Sharing the Vision

Three years ago, a small team within the National Technical Institute for the Deaf’s Center on Access Technology (CAT), started discussing the current situation of deaf accessibility on smartphones. It all started with a question, “What if we could make video relay services (VRS) native on smartphones so that we would not miss any calls because the app was closed?” “What if we only had one phone number instead of a separate phone number for each VRS company?” How can we make smartphones better for the deaf and hard of hearing community? 

The outcome of that conversation is a research project that seeks to connect wireless technology, video relay services, captioned telephone services, and the community. The research project is now called IRIS and is led by NTID in partnership with The MITRE Corporation with funding from the Federal Communications Commission Telecommunications Relay Services initiative. The frustrations with smartphone technology that inspired IRIS research team are the following:

  • The need for a unique phone number for each video relay or captioned telephone service
  • Missed phone calls when an app is not open
  • Loss of battery power when apps are kept open on the phone 
  • Significant memory use requirements for downloading of each video relay and captioning telephone app

The IRIS research team is exploring ways to make VRS and captioning services native on the phone, meaning that selecting VRS or captioning services could be selected within the settings menu of the phone. This would empower the Deaf and hard of hearing communities with the same functionality as the hearing community.  

The IRIS research team is currently exploring several features for implementation. A few possibilities include the following:

  • Use one phone number to place a VRS or captioned phone call
  • Offer industry standard video protocols for excellent video quality
  • Minimize missed calls 
  • Increased compatibility between various apps and smart home devices
  • Experience 911 calls natively with access to VRS and captioning services with NextGen GPS tracking
  • 3-way video communication allowing both parties and an interpreter to be viewed simultaneously
  • Video calls with captioning 

The IRIS research team is excited about the direction of this effort and continues to work with VRS, captioning, wireless, and cellular companies to improve access to telecommunication cellular connection on mobile devices and smart devices. We are in the initial stages of this journey and look forward to exploring more ways we can work with partners to improve accessibility for the Deaf and hard of hearing community. 

To learn more about project IRIS or to share your feedback, please visit