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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White House ordered to make live sign language interpretation during coronavirus briefing available to TV networks

A federal judge on Wednesday ordered the White House to include a sign-language interpreter in its video feed of coronavirus briefings beginning October 1.



a woman looking at the camera: White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany speaks during a briefing in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC on September 16, 2020.


© Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany speaks during a briefing in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC on September 16, 2020.

The order means live video feeds available to TV networks will also now include American Sign Language interpretation.

“Defendants shall include a qualified ASL interpreter in the … feed for all White House coronavirus briefings,” DC District Court Judge James Boasberg wrote, either by putting an interpreter physically near whomever is speaking or by including within the frame a video of an interpreter located elsewhere.

If the latter, the White House will make footage of the remote interpreter available in a way that “allows the networks to include the qualified ASL interpreter in their live broadcasts,” Boasberg added.

The news follows a lawsuit filed by the National Association of the Deaf and five deaf Americans last month attempting to force President Donald Trump and other top officials to have American Sign Language interpreters at Covid-19 briefings. Boasberg had previously indicated earlier this month that the White House might have to do so.

NAD CEO Howard Rosenblum told CNN that Wednesday’s order “sets a great precedent to achieve this goal of full accessibility.”

“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 in a statement.

In their lawsuit filed last month, the plaintiffs alleged that the lack of live sign language interpretation at White House coronavirus briefings was against the law.

“By contrast (to written captions), an interpreter is able to convey tone and context of a message through facial expressions, sign choice, and demeanor,” the lawsuit said. “Further, the provision of live closed captioning frequently contains errors and omissions that make it difficult or impossible for (deaf and hard of hearing) individuals to understand the information being provided in the briefings, particularly if they are not fluent in English.”

Plaintiffs pointed out that governors in all 50 states have provided in-frame ASL interpretation during their public briefings on coronavirus.

“President Trump, however, does not,” the lawsuit said. “He now stands alone in holding televised briefings regarding the Covid-19 pandemic without ever having provided any ASL interpretation.”

According to court documents, since March, Trump and the coronavirus task force have not been seen with an ASL interpreter while addressing the American people during the pandemic, though the Trump administration has used interpreters in past briefings, including for hurricanes.

The federal government’s National Council on Disability and some members of Congress had already written to the White House requesting it add ASL interpreters. The US Census Bureau estimates that about 11.5 million Americans have some degree of hearing loss.

This story has been updated with additional information

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Heidegger – Language is the House of Being

Language is the house of Being. In its home man dwells. Those who think and those who create with words are the guardians of this home. "- Martin Heidegger, German philosopher, Letter on Humanism, 1947.

The philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset once said that man had no nature, only history. While I respect this opinion, I think that man's real human nature is language. Just as the lesser god Prometheus handed fire to man, a major God handed a major boon to mankind: language.

After years of pondering whatever Martin Heidegger meant by "Language is the House of Being," it finally dawned on me (as I watched catatrophic news on TV) that Heidegger meant language is not only a construct, a shelter, an edifice, an abode , but the soul of humanity – container of infinity.

Through language we search heaven and earth; through language we accept or reject God; through language we accept or reject the absolutes that guide the human race.

And yes, it is only through language that we experience aesthetic bliss – and love. Although bliss and love are more akin to the emotional life, the viscera, the central nervous system, the body can only partially express bliss and love. Language is indispensable, or if not, then try to tell that to painters, poets, and writers.

Take Trollope (in History of Pendennis ): "It is best to love wisely, no doubt; but to love foolishly is better than not to be able to love at all." And Trollope went on to fill library shelves with language and love.

We think and we feel by using words. Though words are more adept and adequate to thinking than to feeling, we still recognize that even our deepest emotions must be converted into words to express what we feel. When we immerse ourselves in a good book we feel with and for the characters: with Don Quijote and Sancho we experience the real meaning of friendship; With Anna Karenina and Aschenbach we feel the exquisite pangs of deeply tormented souls; with Remedios The Beauty we ascend to heaven.

Can we build science without language? Isn't language the vessel of patterns, axioms, equations, paradigms, and formulas? Is wisdom achievable without language?

Even the most recalcitrant nihilist or atheist needs language to refute the existence of God; the same God that gave him the gift of language.

When humans master a language, they are never homeless. Even when their houses burn – as we watched the flames destroy thousands of houses in San Diego, California – their spirit, their humanity survives in the House of Being – Infinity.

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