CORONAVIRUS

Florida Governor Sued For Not Having Sign Language Interpreter At COVID-19 Briefings

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is unlawfully denying people who are deaf or hard of hearing access to critical coronavirus information, the lawsuit alleges.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is violating federal law by not having an American Sign Language interpreter present during his coronavirus news briefings, alleges a lawsuit filed this week on behalf of four deaf and hard of hearing Floridians. 

The lawsuit, filed Monday by Disability Rights Florida and the National Association of the Deaf, calls for a federal judge to order DeSantis to immediately begin providing simultaneous ASL interpretation during TV broadcasts of his news briefings.

DeSantis’ failure to do so defies the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and denies people who are deaf or hard of hearing access to critical information about the pandemic, according to the lawsuit.

“Disability Rights Florida has contacted the governor’s office multiple times on behalf of the over 800,000 residents who are deaf or hard of hearing requesting he use an ASL interpreter, but have received no response from him or his administration,” Ann Siegel, DRF’s director of advocacy, education and outreach and lead attorney on the case, said in a statement.

Florida has quickly become one of the major coronavirus hotspots in the country in recent weeks. There have been more than 300,000 confirmed cases and at least 4,500 coronavirus-linked deaths, reported The New York Times.

Three of the four plaintiffs work for organizations that serve people with disabilities and must communicate information about COVID-19 to people who are deaf, blind or have other disabilities, according to a press release issued by DRF.

Federal law requires television broadcasts to include closed captioning, but Siegel said this lawsuit highlights why closed captions are not an adequate substitute for simultaneous ASL interpretation.

“Closed captions are often produced in real-time by automated speech generation systems that repeatedly misspell words, omit words, scroll too fast to read and comprehend, and are ineffective for ASL-fluent viewers whose first language is either ASL or a foreign language,” she said in her statement.

DeSantis’ office did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.

A federal judge ruled in May that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) must provide “in-frame ASL interpretation” during his TV briefings following a lawsuit filed by several deaf New Yorkers and the group Disability Rights New York.

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.