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NY Governor Sued For Not Having ASL Interpreters At Briefings

“It is inexplicable that during this pandemic, [Gov. Cuomo] would choose not to have ASL interpreters at his daily live televised briefings.”

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An advocacy group and several New Yorkers who are deaf are suing Gov. Andrew Cuomo for not using an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter at his daily televised coronavirus briefings.

Non-profit advocacy group Disability Rights New York filed a lawsuit on Wednesday naming four New York state residents who are deaf, urging on their behalf for Cuomo to provide an ASL interpreter at future briefings.

According to the lawsuit, failure to provide interpreters violates Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits state and local governments from discriminating against disabled individuals, and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which requires public entities to provide reasonable accommodations to residents with disabilities. 

"It is inexplicable that during this pandemic, the Governor would choose not to have ASL interpreters at his daily live televised briefings," Disability Rights New York executive director Timothy Clune said in an April 29 statement. "As a result, deaf New Yorkers are unable to obtain vital life and death information at the time they need it most."

Though the suit acknowledges that the governor's office has ASL interpretation on its internet live-streamed feed, as opposed to its TV broadcasts, it argues that some residents don’t have internet access. 

Advocacy groups have also called for the White House to include an ASL interpreter at its daily coronavirus briefings. Last month, the National Association of the Deaf and the National Disability Council both sent letters to then-White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham, urging the coronavirus task force to use an interpreter during its briefings. 

The Federal Communications Commission legally requires broadcasters, cable networks, and other distributors to offer closed captioning in both their television and web streams. But interpreters, some of whom have been present at briefings by local officials including New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, say that closed captioning can include errors and that they are able to interpret the tone of whoever is speaking in ways that captioning can’t.

In response to the lawsuit, Rich Azzopardi, a senior adviser to Cuomo, told CNN that they have "deployed a dedicated (ASL) stream" on their website and that "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 corps to reduce density in the room and respect social distancing standards as we fight this pandemic," he said in a written statement.