In the past few years, people with hearing loss or deafness have experienced challenges communicating with law enforcement officials. Magdiel Sanchez, a deaf man, was shot and killed by Oklahoma City police in September 2017. In August 2016, an unarmed deaf man, Daniel Harris, was shot and killed in Charlotte, North Carolina because he was unable to hear their commands.
Those of us who experience hearing loss are well aware of the challenges with speech recognition in real-world situations. There are steps we can take to ensure our safety when we encounter law enforcement officials. Read on to learn more about your rights as a person with hearing loss.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
Following in the footsteps of major civil rights legislations in the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990 and provided accessibility for people with disabilities – including people with hearing loss.
With hearing loss, the ADA provides us a number of measures to remove barriers around communication and accessibility. Public places – stores, restaurants, medical offices, museums, schools, day care centers, etc. – are required to provide people who are hard of hearing with accommodations to assist with hearing and communication.
You’ll find assistive listening devices (ALDs), such as infrared or FM personal amplification devices, or induction loops which help facilitate better communication between customer service representatives and clients. In the workplace, accommodations might include American Sign Language interpreters, computer-aided transcription services, or captioned telephone services.
Even with these accommodations, communication can be difficult in a stressful situation, such as a traffic stop or an emergency that requires police.
Know Your Rights with Hearing Loss
According to the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), “History shows that market forces alone are not enough to ensure accessibility for people with disabilities. Legislation, regulations, and standards are necessary for programs, products and services to be accessible to and usable by people with hearing loss. Several laws have been passed to help eliminate discrimination on the basis of disability and to enhance accessibility to public places, work places, telecommunications, schools, government and businesses.”
Among the entities to support people with hearing loss, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) offers a guide for people who are deaf and hard of hearing, providing them with important information on encounters with law enforcement officials. Along with the Academy Award-winning actress Marlee Matlin (who is deaf and is also married to a police officer) and the Helping to Advance the Rights of the Deaf (HEARD), the ACLU released this video providing pointers:
Be Prepared with a Hard of Hearing Visor Card
For people who are hard of hearing, the Center for Hearing Loss Help offers a visor card that indicates your abilities to the police officer who stops you. The card is simple in design, and it “lets the police know you can’t hear/understand their orders and instructions.”
You can buy or print out your own copy of the hard of hearing visor card here.
Clip the card to your visor in both the driver’s seat and the front passenger’s seat so that it is readily accessible at a traffic stop. It is best not to rummage through your glove compartment, and again, it is important to keep your hands on your wheel at all times. After informing the officer of your hearing abilities, allow the officer to remove the card and read the instructions on how to communicate with you effectively.
What to Do if You are Pulled Over by a Law Enforcement Official
The most important thing to remember is that police officers are required to provide reasonable accommodation to communicate with you. According to the National Association for the Deaf, “State and local police and law enforcement agencies are required to take action to ensure effective communication with individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. They are required to provide the accommodations that are necessary to ensure effective communication with you, such as qualified interpreters, CART, or assistive listening devices. They must give primary consideration to the accommodation requested by the individual who is deaf or hard of hearing.”
If you are a driver who is deaf or hard of hearing, visit this piece by the AARP to learn more on the steps you should take after being pulled over.
Visit Us at Hearing Health
At Hearing Health, we provide comprehensive hearing care to members of the Portland community. A major part of staying safe with hearing loss is seeking the proper treatment. By treating your hearing loss with hearing aids, you are better equipped to communicate in your daily life. At Hearing Health, we offer hearing tests and hearing aid fittings. Visit us today.