Obtaining the schooling and experience to become a certified American Sign Language interpreter is extensive.
"We were getting to a good level, a somewhat comfortable level, even though there's always been a great demand, but there was an advent of video relay," said Richard Laurion of the College of St. Catherine's CATIE center.
Video relays are quickly taking the place of devices called TTYs. A deaf person used to call a hearing person through what's called a TTY. It looks like a mini-computer with a phone coupler on top. A deaf person types a message into the TTY and a central operator reads the message to the hearing person. But with interactive video, the relay person must interpret sign language not just read text.
To show how the video system works, Laurion calls a relay center and a woman wearing a headset appears on his video monitor. She begins signing to Laurion.
"So here we have a person. So she's saying, 'Hi, I'm video operator 1516. Can I process your call please?'"
Laurion signs back to the video operator to call a particular telephone number. Because this is for demonstration, he signs his cell phone number for her to call. She calls the number and signs back to Laurion that she is now beginning to hear the phone ringing and then.
"So the call's coming in..."
Under a typical situation, the hearing person answering the call would pick up and say 'hello.' Video operator 1516 would then sign 'hello' to the deaf person who's watching on the video relay.
The advent of video relay means the need for sign language interpreters has increased.
"Those relay centers have gone out to the interpreting community and said 'we have this huge need, do you have an interest in working for us?' And so in Minnesota, they opened two very large centers so we have two centers and those must have taken 200-plus interpreters," said Laurion.