Facebook parent company Meta is adding video relay services (VRS) to its Portal video calling devices, allowing users to bring English or Spanish sign language interpreters into video conversations. The new feature is part of a collaboration with ZP Better Together, a tech firm that makes communication solutions for Deaf and hard-of-hearing users.
Meta spokesperson Lisa Auslen explained in an email to The Verge that users will need to apply for a ZP account to confirm they’re eligible for the service, which is federally funded under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Both the service and the Portal devices are free for those who qualify; they must be VRS users in the US who communicate using ASL.
Once the user has their ZP account and their Portal, the ASL interpreter service can be accessed through ZP’s apps available in the Portal App Store. The American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters appear on-screen during Portal calls and are available 24/7, the company said in a news release.
Video calling became ubiquitous during the pandemic, and even though video-calling services like Microsoft’s Teams and Zoom have closed captions, nuance in conversations can be lost without a sign language interpreter providing tone and context. And as Meta notes, sign language is the primary language for the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community, so the addition provides a new level of accessibility to Portal calls.
People who are Deaf or hard of hearing can apply to receive a Portal device for free at portal.zpvrs.com.