White House Covid Briefings to Include ASL Interpreter Starting October 1, Following Lawsuit

Published September 30, 2020

Beginning October 1, the White House must provide American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters at public COVID-19 briefings. This is the result of a suit filed by the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) and five plaintiffs. Any press conference on coronavirus-related matters featuring President Trump, Vice President Pence, or White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany must comply if it is on White House grounds.

By having access to ASL during televised briefings, people who use ASL will be able to follow along with critical public health information in real-time.

The order does imply it is only in effect on White House grounds, so briefings held elsewhere might not receive interpretation. However, the interpreter feed must be made available to all TV networks so that it may be televised.

NAD CEO Howard A. Rosenblum said, "Sign language and accurate captioning are both essential and crucial to ensuring all deaf and hard of hearing people are well informed and are able to make better decisions on how to stay safe from the pandemic. The judge’s order sets a great precedent to achieve this goal of full accessibility."

Arnold & Porter attorney Ian Hoffman said, “For too long, the White House has illegally shut deaf Americans out of its public briefings on the coronavirus pandemic. On October 1, that will change. Because of today’s order, all deaf Americans will be able to see and understand all White House coronavirus press briefings in real time.”

Assuming compliance with the order, this will mark the first time a sitting president has provided live ASL interpretation for a televised press briefing, according to NAD.

While not everyone who is deaf or hard of hearing uses or understands sign language, many people do, and so its inclusion will help ensure that sensitive and timely pandemic information is not only available to hearing individuals or those for whom captions and transcripts work best.