NAD Applauds ASL Access at All White House Briefings

On January 25, 2021, the White House announced that they will provide American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters for all its press briefings. This historic breakthrough is a huge win for all deaf and hard of hearing people — however, our work is not done. NAD CEO Howard A. Rosenblum gives an update regarding the lawsuit against the White House and how we can share feedback with the TV networks on where to put the ASL interpreter Picture-In-Picture (PIP) feed. 

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[TRANSCRIPT & DESC: Howard is standing in front of a black background. The NAD logo is on the bottom right corner.

HOWARD: Wow! On January 25th, it was announced by the White House that they will be providing American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters for all press briefings and some Presidential remarks. This is an amazing and historic breakthrough!

While there are some issues, we must recognize this breakthrough and celebrate this moment. This creates a new standard by providing ASL for accessibility. You may wonder, “How did we get here?” It’s important to explain where things stand now with our lawsuit and what will happen in the future.

Last August, the NAD and Arnold & Porter brought a lawsuit on behalf of five plaintiffs and the NAD against the White House. The lawsuit compelled the use of ASL interpreters during Coronavirus related press briefings. Before the lawsuit, the White House ignored requests and letters from us and some Congress Representatives. We knew we had to file this lawsuit.

In September, a judge ordered that the White House begin providing an ASL interpreter by October 1, 2020 for any press briefing that they do about Coronavirus, and show it on their website and social media. On November 13, 2020, the Trump White House provided on its video the Picture-In-Picture (PIP) for the first ever ASL interpreter for their COVID-19 press briefing, which led to a number of other briefings with ASL interpreters. 

Part of the judge’s order was for the White House to share the video feed of the ASL interpreter to the TV networks, which are not required to carry the interpreter video. We are not clear on whether the interpreter video was shared with the TV networks before or now. As of last week, we were pleased to see that MSNBC has been showing the PIP of the ASL interpreter on their broadcast of the briefings. MSNBC is the first and only TV network to do this, this is another breakthrough for us and we commend them! Thank you MSNBC!

The previous White House Administration, through their attorneys at the Department of Justice (DOJ), had filed an appeal to try to overturn the judge’s order of the requirement to provide ASL interpreters, and their appeal is still pending. Now that there has been a change in Administrations, and the White House has announced ASL interpreters for all press briefings, we are exploring what that means for resolving the entire case. The lawsuit case is still pending, the case has not been dropped or completed yet. Even though this administration is providing ASL interpreters, we are still in discussions.

Our work doesn’t end with the White House lawsuit. We hope to ensure that all TV networks include the ASL interpreter PIP feed in their broadcasts. There is no requirement for TV networks to do this. Even if the White House shares their ASL feed with TV networks, the TV networks are not required to use it. We can’t sue the TV networks if they don’t include the ASL interpreter PIP feed. 

So, what does this mean? All of us need to contact the TV networks, such as CNN, FOX, ABC, CBS, and so on, to ask that they include the ASL interpreter in their broadcasts. Limiting access to  watching the briefing with the ASL interpreter online only  is not accessible to  many deaf and hard of hearing people, as not all have access to the internet. We need to make sure the TV networks show the ASL interpreter PIP feed on TV too. 

At this time, the NAD’s efforts are limited to the lawsuit and we are not communicating directly with the White House on the issues related to the ASL interpreters at the White House. Instead, we continue to work on resolving the lawsuit. 

We recognize that there are some issues. While there is captioning on the White House website, there is no captioning on some social media platforms showing the videos. In addition, with  the TV networks, we need appropriate placement of the PIP to make sure the interpreter is visible and not blocked by anything. The ASL interpreters must be qualified, and under Federal law,  qualified interpreters must be effective, accurate, and impartial. The White House is responsible to assess the ASL interpreter’s qualifications. If you are concerned about the qualifications of the ASL interpreters, contact the White House. You can also commend the White House of their choice and thank them. 

Even though there is more work to do, we nevertheless applaud and thank both the Biden-Harris Administration and MSNBC, for establishing a new era of a more inclusive access for ASL. For years, we’ve only had captioning access, but now we demand ASL access. This new era is incredible! I want to recognize everyone for stepping up, especially with the pandemic, and telling your governors, mayors, health officials, election officials, and many more for access to information or emergencies. You’ve shared your feedback and it has become a new standard to bring in an ASL interpreter for briefings. We must recognize that we now have a new future ahead of us, without barriers. Soon enough we’ll see ASL everywhere.

This is a testament to all of us within the deaf and hard of hearing community that all 50 states and the White House include ASL interpreters in their press briefings. The success of our work will continue as we join forces together, support each other, and keep fighting for our rights. Thank you for your support as we continue to break down even more barriers!

Video cuts to a dark blue background. Red alphabet letters of “N-A-D” in American Sign Language appear one by one in the center of the video. The copyright text appears in white underneath, “National Association of the Deaf, Copyright 2021, All Rights Reserved”.]