National Association of the Deaf publishes ranking of states’ ASL access during COVID-19 briefings

The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) recently named Arkansas the number-one state on a ranking of US states according to their American Sign Language (ASL) access during their respective COVID-19 press briefings.

During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, each state held regular press briefings to inform residents of measures being taken to control the pandemic. The NAD’s Policy Institute recently conducted a study assessing the ASL access practices at each state’s press briefings, ranking them according to the visibility of interpreters and the frequency of their presence — just last month, the institute published its findings.

“It is important to note that having qualified ASL interpreters in these briefings requires more than just planting an interpreter on screen and hoping for the best,” the NAD wrote in a write-up explaining its ranking. “Intentional planning is necessary to ensure the optimal use of qualified ASL interpreters during these crucial press briefings.”

The study focused on press briefings held between March 1, 2020, and Dec. 31, 2020, since many states stopped holding regular briefings in 2021. States were ranked according to a combination of the percentage of press briefings in which ASL interpreters were present and the visibility of said interpreters (i.e., the angle, lighting, and placement of the interpreter relative to the main speaker). 

The NAD measured visibility slightly differently depending upon whether states worked with in-person interpreters or picture-in-picture (PIP) format, though the NAD notes that it did not provide a higher score to either in-person or PIP formats. The researchers also took into account whether or not governors utilized visual aids, and whether these could have hindered deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals’ ability to understand the content of the briefing.

“It is critical that local television broadcasters do more to include proper framing of interpreters on screen during all broadcasts of such press briefings to fully serve all viewers including those who are deaf and hard of hearing,” the NAD writes.

Arkansas, Nevada, Maryland, and Virginia (the latter two tied for third place) received the highest ranking on the NAD Policy Institute’s analysis. Maryland also received additional praise from the NAD for working with a deaf ASL interpreter for somewhere between 90% and 100% of its press briefings. At the other end of the spectrum, New York, Montana, and Florida received the lowest rankings, though New York was also praised for working with a deaf interpreter most of the time.

It should be noted that all 50 states offered ASL interpreting of some sort during its COVID-19 briefings. While the NAD did not analyze the federal government’s briefings, the White House, on the other hand, did not have an ASL interpreter present at President Trump’s briefings until more than eight months into the pandemic, after the NAD filed a federal lawsuit against the White House.

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Andrew Warner
Andrew Warner is a writer from Sacramento. He received his B.A. in linguistics and English from UCLA and is currently working toward an M.A. in applied linguistics at Columbia University. His writing has been published in Language Magazine, Sactown Magazine, and The Takeout.

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