Judge says White House may have to include sign language interpretation at coronavirus briefings
(CNN) -- A federal judge ruled this week that the White House may have to provide American Sign Language interpretation at its televised news briefings on the coronavirus pandemic, in response to a lawsuit brought by the National Association of the Deaf and five deaf Americans.
The order is pending the court's determination on how to implement it and whether it's practical to do so. A hearing has been set for next Thursday.
According to court documents, since March, President Donald Trump and the coronavirus task force have not been seen with an ASL interpreter while addressing the American people during the pandemic, though the Trump administration has used interpreters in past briefings, including for hurricanes.
In their lawsuit filed last month, the plaintiffs alleged that the lack of live sign language interpretation at White House coronavirus briefings was against the law. They pointed out that governors in all 50 states have provided in-frame ASL interpretation during their public briefings on coronavirus.
The government argued that ASL interpretation isn't needed because the White House already provides other nonauditory ways to get the information from the coronavirus briefings, according to court documents. The White House includes closed captioning on livestreams of the coronavirus task force updates and videos of past briefings uploaded to YouTube, and provides transcripts of the briefings.
Plaintiffs said written English "is not an effective means of communication" for deaf individuals, whose primary language is ASL -- "particularly for complex and important topics such as COVID-19 and related issue[s] of public health."
"Closed captioning and transcripts may constitute a reasonable accommodation under some circumstances, but not here," Judge James Boasberg of the DC District Court wrote in his opinion.
Boasberg also wrote that the defendants "at no point" said providing an interpreter would be too burdensome.
The judge agreed with the plaintiffs that it's "in the public interest for them to receive up-to-date information during the pandemic ... particularly given the rapidly evolving science on the nature of the virus's spread."
The White House declined to comment on the record about the ruling. CNN has reached out to the National Association of the Deaf for comment.
The US Census Bureau estimates that about 11.5 million Americans have some degree of hearing loss.
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