Sexual Harassment, Drug Use, and Nudity Traumatizes VRS Interpreters

By Samantha Poteet

June 2, 2019 - In a closed group on Facebook, a few individuals uploaded recorded videos of themselves engaged in inappropriate conduct directed at Sorenson Communication interpreters. Other group members recorded the posted videos and submitted them to The Deaf Report with the concern that the said individuals were abusing VRS interpreters and being very open about it. When engaged in efforts to contact customer service and technical support, The Deaf Report discovered that none of the VRS providers (GlobalVRS, Convo, Purple Communications/ZVRS, and Sorenson Communication) have any back-end support on site for VI at night or during the weekend. When callers ask the Video Interpreters for on-duty supervisors, they are told there are none available in “that interpreter's call center.”

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Abuse occurring on the weekends make it uncomfortable for VRS interpreters during their shifts because of their lack of access to managerial support to handle such situations. In one video, the customer was using marijuana and taunting the interpreter, and a separate video shows a different customer asking the interpreter to show her behind and twerk while on camera.

Interpreters have reported to upper level management in multiple companies that abuse happens mostly on the weekends and it is speculated that it occurs due to common knowledge that there are no supervisors available to handle situations.

When consumers sign up for a new phone number from a VRS service provider, they are required to sign an agreement form that indicates their willingness to follow the said VRS service provider’s standards and guidelines of proper use. While consumers have to follow the said provider’s guidelines, they are also bound by the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) policies and procedures, which are included in the initial paperwork.

The initial paperwork informs consumers that if any activities occur that are deemed inappropriate or against protocol, they will lose their VRS privileges. Put in other words, if consumers abuse their VRS privileges, they are subject to losing their number, access to any VRS software programs, and any hardware they may have received at the time of enrollment.

As shown on the FCC’s official website, customers are reminded that it is important to report a problem if there are issues with providers following protocol or policies in place. It is also true that the FCC needs to be aware of the extent of abuse that VRS interpreters endure at the hands of consumers. There are several ways to file a complaint with the FCC, including an ASL Consumer Support Line at 844-4-FCC-ASL (844-432-2275). Hours of operation are 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Eastern Time), Monday through Friday.