The National Association of the Deaf and five deaf Americans are suing the White House in an attempt to force President Donald Trump and other top officials to have American Sign Language interpreters at Covid-19 briefings.
They’ve asked a federal judge to order the White House to add live televised ASL interpretation at all public coronavirus briefings.
“The White House’s failure to provide ASL interpreters during Covid-19 related briefings, including press briefings, is against the law,” the new lawsuit in DC District Court said on Monday.
The lawsuit claims the lack of live sign language interpretation violates the First Amendment of the US Constitution.
The White House did not answer CNN’s questions about why a sign language interpreter is not used at the briefings. CNN has also reached out to the Department of Justice for comment.
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.
“Tone is also often lost in written captions. By contrast, 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.”
The people who brought the lawsuit range in age from 27 to 92 and say they want “information on how to stay safe during the coronavirus pandemic, as well as how to take care of family, friends, and loved ones” and following developments about a potential vaccine and the pandemic’s economic impact.
Each emphasizes that their primary language is ASL. Some say they primarily get their news from television, and that closed captions can be difficult to understand or unreliable when the information is complex, like with the pandemic.
Two of the plaintiffs, Graham Forsey and Corey Axelrod, lead associations of the deaf and say they White House has hampered them because they are unable to answer questions from their groups’ members about the White House briefings.
The lawsuit points out how all 50 state governors, as well as leaders in several cities and in more than 50 countries have used live ASL interpreters at covid-19 news conferences.
“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. This means that not only are [deaf and hard of hearing] Americans being denied the opportunity to understand any communication from the President of the United States during this critical time, they are also being denied the opportunity to access information, analysis, and updates from Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx–two renowned public health experts.”
Judge James Boasberg of the DC District Court is assigned to hear the case but has not yet responded in court, and the Trump administration hasn’t formally responded yet either.