On September 23, 2020, United States District Court Judge James E. Boasberg ordered that any White House Coronavirus briefings led by the President, Vice President or White House Press Secretary must now include a qualified American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter using a picture-in-picture format. Meaning, at all times, the ASL interpreter must be visible on the screen to the viewer. Once the order becomes effective on October 1, 2020, it will be the first time in history that any President of the United States has provided live (ASL) interpretation for any televised press briefing.

The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) filed a lawsuit on August 3, 2020 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. NAD CEO Howard A. Rosenblum said, “Sign language and accurate captioning are both essential and crucial to ensuring all deaf and hard of hearing people are well informed and are able to make better decisions on how to stay safe from the pandemic. The judge’s order sets a great precedent to achieve this goal of full accessibility.” 

Many hearing individuals may read this and think; why isn’t closed captioning sufficient? This is a common question that I confront in all of our claims for disability discrimination in medical settings. More often than not, medical providers attempt to communicate with our deaf clients through passed notes using written english. Many hearing people are surprised to learn that ASL is a complete, complex language that employs signs made with the hands and other movements, including facial expressions and postures of the body. It is a language distinct from English — it is not simply English in Hand Signals. As NAD CEO Howard Rosenblum explained to the Court “many deaf and hard-of-hearing persons know virtually no English.” He added that English is often a “second language.” Thus, when communicating important information, whether in a medical setting, or the President speaking about a global pandemic, it is important that we put our Deaf friends on equal footing by giving them equal access. This groundbreaking ruling will give deaf individuals access to the White House like they have never had before and is precedential in that we hope to use the Court’s mandates and reasoning to compel others to include our Deaf clients in the conversation. 

– Andrew November 

Andrew November is a disability lawyer in Cleveland, Ohio. At Liner Legal, Andrew is a disability warrior and advocate for those with disabilities and for the deaf community. To work with the best disability legal firm in Cleveland, contact Liner Legal today!