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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