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Increase Police Sensitivity = Decrease Deaf Tragedy.

By Cassie Nesbitt , Dreu Davis, and Emily McClure

Posted on

The notion of audism has permeated our society and has contributed to a lack of knowledge on the best strategies to support deaf and hard of hearing individuals. Those in positions of authority have decided what is best for individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing. Over time, society has forced deaf and hard of hearing individuals to use communication methods that are not appropriate for them.

Audism is, according to Tom Humphries and Deaf Choice, Inc., an oppressive attitude that some people, agencies, businesses, or organizations have towards people who are Deaf or hard of hearing.

Now as a result of Audism, police brutality has been happening to deaf and hard of hearing individuals on a large scale. Between 1997 and 2016, there have been 43 documented instances of police brutality against the deaf.

Here is a link to the 43 known Deaf victims of police brutality.

Imagine driving down the highway and being pulled over by a police officer. You see the officer moving his lips and attempting to communicate with you. As a deaf person who uses American Sign Language, you do not understand his attempts, and therefore, you gesture to show you are deaf. Your ability to lipread is compromised as he shines a bright, florescent light in your face. You try to indicate that you are deaf, but the officer is becoming visibly more frustrated.. All of the sudden, the officer is throwing you to the ground. You try to sign, but the officer strikes you and puts handcuffs around your wrists. You are terrified and do not have the means to communicate and comprehend what is happening.

This is what happens in the hit T.V. show, "Switched at Birth. One of the main characters, Emmett Bledsoe is arrested at his home. He is seen in the video, working on his motorcycle and is holding a wrench in his hand. Police arrive as his house and immediately shine a flashlight in his eyes which leaves him unable to see what is happening. Police ask him to drop his "weapon" and when he doesn't, because he is Deaf, they arrest him.

Check out the video here:

"Failing to Obey"

This is video is a shocking example that shows what its like when a Deaf person "fails to obey" the police officers. A couple of remedies can be included to help include sensitivity and facilitate communication:

# Learn to sign ID, registration, insurance?

# Universal sign for deafness,

# Writing back and forth

# VRS (video relay service)

# use ProDeaf app to ask, "do you know why I pulled you over?"

This app, ProDeaf, is an app that translates text into sign: Here is a link:

Here is a video of Chelsea Smith explaining the app:

How do we train the police to work with the deaf?

In many instances of police brutality, the deaf individual "fails to obey" police instructions due to their hearing loss. Often times, the police officer is unaware of their hearing loss and becomes aggressive. At this point, the officer uses force to ensure the deaf individual follows the command. Diversity and sensitivity training must be provided to law enforcement to prevent violence and brutality against innocent individuals who are deaf. In this training, police will be taught how to identify and communicate with deaf individuals.

If a deaf individual is pulled over, he/she will be asked a series of questions in regards to license, registration and insurance. In a video created by Deaf Inc., they created a sample training video for police officers and other responders. Check it out here:

The only known city to go through with their sensitivity training is Greenfield, Massachusetts. Their "cultural sensitivity" training is mandatory, but it is only on the issue of race and not disabilities which is what this country desperately needs.

Legal Matters

Law enforcement officers will likely come across deaf and hard of hearing individuals during the course of their career. Roughly 9% of the population have some type of hearing loss, which makes communication difficult in interactions with deaf and hard of hearing people. As the population ages, the number of people with hearing loss increases. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people who are deaf and hard of hearing are eligible for the same services provided to the rest of the population.

The Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted in 1991 and it "prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodation, communications and governmental activities. They also require establishments for telecommunications relay services."-United States Department of Labor

The Americans with Disabilities Act has been around for the last 25 years, yet law enforcement officials have limited training with how to communicate with deaf and hard of hearing people. The rights of deaf individuals are violated by a lack of consideration with access to communication via support services.

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires law enforcement to do the following:

a.) provide communication aids and services needed to communicate effectively with people who are deaf or hard of hearing,

b.) allow the deaf or hard of hearing person to request the specific support service needed,

c.) provide the communication service free of charge,

d.) must provide interpreters who can interpret effectively and impartially

Generally, interpreter services are not required for routine traffic stops, only when detectives are interrogating a suspect and any criminal proceedings. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs run by federal agencies and programs that receive federal financial assistance.

Tips to communicate

The U.S. Department of Justice recommends use of the following suggestions to help police officers communicate effectively with deaf and hard of hearing people:

“• Minimize background noise and other distractions whenever possible.

• When you are communicating orally, speak slowly and distinctly. Use gestures and facial expressions to reinforce what you are saying.

• Use visual aids when possible, such as pointing to printed information on a citation or other document.

• When communicating by writing notes, keep in mind that some individuals who use sign language may lack English reading and writing skills.

• If someone with a hearing disability cannot understand you, write a note to ask him or her what communication aid or service is needed... continue reading here

These tips can provide support for effective communication when interpreters are not present. If effective communication is present, deaf and hard of hearing people will be more likely to comply with officer requests.

After Arrest

After a Deaf person finds themselves arrested, what should they do?

Police will be educated from the police training video and will restrain the Deaf person with a similar restraint system from the picture below.

Richard Ross

In an article titled, "How Police Training Contributes to Avoidable Deaths" Seth Stoughton, a former police officer makes a shocking statement. He states, "Rookie officers are taught what is widely known as the “first rule of law enforcement”: An officer’s overriding goal every day is to go home at the end of their shift. But cops live in a hostile world. They learn that every encounter, every individual is a potential threat. They always have to be on their guard because, as cops often say, “complacency kills.”

Light at the end of the tunnel....?

With mandatory police sensitivity training, this can resolve many tragic issues from happening.

Once we can facilitate communication between the hearing and the Deaf world, both groups can live together in harmony.


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