WASHINGTON (ABC7) — Last Friday something historic happened at the White House, but you likely missed it. For the first time ever, an American Sign Language interpreter was there for the coronavirus briefing.
It took a landmark lawsuit to make that happen.
There have been dozens of these briefings, with critical, life-saving information, since the pandemic began. But the one last Friday is the one Howard Rosenblum was waiting for.
Rosenblum is the CEO of the National Association of the Deaf. ABC7's Alison Starling spoke with him via an interpreter. (You can watch the full interview below.)
In late September, the National Association of the Deaf won a federal lawsuit and starting Oct. 1, ASL interpreters must be part of these briefings and be shown on the White House live web feed.
It's a common occurrence here locally, when the governors of Maryland and Virginia and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser speak, and when we see hurricane preparedness briefings in states like Florida.
But despite the life or death consequences of COVID-19, the deaf community, until now, was locked out of the White House.
RELATED | Closed captions vs. ASL interpreters: Why the latter is a COVID-19 lifeline for the deaf
Alison: Friday was the first time we saw an ASL interpreter at a White House COVID-19 briefing. What did that moment feel like for you?
Howard: “We have a word in the deaf community, we say 'pah,' P-A-H. It means 'finally,' it means 'at last,' it's we're finally here, we've reached the goal that we were hoping to reach."
Alison: Is this a turning point for people in the deaf community?
Howard: “I would say yes, coronavirus became, sad to say this, there was an information gap for many of us in the deaf and hard of hearing community. Many of the governors were having daily, weekly briefings, obviously presidential briefings task force briefings and we weren't getting information, the captions were not enough for many members of the community.”
Alison: Why should all of us care about this and want this to be a common occurrence?
Howard: “That's a really good question if more people wore masks if more people were taking proper precautions in terms of social distancing, etc., obviously that includes the deaf community so you might say 'I don't care about deaf folks, I don't know any deaf folks' but you don't want to get sick because a deaf person didn't get the right information. That affects everybody.”
Rosenblum says there is still more work to be done. The interpreter was only on the White House web feed, but the National Association of the Deaf wants to be sure it's also provided to TV networks and that they air those feeds, too. He hopes this will set a standard and a precedent going forward.