New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) on Wednesday finally began providing an on-screen American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter at his widely watched daily COVID-19 press briefings, two weeks after deaf New Yorkers filed a lawsuit on the issue.
Filed on April 29 by four deaf New Yorkers and the group Disability Rights New York, the lawsuit said Cuomo was the only U.S. governor holding daily coronavirus briefings without a visible, real-time ASL interpreter on-screen — known as “televised in frame ASL interpretation.”
Initially, his office responded by pointing to the ASL interpretation available on his website, where viewers can stream the briefing. But that restricts people without internet access.
By federal law, the televised version of his briefing must include closed captioning. But that is prone to error and can be difficult to follow, especially for deaf individuals whose first language isn’t English.
In the lawsuit, Disability Rights New York said it had received “a large number of complaints from deaf New Yorkers who are unable to understand Governor Cuomo’s daily briefings due to the lack of in frame televised ASL interpretation.”
Several of the plaintiffs represented by the lawsuit cited these difficulties in receiving accurate and prompt information about the state’s response to the pandemic, such as not finding out about Cuomo’s stay-at-home order or requirement to wear masks in public, and not being able to inform other deaf community members of such directives.
More than 3.4 million Americans identify as deaf, and about 17 million report having “serious difficulty hearing,” according to a 2014 Census survey of Americans with disabilities. At least 200,000 residents of New York City, by far the U.S area hit hardest by the pandemic, are deaf or hard of hearing.
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