According to Human Rights Watch, state and federal governments and public health departments are legally and morally responsible in ensuring that the Deaf* communities have access to their content through various means. Access to public health and disaster emergency information is an essential human right and, unfortunately, the Deaf* communities are not being granted that right in the United States, Canada, and other nations across the world.
Most federal and state government video content posted on social media channels and websites do not feature ASL or other sign language (i.e., LSM, Puerto Rico Sign Language) interpreters. If the interpreters are featured at all, usually the interpreter’s screen is out of focus or too far away, does not show the full frame, or does not include an appropriate contrast background behind the interpreter. Even if the interpreter’s screen is sufficiently positioned, there are times where the interpreter is not qualified for the job.
The National Association of the Deaf [NAD] finally sent out a letter yesterday [3/18/2020] to the White House and today [3/19/2020] to the National Association of Broadcasters, stipulating that an ASL interpreter be featured next to the speaker’s podium stand in briefings and press conferences for the American public. NAD’s letters followed suit after yesterday’s letter from Neil Romano, Chairman of the National Council on Disability that was addressed to the White House.
In the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic, longstanding struggles in communication access for the Deaf* communities have re-emerged. Medical personnel are required to wear masks for health and safety reasons, leaving Deaf* patients and their families unable to understand. Written English is not a suitable alternative, and is there even a plan if VRI services are spotty?
While VRS providers are working to move interpreters at call centers for remote work, it still is not yet enough to meet the high need of calls. Deaf* users continue to experience high wait times for an interpreter to pick up. Interpreters are either providing free access to public health emergency content when they can on their free time or price-gouging to the point where Deaf* individuals are deprived of services.
Given the happenings above, the Deaf* communities are prone to being misinformed or being the last ones to know and this puts their lives all the more at risk. What’s scary is that for each infected person who shows symptoms, there are 10 infected persons who do not show symptoms at all (Sky News, 2020). Experts have determined that the COVID-19 spread is largely attributed to the fact that infected people without symptoms are exposing others to COVID-19 without even realizing it at all (Sky News, 2020).