In The Know

Marlee Matlin: 'Unfathomable' that White House doesn't have sign language interpreters at coronavirus briefings

Academy Award-winning actress and former "Celebrity Apprentice" contestant Marlee Matlin said it is "appalling" that the Trump administration has not provided on-air American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters during White House briefings on the coronavirus pandemic.

"This is not a trivial request," Matlin, who is deaf, told People in an interview released Wednesday. "It's about the [Americans with Disabilities Act]. It's about the pandemic. They know very well." 

Matlin's comments come after the Trump White House was sued by the National Association of the Deaf and five deaf Americans for failing to have ASL interpreters despite multiple requests. 

"They're depriving us of the opportunity to participate," she said. "It's unfathomable." 

Matlin said she is confused by the administration's lack of action because neither Trump nor his staff on "Celebrity Apprentice" put up any "barriers to having a sign language interpreter on set" while they filmed the 2011 season of the president's former reality show.

"During my time on that show, the producers made absolutely clear to put [my interpreter] Jack [Jason] in a position where he should be right next to Trump and I don't know what happened behind the scenes, but they made it happen and they accommodated me on the show," she told People. "[Trump] didn't kick Jack off, he didn't say Jack should be in a corner. He was very - I don't know - he engaged with Jack."

"Maybe right now the issue of not having an interpreter with the president, maybe he doesn't know what's going on," she added.

The "Switched at Birth" star has previously called out the administration's lack of ASL interpreter, tweeting in March that local leaders around the country were providing live interpretation at their pandemic briefings.

The lawsuit, filed earlier this month in a district court in Washington, D.C., claimed the lack of live sign language interpretation violates the First Amendment. 

It states that closed captioning frequently contains errors and omissions, making it "difficult or impossible" for deaf and hard of hearing individuals to understand the briefings, particularly if they are not fluent in English.

"Tone is also often lost in written captions. By contrast, an interpreter is able to convey tone and context of a message through facial expressions, sign choice, and demeanor," the lawsuit reads.

Trump frequently makes appearances at the briefings with other members of the White House coronavirus task force.

The lawsuit argues that certain Americans are being "denied the opportunity to understand any communication from the President of the United States during this critical time, they are also being denied the opportunity to access information, analysis, and updates from Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx - two renowned public health experts."

The people who brought the lawsuit range in age from 27 to 92, and say they want "information on how to stay safe during the coronavirus pandemic, as well as how to take care of family, friends, and loved ones" and following developments about a potential vaccine and the pandemic's economic impact.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) previously faced similar lawsuits for failing to provide ASL interpreters.  

"At the end of the day, we refuse to go backwards. There's no way," Matlin stated. "This pandemic - we will not let it make us go backwards."

Outbrain