A federal judge Monday evening ordered Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to follow the lead of what governors, mayors and county executives across the United States routinely offer every day: the prominent use of a sign language interpreter during his daily Covid press briefings so tens of thousands of deaf New Yorkers can keep up to date on the latest coronavirus updates from Albany.
The Cuomo administration had pushed back against a lawsuit by Disability Rights New York, an advocacy group that last month sued the Democratic governor to try to force him to share the broadcast frame with an American Sign Language interpreter during his coronavirus press briefings.
The group first pressed back in March to make the briefings more accessible — via broadcast TV — to deaf New Yorkers by including an interpreter. At first, the administration provided closed captioning of the briefings; such captioning, however, can be riddled with errors when done on a live basis and did nothing for deaf people who do not speak English.
Next, the administration tapped a sign language interpreter, but, unlike other governors, Cuomo did not include the interpreters in the state-provided TV signal that is distributed to local, state and national broadcasters each day during his Covid briefings.
Instead, the signal was offered via a separate link on the internet; advocates for deaf people called that inadequate, in part, because of spotty broadband service in many parts of New York and because the interpreter broadcasts were not archived for people to watch them if they missed the live event.
U.S. District Court Judge Valerie Caproni in Manhattan Monday evening granted the advocacy group a preliminary injunction in its case against Cuomo and ordered him to immediately commence “in-frame” broadcasts of his Covid briefings with a sign language interpreter.
Caproni is the judge who presided over the Buffalo Billion corruption trials involving former top government and political advisers to Cuomo over the awarding of more than $1 billion in government development deals from Buffalo to Syracuse.
The advocacy group, which brought the lawsuit with four deaf New Yorkers against Cuomo, hailed the Caproni ruling.
“We should not have been forced to go to court to ensure the safety of thousands of deaf New Yorkers,” said Timothy Clune, the executive director of the organization.
The Cuomo administration Monday evening said it set up a dedicated internet stream that is viewed by thousands of people daily. “The decision is being reviewed by counsel,” said Richard Azzopardi, a senior advisor to Cuomo.
A lawyer for Attorney General Letitia James, who represents Cuomo in the case, wrote the judge Monday evening to say that there are “technical issues” with being able to comply with her order on Tuesday, but that officials expect the court order to be followed starting Wednesday morning, according to court papers.
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