For the first time in American history, two full-time American Sign Language interpreters have joined the White House staff.
Elsie Stecker and Lindsey Snyder began working as the official White House ASL interpreters in late March. The pair will interpret press briefings and other forms of official communication from the White House in order to make such information more accessible to the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community. The White House hired the interpreters following a 2020 court case involving language access during the COVID-19 press briefings.
“I have to remember why this position was created and the goal of access—access to information shared by the government, decisions that are being made, policies that are being passed that will have impacts on people’s daily experiences and lives,” Stecker told National Public Radio in April.
In 2020, the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) sued the White House, noting that the lack of ASL interpreters at COVID-19 press briefings violated deaf individuals’ right to access important public health information in a timely fashion. After a court ruled in the NAD’s favor, the White House began providing ASL interpreters for its press briefings, but it wasn’t until this year that interpreters were hired as full-time staff members.
“Deaf and hard-of-hearing Americans deserve the same access to information from the White House and the president that everyone else gets,” said Howard Rosenblum, the CEO of the NAD, shortly after the organization won the lawsuit.
When watching White House events and press briefings on television, viewers most likely see Stecker signing alongside the speaker. Snyder, who is not deaf or hard of hearing, interprets speech off camera in real time for Stecker, who is deaf. As a native speaker of ASL, Stecker then signs the message off camera, polishing and editing the utterances as needed. This way, deaf individuals who use ASL natively can more easily understand the message.
“Deaf people who are ASL users can watch and identify that it’s a deaf person signing on the screen,” Stecker told CBS. Andrew Warner