[This is one video interpreter’s viewpoint, not the viewpoint of a video relay service.]
As a VI, I notice that one of the most important consumer choices that determine the effectiveness of a call is a deaf consumer’s use of Do Not Announce. It can be quite effective when the deaf person explains VRS themselves or when the person they’re calling already knows them and takes their calls all the time. And it can be indispensable when an ignorant company or agency refuses to accept relay calls. But it can be very difficult for both the interpreter and the person they’re calling when a deaf consumer chooses Do Not Announce but then makes no accommodation for the inevitable changes in communication. Those changes are basically due to unexplained silence and the mismatch of gender–voice and name.
No interpretation is simultaneous, so everything the deaf and hearing person says is going to be interpreted a–few–to–several seconds after they say it. Also, it is more acceptable in Deaf culture to take your time signing than it is in Hearing culture to take your time talking. Since hearing people perceive silence on the phone as a sign that the other party is not there, they will often say, “Hello!” after only a second or two of silence. If they get no answer a second after saying “Hello!” they’re likely to hang up.
Besides, a person on the phone expects immediate answers to questions like “what is your name?” If you take your time to answer and then sign your answer very slowly, there is not much the interpreter can do to make this sound realistic.
- Explain VRS.
- Respond more quickly.
Unexplained Mismatch of Gender–Voice and Name
Hearing people can usually tell right away whether they’re talking to a man or a woman on the phone. Men’s and women’s voices differ not only in pitch; they differ in various other ways that only scientists can explain but hearing people can pick up on immediately. Even men and women speaking at the same pitch sound distinctly male or female.
It is disturbingly unnatural for a hearing person to hear a woman’s voice and be given a man’s name. If the hearing person says, “You don’t sound like a Bob” and the interpreter conveys to you the hearing person’s skepticism, it is because you’re saying you’re a man but your interpreter’s voice is female. The voice and the name don’t match. You know how sometimes people in the Deaf community say, “I have to know who I’m talking to; it’s Deaf culture”? Well, it’s hearing culture too, especially on the phone. Hearing people can’t see each other on the phone, so they need to be assured that they can trust the person on the phone to be who they say they are.
- Explain VRS.
- Request an interpreter of your gender before you make a Do Not Announce call.
Again, I am writing this as an individual, not as a company representative. As an individual, I feel very awkward with Do Not Announce calls when silence and gender-voice mismatch goes unexplained. It makes my job very difficult as I try to fill in unexplained silences with hems and haws. And there’s only so much silence I can fill without adding things to my interpretation that are not there. Of course Do Not Announce is your choice and your right. I am simply begging the question whether Do Not Announce helps a call to succeed or causes it to fail.
An interpreter I know and respect said, “Eventually our Deaf consumers will learn that Do Not Announce means Do Not Succeed.” This interpreter does, indeed, respect deaf people. But if you’ll forgive the boldness of this statement, what he means is that we interpreters see Do Not Announce calls fail everyday while our consumers don’t. Hearing people who are unaware of why a Do Not Announce call is so awkward are baffled as to why the conversation is not flowing naturally. And the deaf person may not fully grasp how uncomfortable the hearing person sounds — or why they are so uncomfortable — despite how much the interpreter tries to convey this. That’s why I’m sharing this information with you.
When a Do Not Announce call fails; i.e., the hearing person becomes exasperated, tensions rise, and the hearing person — or even the deaf person — hangs up without achieving the goal of the call, it is usually due to the unacceptability of unexplained awkwardness.
Have pity on hearing people. They cannot see you and can only hear someone’s voice on the phone. They are already at a disadvantage because they have to rely only on their hearing to know who they’re talking to and whether that person is responsive, trustworthy, and real (is it live or is it Memorex?). Put yourself in their shoes and think how you would feel if a woman told you her name was Harold or if a man told you his name was Jennifer. How would you feel if you asked a question and didn’t get a response? Finally, imagine how uncomfortable you would feel if you were interpreting between two people who were confused about the very premise of the communication you were trying your best to relay smoothly.
Your Right, Your Choice
Again, I respect your right to choose Do Not Announce; however, I suspect that many people don’t understand what Do Not Announce means, so they’re not really “choosing” it. Maybe the VRS representative who installed their system chose it for them (I’ve heard that sometimes the reps will select Do Not Announce for the test call they make and then forget to deselect it for the consumer’s subsequent calls). Maybe a deaf person they trust told the consumer to use Do Not Announce because it would make calls go better, but they don’t understand how it’s supposed to make their calls go better and why it might make their calls go worse. Or maybe the deaf consumer isn’t paying attention when they set up their profile and they checkmark every option thinking “the more features the better.” I get calls where both Do Not Announce and VCO (Voice Carry-Over) are selected but the consumer doesn’t understand what either of these things means.
My point is that because Do Not Announce is a choice, it should be a choice and not just an accident. You may very well choose to use Do Not Announce and then explain VRS yourself. This, in my experience, can be even more effective than having the interpreter explain VRS. Explaining it yourself establishes rapport between yourself and the person on the phone and ensures them that you are taking responsibility for making communication work. If you choose Do Not Announce and you won’t explain VRS yourself, please know that the success of the call is up to you and only you can choose to make it successful.
Sure, sometimes a Do Not Announce call with no explanation of VRS can be effective. It’s great for short calls like ordering Chinese food or asking what a store’s hours are. And some people manage a Do Not Announce call successfully by picking an interpreter of the appropriate gender and responding to all questions quickly. If you can make a Do Not Announce call succeed without any explanation, more power to you. I just hope I have provided some insight into the choice of Do Not Announce and how to exercise your choice most effectively.
Also please understand that I share this information because I and many other interpreters have noted the disconnect between our profession and our consumers. As interpreters, we learn things that we share with each other but we don’t pass along to our consumers. We espouse changing models and practices, but we don’t inform the deaf and hearing people we interpret for about how our understanding or approach to interpreting has changed. How can we expect our consumers to use us most effectively if we don’t share our knowledge with them? I hope you can take my information in the spirit of just that: information. What you do with it is most certainly up to you.
Here’s a poll. It’s anonymous, so please be honest! Check the reason you most often use Do Not Announce (you might use if for various reason, but pick the one that is most true for you). I’ve included a blank answer so you could write in your own answer instead of selecting any of the available options. I look forward to seeing the results of this poll. Thanks for voting!