“The president is committed to building an America that is more inclusive, more just and more accessible for every American, including Americans with disabilities and their families,” Psaki said Monday as an interpreter named Rebecca appeared on-screen virtually signing the announcement.
The White House did not immediately respond to questions seeking more information about its ASL interpreters.
The move marks the first time a presidential administration will have regularly accessible news briefings using ASL, a step that was welcomed by the deaf and hard-of-hearing community.
“I felt a sense of greater equality,” said Robert B. Weinstock, a spokesperson for Gallaudet University in Washington, where all instruction and campus life activities take place using ASL.
Weinstock, speaking through an interpreter, told The Washington Post that the deaf community is happy that the White House is making briefings accessible and that having an ASL interpreter makes watching the news more enjoyable.
Traditional broadcasts of the news briefings often have closed captions, but Weinstock noted that captions and ASL aren’t equivalent access; closed captions can’t capture the full range of information — and they’re not always accurate.
“If a person’s not familiar with that name, then the person typing out captions or hearing the name might not type it out correctly,” Weinstock said.
“The ASL rendition of the spoken English is more faithful, and more conceptually accurate in many cases than the captions,” he added in a follow-up email.
Weinstock said that interpreters don’t convey just words, but also nonverbal cues like tone and mood which they relay with facial expressions and body language.
Biden staked out the importance of accessibility starting with his inauguration: His Presidential Inaugural Committee prioritized accessibility and provided ASL interpretation, live closed captioning and audio descriptions for the day’s events, NPR reported.
A highlight of the ceremonies was Georgia firefighter Andrea Hall, who led the Pledge of Allegiance in spoken word and simultaneously in ASL.
Biden’s experience with a more inclusive workplace dates to his time in the Obama administration, which featured several deaf or hard-of-hearing members, including former White House receptionist Leah Katz-Hernandez.
The focus on accessibility contrasts with the Trump administration, which last year was sued by the National Association of the Deaf and other parties for not providing ASL interpreters during the White House briefings related to the coronavirus pandemic, and noted that governors in all 50 states provided ASL interpreters at their coronavirus briefings.
A federal judge later ordered the administration to make the briefings accessible. For that reason, NAD CEO Howard A. Rosenblum told The Post via email he would give the previous administration a “failing grade” on accessibility, but was encouraged by the changes he’s seen under the new president.
“The Biden-Harris Administration’s willingness to provide ASL interpreters at all press briefings should now be the standard for accessibility going forward for all presidential administrations,” Rosenblum said.
Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify quotes provided to The Post through an ASL interpreter.