Daily press briefings bring vital information to the public during the COVID-19 pandemic, but for the deaf community, communication is being lost in no translation.
Advocates say the absence of an American Sign Language interpreter during state briefings is leaving a segment of the population vulnerable.
“This is ... an ADA issue; it's a safety issue. They're putting our lives at risk without providing proper interpreting and proper captioning,” said Access Deaf Consulting Founder Dr. Jennifer Delora.
Disability Rights New York, or DRNY, a non-profit that works to protect the rights of those with disabilities, has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice against Governor Andrew Cuomo for not having an ASL interpreter at his live broadcast briefings.
A spokesperson from the governor's office says they “deployed a dedicated ASL stream that’s available on our website and all conferences have been closed captioned.”
But Tim Clune, executive director of Disability Rights New York, says while he applauds the governor for having the live stream, it is not enough for the deaf community
“For those people who rely upon American Sign Language or ASL, English is not always their first language,” said Clune. “There is a large population that gets their news solely on TV. Without having an interpreter simultaneously interpreting on broadcast TV, these people are never going to understand the messaging."
Advocates say some deaf people are relying on family members for information, but that others are just sitting there unable to comprehend what is happening at a very critical time.
“The information that is being provided, it’s valuable information," Clune said. "I am happy with these daily briefings, but one step further and everyone will be able to understand what's going on.”
Not having an interpreter during live press briefings is a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act, according to advocates.
“We're all very angry and very upset because the deaf people are having to take on our own fight, and it's exhausting,” said Delora.
Clune hopes that filing the complaint “will spark some action to have an interpreter present during the daily briefings.”
Members of the deaf community say this is not just a New York problem, but a national one, saying live broadcast briefings from the White House and various government officials from across the country have not provided ASL interpreters, or have interpreters giving out wrong information.