Here in Maryland, Governor Larry Hogan has been addressing the Coronavirus situation at least a few times each week. One aspect of these briefings that people have noticed and commented on is the Deaf  interpreter standing to the side of Governor Hogan. While there have been various interpreters over the course of the last few weeks, one has always been present – and for a good reason.  

The Critical Role of Sign Language Interpreters During a Crisis

The Americans With Disabilities Act asserts that every person has the right to equal access.  This includes information, and there is nowhere more evident than critical health and safety briefings. While most major cable news outlets provide captioning, not everyone has access to cable. Additionally, the captioning isn’t always accurate and can be difficult to follow.

YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter do not automatically offer captioning, making viewing the briefings online a less accessible experience. This underscores the importance of an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter. Having a person deliver the message with the emotion and nuance that is intended behind the governor’s statements gives the Deaf and hard of hearing community important cues that they may have missed by viewing the captioned version later.

Think of it as texting or email. When you read someone’s statement without hearing the subtle changes in tone or inflection behind it, it is easy to misinterpret what they say. However, unlike texting or email, this information affects an entire population. They have the right to the same information that hearing individuals are getting in their native language. Having an ASL interpreter on camera gives people important context and a better understanding of the message authorities are trying to deliver, while providing equal access to the Deaf community.

Sign language interpretation is more than just translating English words to signs. It requires the interpreter to express a range of information that many hearing people take for granted, including accent, intent, and emotion.In fact, one thing that a lot of people have noticed while watching these briefings is the range of emotion and facial expressions that interpreters show while delivering a speech. 

These facial expressions are a large part of ASL grammar. Just like English or any other spoken language, ASL is a unique language with its own grammar, structure, and syntax. Facial grammar makes an impact on the message being conveyed. 

Room for Improvement

While many officials at the local, county and state levels started providing interpreters for their Deaf and hard of hearing constituents early on in pandemic briefings, states like New York, Vermont, and Montana were very late on the uptake, not offering an ASL interpreter until well after mid-March. For Deaf individuals still seeking out this information, The Daily Moth does offer daily updates on COVID-19 in ASL. 

Most notably, though, is that the federal government still has no provision for this. With more people tuning into public health briefings than ever, the lack of an ASL interpreter at presidential briefings is becoming more and more concerning. 

Millions of Americans rely on information from the government for their health and safety, making it critical for authorities on the Coronavirus to make information about the crisis readily available to people with diversabilties (diverse abilities). The hope is that the federal government will step up for the Deaf and hard of hearing community soon by providing a qualified ASL interpreter.  

The National Association for the Deaf, the National Council on Disability, and multiple states have sent formal requests to the White House for a translator. At the time of publishing, there has been no response from the president or his team.

Sign Language Interpretation for Government Agencies

Accessibility is not a privilege in the U.S.; it is a right. At Applied Development, we assist federal agencies with their diversity and inclusion policies and give them the tools they need to ensure 504/508 compliance. If your agency or organization delivers critical information and does not work with a sign language interpreter, contact us today on the website or at 410.571.4016.