State Watch

DeSantis sued for not having ASL interpreter at coronavirus briefings

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) was sued Monday for failing to provide an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter during his press conferences and televised briefings regarding the coronavirus pandemic and the current hurricane season.

Disability Rights Florida, the National Association of the Deaf and four deaf and hard of hearing Floridians filed a complaint to a federal judge accusing DeSantis of violating the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

The complaint states that there have been at least 48 instances since March 2 where DeSantis has discussed pandemic-related information such as school and business closures, testing, social distancing and other safety precautions without an in-frame ASL interpreter.

Closed captioning is not provided on all television channels, and the lawsuit states that when it is included, the text frequently includes errors or omissions that make it “difficult or impossible” for individuals who are deaf to understand.

Individuals are also sometimes unable to follow the closed captioning if English is their second language or if they have cognitive or processing issues.

The suit also notes that hurricane season officially began in Florida on June 1 and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting an “above-normal” storm season in the Atlantic.

Deaf Floridians might not have access to real-time information about emergency planning, evacuation plans, shelters and the location and suspected landfall of any impending storms unless an ASL interpreter is present at news conferences, the plaintiffs argued.

“The Plaintiffs will not have the time to search for this information and are entitled to the same access to this information as the non-disabled residents of Florida,” the lawsuit states.

Ann Siegel, director of advocacy, education and outreach for Disability Rights Florida, said in a statement that the group has contacted the governor’s office numerous times requesting an ASL interpreter “but have received no response from him or his administration.”

The lawsuit requests that a judge immediately issue a temporary restraining order to prevent the governor from hosting live televised briefings without an ASL interpreter in frame.

The plaintiffs are requesting they be compensated for attorney fees, as well as be provided other relief “deemed just and proper.”

The Hill has reached out to DeSantis’s office for comment.

There are approximately 820,999 people living in Florida who are deaf or hard of hearing, according to the lawsuit.

The state has become a hot spot of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, reporting 12,264 new cases on Monday. 

The lawsuit against DeSantis is similar to one filed against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) in April relating to coronavirus briefings. 

A federal judge later ruled that Cuomo had to immediately begin having a sign language interpreter in frame during his daily news conferences. 

Tags American Sign Language Americans with Disabilities Act Andrew Cuomo ASL coronavirus pandemic Deaf Florida hurricane season National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration New York Rehabilitation Act Ron DeSantis

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