Video relay service (VRS) allows a deaf person using American Sign Language and a videophone or Web camera to call a hearing person by way of an online interpreter. There is no charge to users.

In July the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued new orders for companies that receive federal funds for supplying the interpreters. (The FCC pays $6.64 per minute of interpretation.)

As of Jan. 1, these providers must answer 80 percent of their VRS calls each month within three minutes and be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Also, the FCC will begin covering conversations between a person who speaks Spanish and a deaf person. Additionally, for cases when a deaf person doesn't answer a VRS call from a hearing person, the interpreter must be equipped to leave "sign mail" -- a video clip that shows the interpreter signing the hearing caller's message. For more on FCC updates, see

VRS providers, some of whom distribute free videophones, include:

* Sorenson VRS, part of Sorenson Media, the company largely responsible for the widespread expansion of VRS:

* Hands On VRS:

* Sprint VRS:

* Communication Service for the Deaf VRS:

* Hamilton Video Relay:

* Communication Access Center:

* Nordia:

* MCI IP Relay VRS:


-- Samantha Sordyl