Insign: Breaking new ground in video remote interpreting research


Pioneered in Sweden, both video remote interpreting (VRI) and video relay service (VRS) platforms use web-based video technology to enable Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing (HoH) sign language users to talk to (hearing) non-sign language users using their preferred language (i.e., a signed language) via an interpreter, either with the interpreter situated remotely and the deaf and hearing person together in the same room (VRI) or the deaf and hearing people in different locations with the interpreter in a call centre (VRS). VRI and VRS is increasing exponentially worldwide, and as a result there is a growing area of research that investigates communication through VRI and VRS from linguistic and sociological perspectives (e.g., Taylor, 2005, 2009; Quinto-Pozos et al., 2010; Brunson, 2011Napier & Leneham, 2011Alley, 2012; Napier, 2013).

Insign is a new pilot project that was launched in December 2013 to develop a web-based service platform, enabling European Deaf and HoH citizens to communicate independently and to contact their EU Institutions and MEPs. The platform (known as a Total Conversation platform) will offer the option of communicating via a sign language interpreter and/or real time captioning. The Insign project is funded through the DG Justice of the European Commission and is led by the European Union of the Deaf with a consortium of organisations from four European member states (Sign VideoIVèSefsliDesignit) and including BSL researchers in The Centre for Translation & Interpreting Studies Scotland at Heriot-Watt University.

The project methodology involves key stages to review existing VRI/ VRS practices, develop the platform, demonstrate and test the platform, and make recommendations to the DG Justice for future implementation. Heriot-Watt University’s role is to provide the research evaluation component of the project. The Principal Investigator is Prof Jemina Napier, working with Co-Investigator Prof Graham Turner, and Research Associate and experienced VRI interpreter Robert Skinner.

This project is breaking new ground in two ways:

(1) It is the first VRI/ VRS of its kind to provide access to deaf people in more than one spoken-signed language pair. All other services focus on national spoken and signed languages (e.g., English and British Sign Language in the UK). Insign, however, will involve the provision of 6 signed languages: British Sign Language, Dutch Sign Language, French Sign Language, Hungarian Sign Language, Spanish Sign Language, and International Sign; and 5 spoken languages: Dutch, English, French, Hungarian, Spanish.

(2) It is the first international research study that will have access to natural (not simulated) data of VRS calls between Deaf sign language users and hearing people, as well as data from surveys and interviews with Deaf people, interpreters and captioners/re-speakers.

The first stage of data collection has begun, with the launch of a survey questionnaire to collect views from Deaf sign language users, interpreters and re-speakers on general VRI/VRS service experiences and the need for a specific EU-based solution.

You can participate in the survey by clicking on one of the following links – depending on whether you are Deaf or HoH person, an interpreter, or a re-speaker. Each of the surveys is in English, and the survey for Deaf and HoH users is also available in International Sign (IS) with the option of having a follow-up conversation in IS by Skype.

The results of these questionnaires will feed into the development of the Insign service, which will be demonstrated and tested throughout the year. One of the key principles of this project is to involve the key stakeholders in informing the development of the service and to evaluate the feasibility and sustainability of such a multilingual service. This especially includes Deaf sign language users and sign language interpreters.

This is your opportunity for your ‘voice’ to be heard…

Authored by: Jemina Napier