ALBANY – A group of deaf New Yorkers are suing Gov. Andrew Cuomo for failing to provide an American Sign Language interpreter at his daily televised COVID-19 press briefings, an act they say violates their rights under federal law.


The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in an Albany federal court, alleges New York is the only state not to provide a live ASL interpreter during televised press briefings and claims Cuomo is violating Title II of the American Disabilities Act, which prohibits state and local governments from discriminating against individuals with a disability.


Without a live sign-language interpreter during televised briefings, deaf New Yorkers are unable to obtain vital information regarding the pandemic, said Timothy Clune, executive director of Disability Rights New York, one of the suit's five plaintiffs.


“It is inexplicable that during this pandemic, the governor would choose not to have ASL interpreters at his daily live televised briefings. As a result, deaf New Yorkers are unable to obtain vital life and death information at the time they need it most," Clune said in a statement.


DRNY is joined in the suit by Dennis Martinez of Brooklyn; Douglas Nguyen of Albany; James Hallenbeck of Endicott; and Jill Wildberger of Round Lake.


Cuomo added an ASL interpreter to his daily COVID-19 briefings on March 27 following a request from DRNY and other advocates from the deaf community to do so.


But the interpreter, along with closed captioning, can only be viewed online, leaving deaf New Yorkers with no internet service without access to vital information, the suit says.


Cuomo's briefings have been aired live on major news networks like CNN and MSNBC for the last month.


There are more than 208,000 deaf or hard of hearing residents in New York City, and Rochester has the largest deaf population per capita in the United States, at around 90,000, the suit says.


Rich Azzopardi, a senior advisor for Cuomo, said the governor's office will review the suit and added that steps have been taken in recent weeks to reduce density during the daily briefings.


"We have a dedicated ASL stream on our website and of course they are close captioned," he said on Twitter.


What else does the suit allege?


While the suit does acknowledge steps the governor's office has taken in recent weeks to address concerns raised by the deaf and hard of hearing community, it says the actions have fallen short and thereby violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.


"No qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits and services, programs, or activities of the public entity, or subjected to discrimination by any such entity," the statute reads.


"Plaintiffs in their attempts to access Gov. Cuomo's televised briefings are qualified individuals under the ADA," the lawsuit states.


The close-captioning displayed on the website during the briefings often includes errors and omits questions from reporters, which makes it "difficult or impossible for individuals who are deaf to understand the information being provided in the briefings," according to the suit.


"DRNY requested that Gov. Cuomo provide simultaneous in frame ASL interpretation for all briefings broadcast on television."


More: Coronavirus: Andrew Cuomo adds sign-language interpreter to web stream


What plaintiffs are seeking


The plaintiffs are seeking the court require Cuomo "to provide a live televised in frame interpretation at all briefings designed to reach residents of New York.".


In additional, plaintiffs are seeking a judgement that the governor has violated the ADA along with reasonable attorney fees and costs.


Chad Arnold is a staff writer for the USA TODAY Network New York. He can be reached at CGARNOLD@Gannett.com and followed on Twitter: @ChadGArnold