White House ordered to have sign language at virus briefings

A federal judge has ordered the White House to begin providing sign-language interpretation at White House coronavirus briefings starting Thursday.

The order, issued by U.S. District Judge James Boasberg, follows a lawsuit filed by the National Association of the Deaf and five deaf Americans last month to include American Sign Language interpretation at COVID-19 briefings. The White House and plaintiffs have “largely agreed on all terms" to resolve the matter, according to the order.

The ruling says the interpreter could be in the frame physically near the speaker or off-site. Either way, the White House is required to make the interpreter feeds accessible online and on television using a picture-in-picture format.

Once the order takes effect, it will be the first time in history that any White House has provided live ASL interpretation for any televised press briefing involving the president, according to the association.

The court had issued an opinion earlier this month that the plaintiffs had the right to compel the White House to provide ASL interpreters for all of its press briefings that cover the coronavirus pandemic. It called on the White House and advocacy group to come up with a plan to provide interpreters.

“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,” National Association for the Deaf CEO Howard Rosenblum said in a statement. “The judge’s order sets a great precedent to achieve this goal of full accessibility.”

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.