A first of its kind program in Ontario will help police officers and deaf people communicate
Deaf or hard of hearing individuals can show police a visor card to avoid misinterpretations
Let's say you're deaf and you're pulled over by a police officer. How do you quickly communicate that you may have different needs than another person?
A new program aimed at mending the communication gap between officers and members of the deaf and hard of hearing communities is working to ensure that kind of vital information isn't lost in translation.
The Ontario Association of the Deaf (OAD) has partnered with the Ontario Provincial Police to provide members of the community with visor cards, a quick-reference guide that aids officers in accommodating deaf individuals.
A visor card indicates that a person is deaf or hard of hearing. It also includes images of what a police officer might say or need from a deaf person, and guides alternative methods of communicating like writing, lip-reading, or texting.
According to American Sign Language (ASL) employment specialist David Hamen, the visor program is a necessary and long overdue tool.
Accessibility is key
"In this day and age, deaf people have an invisible disability," expressed Hamen, who communicated with CBC Toronto via a sign language interpreter.
In the case that a deaf individual is pulled over by a police officer, the visor card should allow the driver to identify that they have a hearing disability and encourage an efficient flow of communication, he said.
"Many deaf individuals or deaf and hard of hearing individuals are anxious with police when they are pulled over because of the communication issue," - David Hamen
"Many deaf individuals or deaf and hard of hearing individuals are anxious with police when they are pulled over because of the communication issue," Hamen said.
It is for that reason that Hamen believes a program that raises awareness between police officers and members of the deaf and the hearing impaired community is vital.
"An individual who is not disabled and sees a person with a wheelchair can identify right away that person has a disability," he said, "whereas deaf individuals don't have that visibility".
"A program like this that can really help officers communicate more with deaf individuals and improve their understanding of the experiences of deaf individuals," Hamen added.
OPP first police service to endorse visor cards
Ontario Provincial Police Sgt. Kerry Schmidt says his police service is the first in Ontario to endorse visor cards for individuals who are deaf, and is happy to be on board.
"These cards have been produced and created by the OAD, and we are happy to be a part of that project to allow a more consistent and fluid communication between members of the deaf and members of the police," said Schmidt.
"There's awareness now too, the police service knows as well that these cards are available and that they are out there."
In partnership with <a href="https://twitter.com/DeafOntario?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@DeafOntario</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/OPP?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#OPP</a> endorses a Visor Card to assist a <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/DHHSI?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#DHHSI</a> person in communicating with a police officer during a traffic stop <a href="https://t.co/CfK4XHlpe3">pic.twitter.com/CfK4XHlpe3</a>—@OPP
This relationship between the deaf community and police is necessary to avoid situations that can turn dangerous, says Hamen.
"If a cop is to stop a deaf individual, the deaf individual might not know either in the car or in the street … that the police said, 'Freeze, put your hands up' and the deaf individual has not heard. Guns have been pulled on deaf individuals and deaths have been associated with this. It is so sad and so unfortunate," Hamen said.
"I am hoping this will set an example for a safe way to communicate with deaf people and the idea will spread."