is sorely lacking in our entire industry, and it affects the quality of interpreters that we have. What we are experiencing is a resource problem in the interpreting community: Too much demand and not enough interpreters. We hope that Vineya helps bring more transparency to the process of finding interpreters while simultaneously keeping the interpreting profession attractive enough for more talent to join.

How long has Vineya been available, and what are some unique features?

Vineya first launched at the national RID Conference in Indianapolis during the summer of 2013. Over the past year we have been dealing with the “Chicken and the Egg” problem, needing to recruit interpreters while simultaneously bringing in jobs for these interpreters. Because of that challenge, we chose to launch Vineya with limited features and with a focus on recruiting interpreters while simultaneously introducing important updates that expand the impact of Vineya. Although Vineya is a little more than a year old at this point, it is still very much in its infancy and is not yet “Feature Complete”. Some of the most unique features that we have or will be introducing are not only the ability to choose your own interpreter, but also the ability to choose between a live in-person interpreter and a video interpreter. Vineya will be the first platform of its kind to have a fully integrated experience of scheduling live or video interpreters.

Who are the key players in making the whole thing work?

Vineya is a collaborative effort that takes every ounce of CSD’s 40 years of experience and resources. More than 30 people are involved with Vineya on a daily basis, including our Product Innovations, Marketing, Sales, Customer Experience, Finance and Legal teams. But the real key players are outside of CSD. A huge amount of feedback and input in the Vineya platform comes from our interpreters and customers. We are always getting new feedback and insight into what we are building from the people who are actually using Vineya. The biggest indicator of Vineya’s growth is the increasing amount of feedback that we are receiving.

Vineya. 08/20/2014.

How are rates set? Do your interpreters bid on jobs?

Vineya interpreters set their own rates. We do this because interpreters should get paid what they want to get paid. Usually competition in local markets will keep rates competitive. Vineya, as well as every other community based interpreting agency are directly competing with high-paying VRS companies to hire interpreters. If we cannot pay competitive wages for community based interpreting then we are going to lose even more interpreters to call centers. We do not believe that interpreters should ever have to bid lower prices to get work. In the long run, this can be harmful for the entire community. A system that makes interpreters bid lower prices on jobs will not only drive rates down, but may also drive qualified interpreters out of the field entirely. Our objective is to preserve the earnings potential of interpreters, so that it is an attractive career for those who are or have the potential to be great interpreters. We should all strive to have the best interpreters and we should want to pay for this quality. If we build a system that rewards the cheapest bidders, then we are going to see the industry move in a direction that incentivizes companies to always choose the cheapest interpreter. In this world, it is unlikely that the top interpreters are going to want to continue working.

As you both know, Linguabee is a similar concept, how are you different and what makes you unique?

It’s like the saying goes, “all boats rise with the tide.” We are going to be seeing more services similar to Vineya launch in the coming months and years, and this is great for expanding access to interpreters for everyone. We hope to see every interpreting agency utilize similar concepts because we think the marketplace approach will increase efficiency in scheduling and managing interpreting requests, helping quality increase while keeping prices reasonable. One of the things we are currently working on is making Vineya available to other interpreting agencies, so they can take advantage of Vineya’s platform to create more compelling experiences for their clients and interpreters, while helping that same agency improve their own operational efficiency. We’ve approached some agencies that share our values and we’re working with them on an early deployment of a Vineya Reseller model. While we hope to see more Vineya-like services, we hope that they will launch with the same commitment we have as a nonprofit organization of serving our community. There are too many entrepreneurs who are in business for themselves, and do not fully contribute to the “Deaf economy”.

You say your interpreters are qualified? How do you ensure this is true and what is the process?

We believe strongly in the value of certification, and require every interpreter to be certified. We check publicly available databases in places like the RID and BEI to verify that interpreters are certified based on the certification information that they provide to us. Interpreters who sign up are not able to begin accepting jobs until their certification is verified, which usually takes less than 24 hours. Of course, certification is not the only marker of a qualified interpreter and we will be introducing additional features that allow customers to have more information in choosing who they want their interpreter to be. Although certification alone does not mean an interpreter is good, we believe that all good interpreters should be certified. Requiring certification for all interpreters is the only way we can have higher and more consistent standards. It also gives the deaf community a reference point to be able to tell the difference between a “real interpreter” and a “signer”. If certification is always required on every job, then we are going to be helping to prevent situations like the “Fake Interpreter” fiasco that occurred during the Nelson Mandela funeral. Anything short of a 100% certification standard subjects us to the possibility of repeating that situation.

"ASL Interpreting is more than a job, it's a way of life. We are committed to serving the deaf community." How do you make sure your interpreters have that "deaf heart" instinct when they become an interpreter for Vineya?

This is an enormously difficult challenge that our entire community is figuring out together how to better address. CSD works closely with many interpreting organizations, including the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf. In many of the conferences that we sponsor and recruit interpreters in, the issue of “Deaf Heart” is something that is regularly being discussed. We don’t think that an interpreter’s “Deaf Heart” can be subjectively defined on a case-by-case basis, but something that should be addressed systematically. We are proud and supportive of the RID’s efforts to raise the value and belief system of interpreters who receive RID certification. One such example is the new requirement recently introduced by the RID, which requires 10 hours of CEU training on “Power & Privilege” for all interpreters. Our entire interpreting community is grappling with some major challenges. VRS for example, is a beautiful solution for our community to be able to make and receive phone calls in ASL. However, VRS came with a serious cost, taking many interpreters out of the field and into major call centers.

What have the marketing hurdles been like and how have you overcome them?

There are always challenges that come with introducing a new brand and service on a national level. The biggest challenge for us has been the transition from our legacy interpreting agency business to the new marketplace concept made possible by Vineya. Because CSD has such a long history of providing interpreting services, we have to be careful when introducing new features that can affect how we serve our existing customers. The response from the community has been positive so far, but we still have a very long way to go before everyone is aware of how they can benefit from Vineya.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b5j3o4QZcik?rel=0]

How can people use Vineya?

It’s actually simpler than you might think. If you need an interpreter for a personal situation (like a wedding or family reunion) then all you need to do is visit www.GoVineya.com and fill out a form that asks for information like date, address and details about the request. Then you choose your interpreter, and pay with a credit card. If you need an interpreter for a doctor’s appointment or for work, then it’s a similar experience. You’ll complete the same form and choose your interpreter. But instead of putting down your credit card information, you can put down the email address of your doctor or finance department, and they will get an email asking them to provide their payment information. Give Vineya a try, and learn more on our YouTube channel. There are a number of informative videos there to learn from. And if you have any feedback at all, we welcome your thoughts and input. There are many new features and updates that are going to be coming to Vineya over the next year, and we really want to know what you think. We plan on taking Vineya all over the world, but we have a long way left to go in making sure that Vineya is designed to be the best experience possible.

Interviewed by Mary Pat Withem Follow her on Twitter @mpwithem