The onset of the pandemic in early 2020 brought daily communications about COVID-19 from governments. Here in Canada, government briefings had always been closed captioned. But due to the seriousness of the situation across the country, sign language interpreters were soon called on to interpret COVID-19 briefings both at the federal and provincial level. This was a first for the Deaf community.
Although this access was welcomed, it highlights the barriers to essential communication that exist daily for Deaf and hard of hearing individuals. Today, more than a year later, it continues to be only COVID-19 briefings that are being interpreted. Sign language interpreters are not provided for government press conferences on other matters.
However, there is encouraging progress in the United States. On January 25, 2021, the Biden administration announced that White House daily press briefings would include a sign language interpreter. Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, stated: “The president is committed to building an America that is more inclusive, more just and more accessible for every American, including Americans with disabilities and their families.”
This new policy goes far beyond providing ASL interpretation for COVID information – it is now made available for briefings on ALL topics. The previous administration had begun providing an interpreter for COVID-19 briefings only in November 2020, after a successful lawsuit brought by the National Association for the Deaf (NAD) and five Deaf individuals.
For President Biden’s first address to Congress at the end of April, the White House provided a feed of the ASL interpreter for the TV networks. This was the first time in US history that this had been provided. Unfortunately, none of the networks broadcast the feed; only CBS carried it on its website. Those without high speed internet had no options to access the address.
In future, NAD encourages all TV networks to broadcast the ASL interpreter feed so people can access it in an appropriately sized picture-in-picture (PIP) inset.
If you are a Deaf or hard of hearing individual who has experienced difficulties with access to these government broadcasts, contact your local TV station and let them know that broadcasting accurate captioning and the ASL interpreter feed is essential. Here is a list of contact emails for the various networks, prepared by NAD.
- ABC: firstname.lastname@example.org
- CBS: email@example.com
- Cable News Network (CNN): IPClosedCaptioning@turner.com
- C-Span: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Fox: email@example.com
- MSNBC: firstname.lastname@example.org
- NBC: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
- PBS: email@example.com