About the National Association of the Deaf
The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) was founded in 1880 by deaf and hard of hearing leaders, and is the oldest national civil rights organization in the USA. Since 1880, the NAD has been led by a board of directors that are comprised solely of deaf and hard of hearing people, and by executive directors that have all been deaf. Our mission is to preserve, protect, and promote the civil, human and linguistic rights of all deaf and hard of hearing Americans.
The NAD provides several programs and services including: youth leadership camp and other youth programs; information and resources, online via web and social media, as well as through magazines; membership benefits; and advocacy and legal services.
The NAD Headquarters is based in Silver Spring, Maryland and is a national non-profit serving 48 million deaf and hard of hearing Americans. Our services are geared towards all demographics within the deaf and hard of hearing community including those from all geographic areas, all racial and ethnic groups, all educational levels, all sexual identities and orientations, all ages, all socio-economic backgrounds, all modes of communication, deaf people who have other disabilities, and also deaf people with other intersectionalities. The needs of different demographics within the deaf and hard of hearing community vary widely and we strive to serve all their needs to the best of our ability.
With respect to our budget which varies year by year, you can view our previous annual reports. Individual and organizational membership makes it possible for the NAD to ensure that the collective interests of the American deaf and hard of hearing community are seen and represented among our nation’s policy makers and opinion leaders at the federal level. The NAD is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization supported by the generosity of individual and organizational donors, including corporations and foundations.
Common Media Inquiries
Deaf and hard of hearing people have been affected by the pandemic in every area, from education to healthcare to employment. Can you share some examples of the most common issues deaf and hard of hearing people are facing right now?
The pandemic has turned the world upside down, in every possible way. It has impacted us in our personal lives, our jobs, and those around us as well as brought to light unfortunate situations that could have been avoided. During the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, we have observed a concerning lack of access across many different contexts. A big barrier has been that many government press briefings were not accessible to deaf and hard of hearing people, and to address this issue, we have been focused on advocating for American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters and accurate captioning in all broadcasts of such emergency briefings. We have received many complaints from deaf and hard of hearing people unable to understand from the briefings what they are supposed to do or avoid to stay safe and healthy. The information found in many government resources is not accessible to many deaf and hard of hearing people, especially those who use ASL as their first language which is a distinct language from English. To fill this void and to address new communication barriers that have arisen as a result of this pandemic, we have given them tools to advocate for their communication access.
For instance, when a deaf or hard of hearing patient is admitted to the hospital, medical professionals must find ways to ensure accessible communication for the patient because deaf and hard of hearing patients have a right to decide their care just like everyone else. Due to the pandemic, more and more medical professionals are treating COVID-19 patients from behind a barrier, using masks that impede lip-reading, and not allowing in-person interpreters. To address this change in safety precautions in medical settings, the NAD released guidelines for hospitals to consider when treating a deaf or hard of hearing patient. We also released guidelines for deaf and hard of hearing people to be able to communicate with their doctors through telehealth. Furthermore, we developed guidelines for deaf and hard of hearing students to participate in PreK-12 remote education.
We are also developing special guidelines to use during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic to ensure that there is accessibility for deaf and hard of hearing people in other areas such as: students being able to participate in their university studies; employees being able to participate in remote video meetings at their workplaces; and consumers being able to communicate with their lawyers and judges in remote video set-ups for courts.
To ensure deaf and hard of hearing Americans know what their rights are during this pandemic, people can explore NAD.org/coronavirus. Additionally, many deaf-led organizations are creating content about coronavirus in ASL to share what they know about the disease and the pandemic. Examples include: The Daily Moth, Health Signs Center, Deaf in Scrubs, and more. The demand is there, and the community is filling in this information on its own without any support from the federal government.
Deaf and hard of hearing people are affected by the pandemic, just like everyone else, but we’re not getting the same access to information, resources, and updates as others. Accurate captioning helps anyone and everyone. Appropriately assigned interpreters at press briefings avoids possible misunderstandings.
Has the pandemic cast any ongoing challenges for the deaf and hard of hearing community in a different light? What are the most prominent challenges deaf people face in emergency communications?
Too often in emergencies, government agencies disseminate critical time-sensitive information through various forms of media but fail to ensure that the information shared is fully accessible to all. This is particularly true for deaf and hard of hearing people, who are often left behind during such disasters and emergencies. There are at least 48 million deaf and hard of hearing people in the country, and yet they are often forgotten during these crises.
Televised news is often the most reliable way to get the message out. However, while much of television is captioned as required by law and enforced by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), there is not the same mandate for live news broadcasts. All national level news broadcasts must be captioned including live broadcasts, but the local news are only live captioned in the top 25 markets. All other local news usually do not provide live, accurate captioning of their broadcasts as most of them recycle the teleprompter script as captioning, and that does not include breaking news which is what most emergency broadcasts entail. Consequently, many deaf and hard of hearing people are unable to receive accurate information from their local news broadcasts, which gives them more localized information than the national news. The FCC does mandate that live captioning be provided in emergencies and disasters, but this requirement is not usually followed.
Often, such televised news is converted into digital media that is circulated on the Internet and on social media by the news stations. Pursuant to the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), such digital versions of the broadcast news must retain the captioning when shared via the Internet or social media. Unfortunately, in many cases, those digital versions are captioned through “Automated Speech Recognition” (ASR) technology instead of being professionally captioned by a trained expert. ASR basically means that a computer is used to generate captioning, often without editing to ensure accuracy. This often renders such captioning useless for the most part. The solution is to ensure that every live broadcast involving emergency communication has a highly qualified and professional captioning company working to provide accurate captioning. This can be done on Social Media platforms as well, every form of media used for emergency communication should be made accessible with captioning and ASL interpreters.
In addition, there are many deaf and hard of hearing individuals whose primary language is American Sign Language (ASL), a language completely distinct from English. For this population, it is not enough to share emergency communications in English. The same information must be shared in ASL. Unfortunately, for many emergencies in the past, press conferences have failed to use qualified professional interpreters to render the shared information in ASL.
Since our press release on April 6, 2020, all 50 states’ Governors have provided ASL interpreters at their press conferences, and we are monitoring the situation to ensure that this continues and that the interpreters provided are qualified. However, up until May 13, 2020, the ASL interpreter for Governor Cuomo of New York was only visible on the online broadcasts, not on the television broadcast. This rendered the television broadcast inaccessible for those who rely on ASL and do not have Internet access. Such deprivation of access during the ongoing crisis compelled Disability Rights New York to file a federal lawsuit against Governor Cuomo and on May 12, the federal judge granted a preliminary injunction requiring Governor Cuomo to begin providing an in-frame interpreter on the television broadcasts immediately. Governor Cuomo has done so but the picture-in-picture size of the ASL interpreter has not been big enough to see clearly. The whole point is for the interpreter’s signing to be visible enough. The NAD is advocating for a larger size for the interpreter’s frame on television, and hope this will be remedied soon. In addition, some of the governors have not used interpreters consistently, so we are advocating that interpreters always be present during such press conferences. We are also seeing problems with county and local government and health officials not providing interpreters during their press conferences. We have also seen situations where the government officials are hiring clearly unqualified persons claiming to be interpreters, and we encourage all government agencies to screen all interpreters to ensure they have the appropriate qualifications and strongly encourage the hiring of Certified Deaf Interpreters (CDIs) to be used.
We are also disappointed that throughout this entire crisis, the White House has yet to provide an ASL interpreter during their frequent press conferences.
In addition to advocating to ensure that there are ASL interpreters at all during those press conferences, we also have had to educate television stations to make sure that their camera crew includes the ASL interpreter in the camera shot. There have been many situations where the interpreters are only partially visible or completely left out of the camera shot, making them completely inaccessible for deaf and hard of hearing viewers.
More work needs to be done to ensure that every press conference including those done by mayors and other officials from local municipalities provide their information clearly with both quality captioning and qualified ASL interpreters.
What unique challenges do DeafBlind people face during the pandemic?
DeafBlind people who seek medical treatment during the COVID-19 crisis encounter significant barriers to communication with medical personnel. Many people who are DeafBlind that use sign language are able to understand what is being said to them by placing their hands on the hands of an interpreter signing to them. This form of interpretation is referred to as tactile interpreting. Consequently, DeafBlind individuals who understand through tactile interpreting must be in close proximity to the interpreters to receive information.
With the current mandate for social distancing and other protective measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, many hospitals are resisting allowing anyone on the premises other than medical staff or the patient. As a result, many hospitals are not allowing in-person interpreters. This practice has been difficult in terms of communications for many deaf and hard of hearing people who seek medical treatment, but has been absolutely prohibitive to DeafBlind people. They often arrive at medical facilities with support service providers who can wear protective equipment. The refusal to allow in-person interpreters or support personnel at hospitals are causing DeafBlind people seeking medical care to be left alone in their beds with no means of communicating. They are unable to participate in their own care and to consent to specific treatments. In fact, they are not receiving any information at all about their medical health or treatment.
Many hospitals, seeking to avoid having outside people such as interpreters come into their facilities, are instead using Video Remote Interpreting Services (VRI), which uses videoconferencing technology to communicate with an off-site interpreter. While VRI services, when it is in good working order, can be useful for a sighted deaf individual, this is not a feasible option for a DeafBlind person who is unable to see the VRI screen. If they need to go to the hospital, some DeafBlind individuals plan to bring with them devices with tactile Braille displays to be able to type back and forth with medical personnel. This can help reduce communication access challenges for some DeafBlind patients but many DeafBlind people do not know Braille. Another issue is many hospitals are now using tents to triage or even treat patients. There are often long wait times in the tent and there is no electrical outlet to keep accessibility devices charged.
As a result, DeafBlind people who have to go to the hospital often must arrive alone and that can feel lonely, frightening, and frustrating for someone so dependent on familiar touch. Hospitals need to be prepared to ensure that any and all DeafBlind people who need to be admitted to the hospital during the COVID-19 crisis be provided properly qualified interpreters able to render tactile interpreting and that such interpreters be provided the PPE necessary for them to do so safely.
What are your thoughts about see-through masks to make communication easier for deaf and hard of hearing people?
The ubiquitous use of masks may be necessary for safety reasons, but it does hinder communications for 48 million deaf and hard of hearing people. This is a problem not only for lipreaders but also for those who do not lipread simply because being able to see the mouth movements and facial expressions are helpful cues to basic communications in various situations such as at the food store, bank, or other parts of daily life.
While people’s use of clear masks or clear face shields may make it easier for deaf and hard of hearing people to understand them, it is important to emphasize that the use of clear masks or face shields does not mean there is full accessibility for all deaf and hard of hearing people. Clear masks often are not clear enough for full comprehension even for expert lipreaders. Clear masks and face shields are nevertheless helpful to provide visual cues to assist with communications in limited situations. For real conversations, we recommend that other means of communications be provided, especially for complex discussions such as during medical and mental health visits, legal consultations, educational settings, court appearances, and work meetings. In other words, qualified professional sign language interpreters and/or professionally rendered captioning services should be provided.
The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) encourages the use of clear masks or face shields to make it easier to communicate, especially for deaf and hard of hearing people. While the NAD does not endorse any products, there is a company that makes clear masks that appear to meet federal requirements for medical use. Another company also makes clear masks but their website indicates that their masks are not approved for surgical use. We recognize that the demand for clear masks is more than those companies can meet and support any efforts to use makeshift clear masks for the time being. There are also other companies making clear face shields which often can be better for communication purposes as it allows deaf and hard of hearing people to see the entire face.
Most importantly, people should follow the CDC’s recommendations which currently are to remain at a social distance and wear a mask. Based on a scientific article, face shields could be a better option than wearing a cloth mask. If you need to communicate with a deaf or hard of hearing person and you are wearing a mask, write something down or use a high visibility notes app on your phone such as BIG (iOS) Big Word (Android), and Cardzilla (iOS, Android). Face shields are the best way to preserve the importance of face covering and still allow those who rely on lipreading to understand. Clear masks are the next best option. Short of these options, if the person who needs lipreading is at least six feet away, it may be possible to pull down the mask and move your mouths to allow lipreading at a safe distance. Hearing people can still be inclusive, even during this pandemic. Be willing to use white boards and/or phone apps to provide visible written communications. Obtain and use clear masks. And when you have online content, make sure it is fully accessible — consider captioning it properly (not automated captioning) and include the use of ASL interpreters.
The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) is currently developing various policy guidances and policy statements that address the new paradigm during COVID-19, including with respect to the use of masks and clear masks. With those policy guidances, we will be contacting government agencies and legislators to ensure that these new policies are implemented at all levels.
What would a deaf-friendly disaster response look like?
It has been well documented that the deaf and hard of hearing population often experiences the most difficulty when it comes to preparing for and recovering from emergencies and disasters. To address this gap, the NAD is urging all government agencies to implement the recommendations provided in our emergency communication position statement. The NAD has a position statement on how to make emergency communication accessible, and we ask that all government agencies and media entities read and implement the recommendations in this statement. FEMA has recently issued guidance materials that are in line with our recommendations, see their guidelines on video production and livestreaming emergency briefings.
How has public health communication around the coronavirus for deaf people been so far, in your assessment? What are some of the things that need to get better? (policy & support systems) Are there some things that are working well?
Public health communication around the coronavirus has been mostly disseminated in the form of complex written English, which is not accessible to a large portion of the population including deaf and hard of hearing people. There have been a few videos about coronavirus, and most from the government are captioned which is good. However, there has been almost no sharing of information about coronavirus in American Sign Language (ASL) from any government agency.
In early March, the NAD contacted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to inquire about any plans to share all of the same information being posted on their website in ASL. It took repeated inquiries over the course of two weeks before we were assured that ASL videos would be produced, but it took another week for five such videos to be posted on YouTube. While we thank the CDC for creating these five ASL videos about coronavirus, they have since then created several more videos but failed to ensure that the signer on those new videos was signing in ASL. We have continued to push the CDC to do better. As far as we know, this is the only government produced video about coronavirus that is in ASL. This is inadequate and unacceptable.
Further, there are people who are DeafBlind and it is essential that all communication be shared with them in a fully accessible manner. This requires expertise and preparedness in anticipation of all emergency communication. This has not happened during this coronavirus disaster.
From a policy and support level, in the future, all government agencies that handle emergency communication should include qualified deaf and hard of hearing persons to ensure that their information and materials are always accessible.
Have you been contacted by coronavirus patients who have faced or are currently facing communication barriers when getting treated at a hospital?
The calls and emails that we have received reflect deaf and hard of hearing people being alone in hospitals without ways to communicate with the hospital doctors or staff or even to make calls to family outside of the hospital.
The usual mandate for hospitals is to provide communication access through various means such as: in-person sign language interpreters; Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) [essentially using the Internet to see an interpreter who is offsite]; or provision of captioning or other means of written communications. In general, hospitals should always provide whatever communication access works best for each deaf or hard of hearing person, as each person has different needs. For many signing deaf and hard of hearing people, in-person sign language interpreters are essential for clear and effective understanding of medical communications in hospitals. VRI is often not ideal or effective in hospitals for many reasons. Unfortunately, many hospitals are dispensing with usual protocols as they are overrun with patients beyond their capacity, and the contagious nature of COVID-19 have made them abandon allowing in-person interpreters. This does not excuse hospitals from providing interpreters through VRI or captioning services. Captioning services are important for deaf and hard of hearing people who do not know sign language especially now when all hospital staff use masks which make lipreading impossible. Captioning is not helpful for deaf and hard of hearing people whose primary language is American Sign Language (ASL). Consequently both ASL and captioning must be provided.
Given how many hospitals are neglecting our civil rights to understand and participate in our own treatments, the NAD worked with several other organizations to develop a position paper for hospitals and medical facilities as well as an advocacy paper for deaf and hard of hearing consumers.
With the dire nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, we expect things to get worse on a medical level and are working with other organizations to ensure that the civil rights of our community is not disregarded during these challenging times.
Does NAD ever take on advocacy work on its own, or do you conduct that work pretty much just through coalition work?
The NAD carries out its federal advocacy work through coalition efforts with specialized national deaf and hard of hearing organizations, as well as coalitions representing national cross-disability organizations. As a 501(c)(3) organization, we are not allowed to devote much of our time and budget towards lobbying efforts. However, we do have a Policy Counsel as well as a Education Policy Counsel, and each of them meet with lawmakers in Congress as well as staff at federal agencies to provide information and concerns regarding the needs of deaf and hard of hearing people, which often influence their bills and proposed rules. The Policy Counsel also serves on several governmental advisory bodies. We also have a State Legislative Affairs Coordinator who works with our State Associations of the Deaf on strategies with passing bills in their state. The NAD also works with other national non-profit organizations to partner on certain initiatives, events, workshops, and conferences. We are a member of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Deaf Action Network (DHHCAN), which is comprised of various non-profit organizations focusing on various interests and demographics within the deaf and hard of hearing community. We are also a member of the National Disability Leadership Alliance, a coalition of non-profit organizations run by people with disabilities. Such coalition work is essential to ensure a wide variety of perspectives is included in our filings and letters with the aforementioned bodies. Presenting an united front on disability issues often has more of a powerful impact than separate advocacy efforts.
Previous NAD Press Releases Regarding COVID-19
- 4/27/2020 COVID-19: Families Seeking Accessible PreK-12 Remote Education
- 4/17/2020 COVID-19 Video-Based Telehealth Accessibility
- 4/1/2020 President Update / March 2020
- 3/28/2020 Communicating with Medical Personnels During Coronavirus
- 3/19/2020 Access During Coronavirus Public Briefings
- 3/12/2020 A Message from the NAD About Coronavirus (COVID-19)
- Senator Sherrod Brown’s Letter to the White House Regarding ASL Interpreters
- Senator Sherrod Brown’s Letter to the White House Regarding COVID-19 Accessible Information
- 6/22/2020 “Many Deaf Women Aren’t Safer at Home” – Sarah Katz: bitchmedia
- 5/28/2020 “The pandemic made life harder for deaf people. The solutions could benefit everyone.” – Tanya Basu: MIT Technology Review
- 5/25/2020 “Interpreters help deaf community stay informed about virus” – Robert Nott: Santa Fe New Mexican
- 5/9/2020 “Mask mandate, lack of ASL interpreters creates communication barrier for Deaf community” – Genevieve Grippo: WWMT Channel 3
- 5/3/2020 “What Deaf People Need To See” – Sonya Swink: The Coronavirus Chronicles
- 5/1/2020 “Lawmakers ask that a sign-language interpreter be added to the White House’s popular coronavirus press briefings” – Sarah Katz: Business Insider
- 4/29/2020 “The deaf community is facing new barriers as we navigate inaccessible face masks and struggle to follow news broadcasts and teleconferences — but the tools for accessibility are out there” – Sarah Katz: Business Insider
- 4/27/2020 “How Do You Sign ‘Don’t Drink Bleach’?” – Shawn Hubler: The New York Times
- 4/25/2020 “ASL Interpreters Explain Importance of Their Work During the Coronavirus” – Lolita Lopez: NBC San Diego
- 4/24/2020 “Officials: Sign Language Interpreters Even More Important in Age of Coronavirus” – Saundra Weathers: Spectrum News/Bay News 9
- 4/23/2020 “Deaf & Hard Of Hearing Advocates Petition To Include An ASL Interpreter In White House Briefings” – Britni De La Creatz: Refinery29
- 4/23/2020 “Deaf Americans are urging the White House to use sign language interpreters at coronavirus briefings” – Jessica Campisi: CNN Politics
- 4/23/2020 “US Deaf Community Pushes White House To Use Sign Language During COVID-19 Briefings” – JR Ventura: International Business Times
- 4/20/2020 “The Forgotten Victims of the Pandemic: The Deaf Community” – Sunny Shin: OZY (ASL version included)
- 4/16/2020 “Coronavirus poses added challenges for hospital patients who are deaf or hard of hearing” – Leila Miller: LA Times
- 4/16/2020 “What deaf truckers have to fear from the Trump administration” – Sara Novic: CNN Opinion
Follow the NAD
Director of Communications, Lizzie Sorkin, [email protected]
(please text 202-534-0887 for any urgent interview requests)