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The White House has hired its first full-time ASL interpreters


The White House has hired its first-ever full-time ASL interpreters. As a result, any time an administration press conference is held, TV viewers can see Elsie Stecker on the right-hand side, interpreting in American Sign Language for the deaf community.


It's a point of pride for Stecker.

ELSIE STECKER: 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. So when I'm now in a position where I can connect the dots, I take that very seriously.

MARTIN: And it's a team effort because behind the scenes is Lindsey Snyder.

LINDSEY SNYDER: We need to establish a certain mind meld.

MARTÍNEZ: Whether it's the president or press secretary at the podium, Snyder listens to them, then signs to Elsie, who is deaf, and she in turn signs to the camera. One of the advocates for hiring a person who is deaf is Jules Good, who was on the hiring committee.

JULES GOOD: It feels like finally, you know, we have, like, real-time access to what's going on.

MARTIN: In 2020, when the White House was holding regular coronavirus press briefings, deaf advocates sued the Trump administration for not including an American Sign Language interpreter.

GOOD: The misconception is that ASL is just visual English. But it's its own language, with its own grammar, its own slang. And, you know, something else in terms of having ASL versus just captions is you get an idea of tone that you don't get when you're just reading text.

MARTÍNEZ: Writer and activist Jenna Beacom suggests, even with more to be done, it is a milestone in the fight for greater recognition and access.

JENNA BEACOM: So when you have an interpreter who is completely fluent in ASL, conveys these things beautifully, that is true access.

MARTIN: Eleven million people in the United States consider themselves deaf or hard of hearing.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this report said 11 million people in the U.S. consider themselves "deaf or hearing impaired." The terminology has been changed to "deaf or hard of hearing."]

(SOUNDBITE OF STAN FOREBEE'S" THE MONSOON") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Corrected: April 5, 2022 at 9:00 PM PDT
An earlier version of this report said 11 million people in the U.S. consider themselves "deaf or hearing impaired." The terminology has been changed to "deaf or hard of hearing."