As many linguistically marginalized communities struggle to receive critical information about the COVID-19 crisis from national officials, the National Association of the Deaf has decided to file a lawsuit demanding inclusion in White House press briefings.
The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) has joined the effort to improve communication about life-saving health information for communities without access to official statements. Filing a lawsuit this week, the NAD seeks to compel President Trump and the White House to immediately begin providing American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters during television broadcasts of COVID-19 press conferences to grant access to deaf and hard of hearing people.
“All 50 states’ governors have provided in-frame [ASL] interpretation during public briefings regarding the pandemic, and all but a small handful continue to do so consistently,” the complaint states. “President Trump, however, does not. He now stands alone in holding televised briefings regarding the COVID-19 pandemic without ever having provided any ASL interpretation.”
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), one in eight people in the US aged 12 years or older has hearing loss in both ears. This statistic indicates that for about 30 million Americans, accessibility is crucial to receiving the most up-to-date information about the virus.
Moreover, although captioning is available during live broadcasts on network television, live captioning is often insufficient, especially for people whose primary language is ASL. The NAD highlights on its website that “Like any spoken language, ASL is a language with its own unique rules of grammar and syntax. Like all languages, ASL is a living language that grows and changes over time.”
The complaint asserts that the White House fails to follow federal law, which “unequivocally prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities, which includes failing to provide meaningful access to public benefits, programs, or services.”
In the same article of the lawsuit, the plaintiffs cite a recent lawsuit filed against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in May under similar criteria. They quote the court’s ruling of the lawsuit, which states, “Without immediate implementation of an in-frame ASL interpreter, Plaintiffs and other similarly situated deaf New Yorkers will continue to be denied timely access to critical information, leaving them less able to comply with current orders and advice, less able to prepare for the future, and more anxious about current conditions and the future.”
Established in 1880, the NAD is one of the oldest civil rights organizations in the US, safeguarding the civil, human, and linguistics rights of 48 million deaf and hard of hearing people in the US, including hundreds of thousands whose primary language is ASL. As the deaf and hard of hearing community fight for justice during the pandemic, many other linguistically marginalized communities may see a beacon of hope.