A new card helps the Deaf and Hard-of-hearing community interact with law enforcement
Being stopped by the police can be stressful for anyone but for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, interaction with law enforcement can be particularly confusing, and sometimes unsafe.
In Idaho, people with hearing loss now have a new way to communicate with law enforcement.
The Idaho Council for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and Northwest ADA Center of Idaho have designed cards to help Deaf or Hard-of-hearing folks interact with law enforcement. They can be stored in a vehicle and handed to an officer during a stop.
“There have been several situations across the state where there have been issues that have led to some dangerous situations coming up as a result of that lack of communication, both dangerous for the deaf and hard of hearing individual and for the officer,” said Steve Snow, the Director of the Idaho Council for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.
Snow said the initiative is meant to address miscommunications that can happen when law enforcement does not have the tools to talk to individuals with hearing loss.
The cards feature sentences like “Shining a flashlight in my face may make it hard for me to understand you,” “Make eye contact when you speak” or “I may need to communicate through a qualified sign language interpreter.” It also shows icons of traffic violations and pictures to point at to ask for help.
The pictures are designed for those who may not be fluent in English nor have the ability to read or write.
When first stopped by law enforcement, Snow recommends people with hearing loss stay safe. “We always tell the deaf communities to keep your hands on the steering wheel. Because that avoids potential misunderstanding,” he said.
“Generally, what the deaf person will do first is gesture towards their ear and show that they are deaf to provide the officer some kind of understanding to go ‘ okay, there's something different in this situation.’ And then the two can start to figure out what kind of communication accommodations are needed.”
That can mean gesturing or writing notes back and forth, Snow added.
Around 240,000 Idahoans have hearing loss. Those include people who are profoundly deaf, others who are hard of hearing or senior citizens who have lost hearing later in life, Snow said.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, law enforcement must effectively communicate with the Deaf and Hard-of-hearing community. This includes providing interpreters, real-time captioning, assistive listening devices, or other auxiliary aids. Very few agencies provide training to officers on how to communicate with people with different abilities.
Snow says these cards are not a solution to everything but a tool that will help officers and individuals have safer interactions.