I’m scratching my head. Also, a little miffed.
Why has it been so hard to get our leaders to include sign language interpretation in daily updates on the pandemic that has upended our world?!
I’m Canadian and back in March, I was shocked to see that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s daily updates did not, at first, include sign language interpretation. It took a few complaints and a few days to correct that glaring mistake.
I was even more shocked to discover, this week, that the White House coronavirus briefings do not currently provide ASL interpretation. In response to lawsuits brought against the White House by the National Association of the Deaf and five individual Deaf people, a federal court has ruled that it may have to do so. A hearing is being held this week.
Wait, stop! MAY have to? Seriously?
Arguing that closed captioning should be sufficient communication access for all people who are deaf or have hearing loss, displays a profound lack of knowledge of how we communicate. For many Deaf people, sign language is their first language, and the spoken/written language may be their second. Deaf people forced to depend on reading the closed captioning – which is delivered live, in real time, and therefore subject to human error – may not fully comprehend what’s being said. And that’s dangerous.
Governors in all 50 states seem to have got it right, providing in-frame sign language interpreting for their briefings, so it is stunning to learn that, at the highest level, people’s communication needs are being dismissed.
We are in a time of crisis. To ensure our safety in the pandemic, we need the information to be accessible so that we can be on the same page as everyone else. For people with hearing loss who use spoken and written language, closed captioning is crucial. For people who use a signed language such as American Sign Language (ASL) or langue des signes québécoise (LSQ) in Canada and the US, sign language interpreting delivered by qualified interpreters is just as crucial.
This is not the only situation causing communication barriers. Mask-wearing has delivered an unprecedented challenge to people with hearing loss. Innovators have risen to the occasion by designing clear face shields and partially clear masks. They haven’t yet become standard, so our challenge is still very huge and raw.
We have the right to ask for accessible communication. Communication rights mean more than freedom of speech; it also refers to the right to participate and to accessible communication. If we have done all that we can to facilitate a conversation in a store or in a doctor’s office or anywhere – we’ve explained our hearing loss and perhaps tried a speech-to-text app – and we still have difficulty, it’s time for the next step. And that doesn’t mean turning around and walking away. It means, in my opinion, that we have the right to ask the speaker, IF we are sufficiently distanced and IF no one else is negatively impacted, to lower their mask – just briefly – so that we can lipread and understand them.
Whether it’s our federal governments updating us on the pandemic, or store clerks asking if we need any more help, we have the right to understand.
It’s right to ask for our communication rights. It’s also a win-win. We understand each other and we are staying safe. How perfect is that?