Governor Cuomo has once again failed to help Deaf New Yorkers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Eight months ago, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo needed to be sued to provide an ASL interpreter as part of his televised coronavirus briefings. Following the Judge’s order, he began including an ASL interpreter in his briefings. It seems, however, that the broader lesson of the lawsuit – the need to ensure that the Deaf Community has access to public health and safety information – was lost on the Governor. Last night he hosted a webinar billed as “for all people eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine”. Neither ASL interpreting or captioning was provided to make the webinar accessible to Deaf individuals.
Members of the Deaf Community are among the frontline workers who have been prioritized for vaccination. “I logged in and there was no interpreter and no captioning,” said CDR Support Service Provider Tammy Aylor. “The Deaf community has a right to this this information like anyone else. Many of us are out there doing the hard work to help keep people in the community; if the state doesn’t provide interpreters, SSPs or other Deaf home care workers such as myself will be shut out of the vaccination program.”
New York State has a large Deaf Community with Rochester having the largest per capita population in the nation. The Deaf Community in Rochester – and across the state – are working on COVID’s frontlines. “We have Deaf home care workers that wanted to find out how and when they could get their vaccinations, but when they logged on there was no way for them to access the information,” said Tammy Papperman, CDR’s Director of Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Services. “These workers have supported other disabled individuals in remaining at home, and the Governor tells them they don’t matter enough to provide even basic access.”
The uproar over the access comes at a time when the Governor would much rather people were focused on the State of the State speeches. “Governor Cuomo has spent the past two days talking about the war on COVID and fighting “low tide” behaviors that promote injustice and inequality, but his actions speak louder than his words. Excluding Deaf individuals tells us his rhetoric is empty, and that he isn’t actually committed to fighting this war for every New Yorker,” said Gregg Beratan, CDR’s Director of Advocacy. “New York’s Deaf Community deserves a Governor that is committed to their health and safety.”
To address this issue, Bruce Darling, President and CEO of the Center for Disability Rights, has personally emailed approximately 70 state staff in multiple state agencies as well as staff working for the Governor; none have responded.