White House ordered to provide sign language interpreters for coronavirus briefings in ‘historic win’

A federal judge on Wednesday ruled that the White House must provide sign language interpreters during public coronavirus briefings starting Oct. 1. 

A U.S. district judge in Washington, D.C., ordered the White House to include a qualified American Sign Language interpreter for any news conference related to coronavirus matters conducted by the president, vice president or White House press secretary held on White House grounds or any federal agency. 


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The ruling says the interpreter could be in the frame physically near the speaker, or off-site using the picture-in-picture feature. The White House is required to make the interpreter feeds accessible online and on television. 

The order stems from a lawsuit filed against the White House by the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) and five deaf plaintiffs. The group argued the lack of a sign language interpreter during briefings on the pandemic was a violation of the First Amendment as deaf and hard-of-hearing people are not getting proper access to crucial health information. 

The court issued an opinion earlier this month stating the plaintiffs were entitled to some relief. 

“Closed captioning and transcripts may constitute a reasonable accommodation under some circumstances, but not here,” U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg wrote in a preliminary ruling on Sept. 9. 

NAD CEO Howard A. Rosenblum applauded the judge’s decision Wednesday. 

“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,” he said. “The judge’s order sets a great precedent to achieve this goal of full accessibility.”

The Trump administration kicked off daily coronavirus press briefings that included the coronavirus task force as the epidemic in the country began to escalate. The administration has since pulled back on daily briefings and has instead opted for occasional news conferences that largely only include President Trump.


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Judge orders White House to provide sign language interpreters at Covid briefings

The White House must provide sign language interpreters at public Covid-19 briefings, a federal judge ruled on Wednesday.

The ruling, which takes effect Oct. 1, applies to any press conference on coronavirus-related matters with President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence or White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany held on White House grounds or at any federal agency. The White House must make interpreter feeds available online and to all television networks, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg ruled.

The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) and five plaintiffs sued the White House earlier this month, urging the administration to provide interpreters for briefings related to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. At that point, the court provided relief for the plaintiffs and hinted that the White House might have to comply.

“Closed captioning and transcripts may constitute a reasonable accommodation under some circumstances, but not here,” the court ruled in their Sept. 9 decision.

Pressure from advocacy groups and other independent federal agencies grew as the White House coronavirus task force briefings continued without interpreters. The National Council on Disability released a letter in March urging the administration to act, saying “there is no doubt that the Coronavirus brings with it significant added concerns for people with disabilities.”

An estimated 11.5 million Americans have some degree of hearing loss, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

“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,” NAD CEO Howard A. Rosenblum said in a statement. “The judge’s order sets a great precedent to achieve this goal of full accessibility.”

Press briefings with Trump and other members of the coronavirus task force began in March, though they have since gone from daily events to sporadic occurrences timed to specific updates or announcements.

Over 200,000 people have died from Covid-19 since the pandemic began.

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