Historic Win: White House Ordered To Provide Sign Language Interpreters for COVID-19 Briefings

For Immediate Release: September 23, 2020

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[Transcript provided below]

Today, a  federal district court ordered the White House to provide American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters, live streamed on its website (whitehouse.gov/live), for all public briefings held by the President, Vice President, and Press Secretary that address the COVID-19 pandemic.  The order requires that an ASL interpreter be provided at any coronavirus briefing held on White House grounds or at any federal agency. The Court has also ordered the White House to make the interpreter feed available to all TV networks in a manner that will allow those networks to show the interpreter in their live feeds.  The injunction will take effect on October 1, 2020. 

The court had previously issued an opinion on September 9, 2020, which found that the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) and five individual deaf plaintiffs were entitled to relief in some form. The court found that the plaintiffs had the right to compel the White House to provide ASL interpreters for all of its press briefings that cover the coronavirus pandemic.  The court then held another hearing on September 17, 2020 to discuss how to set up the process to have ASL interpreters during White House press briefings. 

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.” 

Arnold & Porter attorney Ian Hoffman states, “For too long, the White House has illegally shut deaf Americans out of its public briefings on the coronavirus pandemic.  On October 1, that will change. Because of today’s order, all deaf Americans will be able to see and understand all White House coronavirus press briefings in real time.” 

Once the order becomes effective on October 1, it will be the first time in history that any President of the United States has provided live American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation for any televised press briefing.

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TRANSCRIPT: On Sept 23rd, the federal court ordered the White House to provide American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters for press briefings that discuss coronavirus starting on Oct 1st. This is amazing news! This order applies to all White House press briefings that talk about coronavirus and happen on the White House grounds or any federal agency. The order compels the White House to include the ASL interpreters in frame while live-streaming the video of the press briefings on the White House website. This is separate from the TV networks. While the TV networks are not part of the lawsuit, the White House must share the video of the ASL interpreters with the TV networks. We hope they will show the ASL interpreters on TV and we will actively encourage them to include the ASL interpreter feed. This is a historic case! For the first time in history, a court has ordered the White House to comply with the Rehabilitation Act, which includes providing ASL interpreters for press briefings. This case focuses only on ASL access to press briefings about coronavirus, as this was the urgent reason for bringing the lawsuit. Separate from this case, we will continue to advocate that the White House provides ASL interpreters for all press briefings in the future. We thank Ian Hoffman and his legal team at Arnold & Porter for their hard work with us in bringing this successful lawsuit. We also thank Carlton Strail, Graham Forsey, Debra Fleetwood, John Rivera Jr,  and Corey Axelrod, for being the plaintiffs who shared their stories that made this case possible. Now, you’re wondering what’s next? It depends. It’s possible that there will be further legal challenges or an appeal. We will have to wait and see but, the judge has gone on the record and agreed that no ASL interpreters at the COVID briefings is a violation of our civil rights. We will continue to advocate for communication access for all press briefings. Thank you.