City officials have committed to meeting with the deaf and hard of hearing community in Baltimore after advocates said they’d gotten no response for weeks from the administration of Mayor Brandon Scott to their complaints about the absence of interpreters at city government events, a possible violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Following The Brew’s report about the sharp drop-off in the use of interpreters at mayoral and other announcements and briefings over the last five months, Chief Equity Officer Dana P. Moore promised to meet with members of the Baltimore City Association of the Deaf (BCAD).
Moore said “the mayor’s office regularly engages ASL [American Sign Language] interpreters to staff public events with a live ASL interpreter,” but she acknowledged that there have been lapses.
“At times, due to the limited availability of ASL interpreters, particularly for press conferences and events that are scheduled on short notice, it is not always possible to provide live ASL interpretation,” Moore said yesterday.
“We are continuously looking to increase our listing of available ASL interpreters and reduce this challenge,” she continued.
Advocates said they were glad to be meeting with Moore, but that the lack of interpreters and captioning – and difficulty getting in touch with the city about the problem – had been frustrating.
BCAD had sent four emails to city officials since October 30 requesting a meeting, according to the group’s president, Jacob Leffler.
“Are our safety and access to information less important to them?” Leffler said. “Our community deserves to have equal access and should not be deprived of the information.”
UPDATE: After The Brew published a story on Monday about Leffler’s concerns and a followup today, an interpreter was present at Scott’s press availability today.
But Leffler and other members of his organization noted that, on the Charm TV Facebook live broadcast of the meeting they were watching today, closed captions were “not available.”
The interpreter accompanied Scott to a recreation center groundbreaking event, but closed captions were still not available.
Call for Full-time Interpreter
In a statement to The Brew, Leffler called on the city to hire a full-time American Sign Language interpreter, along with a certified deaf interpreter to help interpret city events and ensure videos are accessible on social media and agency websites.
He said his group would be willing to support any city efforts to train employees in best accessibility practices for the deaf and hard of hearing community.
Leffler noted that the Baltimore Police Department had met with BCAD members about improving communication for the deaf and hard of hearing community and that afterwards helpful changes were made.
But so far, he said, “BCAD has had no meeting with the Administration regarding this topic.”
Earlier this week, Leffler spoke to The Brew about the group’s inability to get city officials to address its accessibility concerns.
“We feel angry and upset that we cannot understand anything that the mayor or Police Department is saying,” he said.
According to Moore, soon after taking office, Scott began taking action to make city government events more accessible.
She said the administration prioritized closed captioning and getting more ASL interpreters at events. The Office of Equity and Civil Rights (OECR) made a list of ASL interpreters available to city departments and CharmTV worked to get interpreters on screen.
Some departments have budgeted for ASL interpreters, while the OECR now also has an attorney position to help coordinate the Mayor’s Commission on Disability, according to Moore.
Moore also said that the city had made strides in offering closed captioning for more events and on CharmTV despite the technical challenge.
“By 2022, the city completed the lengthy process of procuring the equipment necessary to broadcast live CharmTV content with closed captioning,” she said in a written response to The Brew’s questions. “Now closed captioning is a standard offering of Charm TV.”
In addition to these accomplishments, she said, the Scott administration “always welcomes engagement from our deaf and hard of hearing community so that Baltimore can become a leader in accessibility.”