While Gov. Ron DeSantis holds frequent news briefings to update the public on COVID-19, Disability Rights Florida and the National Association of the Deaf say he has failed to provide the same updates for deaf and hard-of-hearing residents.
In a complaint filed with a federal judge Monday, the groups say DeSantis is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by not providing simultaneous American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation for television broadcast during the briefings.
They are asking a judge to compel DeSantis to provide interpreters immediately so that all residents can receive real-time information and recommendations.
“Health threats such as coronavirus impact everyone including deaf and hard-of-hearing people, and it is imperative that all governmental announcements be accessible to all of us including in ASL,” said Howard A. Rosenblum, chief executive officer of the NAD, in a news release. “Given the extraordinary surge of coronavirus cases in Florida, full and equal access to information is critical.”
The complaint, which contends that closed captioning is not a reasonable and effective alternative to American Sign Language, is filed on behalf of four deaf and hard-of-hearing Floridians — three of whom work for organizations that serve people with disabilities — Disability Rights Florida said.
The governor’s office said Monday night it will not comment on pending litigation.
Ann Siegel, director of advocacy, education and outreach for Disability Rights Florida, said the groups have tried to work with the governor.
“Disability Rights Florida has contacted the governor’s office multiple times on behalf of the over 800,000 residents who are deaf or hard of hearing requesting he use an ASL interpreter, but have received no response from him or his administration.”
Amid growing concerns of how COVID-19 will impact emergency management planning for hurricane season, Disability Rights Florida is asking the governor to recognize and act in accordance with ADA laws before deaf and hard of hearing residents miss future life-saving information.
Miami Herald Staff Writer Samantha Gross contributed to this report.