Disability Rights New York filed a federal lawsuit this week against Governor Andrew Cuomo for failing to provide an American Sign Language interpreter during his televised press briefings.
Gregg Beratan, with the Center for Disability Rights, explains for many in the deaf community, English is a second language, making it hard to follow along with closed captioning.
“If you’ve grown up with ASL as your primary language and you’re being forced to follow this through closed captioning, even if it is well done there are things you can miss,” Beratan explained.
The lawsuit also lays out there are often errors in the closed captioning and captioning is often not provided during reporter questioning.
The state does have a separate live stream online that does offer an ASL interpretation, but the lawsuit states this was not set up until March 27, 27 days after the first confirmed case. And many in the deaf population do not have reliable internet service.
Cuomo's senior advisor sent a statement saying, “We deployed a dedicated ASL stream that’s available on our website and all conferences have been close-captioned. We’ll review the suit, but we’ve been moving heaven and earth and working with the Albany press Corp to reduce density in the room.”
However, Beratan says an interpreter does not even need to be in the room but can appear in a box on the side of the screen.
“I think it’s a sad excuse, every other politician in the country is doing it this way,” Beratan said. “They are having interpreters there. The governor does not get to pick and choose when people get access to his communication.”
Senator Rachel May from Syracuse says her office has received numerous calls about this issue and they are working to create a commission for the deaf and hard of hearing in the state.
“It seems like a really important thing to makes sure statewide, that we’re not just complying with the law, but getting out in front of making sure this is a community that isn’t left behind,” Senator May emphasized.
Rochester also has the largest deaf community per capita in the country.