Disability Rights Florida (DRF), the State’s designated protection and advocacy system for individuals with disabilities, and the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) filed a complaint asking a federal judge to order Gov. Ron DeSantis to immediately begin providing simultaneous American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation for television broadcast when holding press conferences and briefings to ensure effective communication for deaf and hard of hearing residents. Filed on behalf of four deaf and hard-of- hearing Floridians, the complaint asserts the governor is in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and calls upon him to begin using ASL interpreters immediately, according to an announcement on the DRF website.

The complaint states that the failure to provide ASL interpreters during the Governor’s press briefings denies deaf and hard-of- hearing citizens access to critical information about the state of the COVID-19 health crisis and essential recommendations on how to stay safe during the pandemic. Ann Siegel, DRF’s director of advocacy, education, & outreach and lead attorney on the case said, “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.”

According to DRF’s announcement, the complaint underscores “the critical need for government updates to be provided in a manner that is accessible for all Floridians.” In addition to important testing and personal health precautions, the updates also notified Floridians of school, work, government, and other closures as well as re-openings. Three of the four plaintiffs work for organizations that serve people with disabilities and their positions require them to communicate vital information about COVID-19 to clients who are deaf, blind, or have other disabilities.

Additionally, the complaint addresses the misconception that closed captioning is a reasonable and effective alternative to ASL. “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,” Siegel said.

“Health threats such as coronavirus impact everyone including deaf and hard-of-hearing people, and it is imperative that all governmental announcements be accessible to all of us including in ASL,” said Howard A. Rosenblum, Chief Executive Officer of the NAD. “Given the extraordinary surge of coronavirus cases in Florida, full and equal access to information is critical.”

Amid growing concerns of how COVID-19 will impact emergency management planning for hurricane season, DSF is asking the governor to recognize and act in accordance with ADA laws before deaf and hard-of-hearing residents miss future life-saving information.

Source: DSF, NAD