Sen. Rand Paul’s use of an American Sign Language interpreter on the Senate floor Thursday was unusual, but it wasn’t unprecedented.
Paul used a sign language interpreter during a brief floor speech to bring attention to the neurofibromatosis type 2 disorder, which is a neurologic tumor condition experienced by Paul’s nephew, Mark Pyeatt.
According to Senate Historian Donald A. Ritchie, sign language first appeared on Senate floor during a 1989 debate over the Americans With Disabilities Act, and sign language has appeared from time to time since. The Senate’s daily prayer has been delivered with sign language as far back as 1952.
“Its relentless course ultimately destroys the hearing. I have never heard Mark complain,” Paul said. “While my signing is only rudimentary, most of his immediate family are proficient and at Christmas dinner for 40 family members, nearly everyone is trying to learn to sign.”
“I mostly like to learn insults so I can taunt Mark on the golf course. I can’t use most of the signs I’ve learned on television. I don’t know this for certain, but I think the seven words George Carlin used — cannot be said or signed on TV,” Paul said.
Paul was attempting to highlight the shortage of drug approval and research funding for extremely rare “orphan” diseases.
Niels Lesniewski has covered the Senate for CQ Roll Call since January 2010, and more recently as a staff writer and resident procedure guru for Roll Call. Niels holds degrees in both government and theater but sometimes can't tell the difference between the two. @nielslesniewski
Meredith Shiner has covered Senate leadership, legislation and everything in between for Roll Call since joining in June 2011, having previously covered Congress and national politics for Politico. @meredithshiner