National Association of the Deaf (NAD) Sues White House For Failing To Provide Sign Language Interpreters During Televised Coronavirus Briefings
Washington D.C., August 3, 2020 — The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) filed a lawsuit today to compel U.S. President Donald J. Trump and the White House to immediately begin providing American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters during television broadcasts of their coronavirus press conferences and briefings to make them accessible to deaf and hard of hearing people. Arnold & Porter, an international law firm dedicated to pro bono litigation and equal access issues, joins the NAD in this lawsuit representing the NAD and five deaf individuals: Carlton Strail, Graham Forsey, Debra Fleetwood, John Rivera Jr., and Corey Axelrod.
“Deaf and hard of hearing Americans deserve the same access to information from the White House and the President that everyone else gets,” said Howard A. Rosenblum, Chief Executive Officer of the NAD. “Such information must be provided not only through captioning but also in American Sign Language, especially for government announcements regarding health pandemics.”
Despite repeated requests from NAD, members of Congress, and even another federal agency, the White House has refused to provide interpreters during the briefings. “All 50 states’ governors have provided ASL interpretation for their public briefings relating to COVID-19, and most now do so consistently,” said Ian Hoffman, a partner at Arnold & Porter, who filed the lawsuit. “The White House has never done so. The law prohibits this exclusion of deaf people from the President’s public briefings. We are proud to stand with our clients and all deaf and hard of hearing Americans who rely on interpreters and want equal access to the President’s communications during this public health crisis.”
As more than 4.7 million Americans have been infected with coronavirus with more than 150,000 dead, deaf and hard of hearing people are more at risk to being affected with the coronavirus. They are often left behind with the latest updates and actions the U.S. government has taken to address this pandemic.
On behalf of hundreds of thousands of deaf and hard of hearing people whose primary language is ASL, the NAD and these five deaf individuals ask the White House to provide ASL interpreters during all COVID-19 related briefings so that they can have meaningful access to such important information. While captioning is generally available during live broadcasts on network television broadcasts, live captioning is often not accurate enough, especially for people whose primary language is ASL.
The complaint alleges that the White House is in violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which mandates meaningful access for people with disabilities to all White House communications, particularly those regarding public health crises. Information about the coronavirus changes rapidly, including recommended health policies and the re-opening of schools, activities, and businesses. Without accessible information, deaf and hard of hearing people are left with more questions than answers. And when top government officials make important announcements regarding the coronavirus pandemic without ASL interpreters, deaf and hard of hearing people cannot understand the communications—including how to best protect their health.
This lawsuit seeks to ensure access to the highest levels of government for deaf and hard of hearing people, who have long been neglected by the U.S. President and the White House for failing to ensure meaningful access to governmental announcements.