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A new way for law enforcement to communicate with the deaf

March 12, 2018

Photo of a state trooper talking to a driver during a traffic stop.

There’s really no way to sugar-coat it: Roadside interactions with law enforcement aren’t always fun. Maybe you ran out of gas and need help, or maybe you’ve been pulled over. Whatever the situation, you likely feel several emotions.

So imagine how that interaction would go if you couldn’t hear. Not only would you be upset about what was wrong with your car or why you were pulled over, but you’d have the added stress of struggling to understand what the law enforcement officer was saying to you and vice versa.

That’s what prompted Minnesota’s deaf and hard of hearing community to help create a two-way communication card. They provided significant input in the card’s creation, identifying symbols that would be most helpful to them in communicating. The Departments of Public Safety and Human Services collaborated to produce the finished product.

A deaf or hard of hearing person can keep the two-sided, laminated card in their car and bring it out to show to law enforcement when necessary. The card features a set of icons the person can point to suggesting the best way to communicate (such as writing or lip-reading) and another set to indicate what help they need. Hospital? Tow truck? Directions? They’re all there on the card.

The law enforcement officer can also use it to communicate by pointing to the icon indicating what information they need, such as a driver’s license or insurance card. If the officer has pulled over the deaf or hard of hearing person, they can point to icons such as the speed limit sign or traffic light on the back of the card to explain why. There’s also a section to help explain what happens next, with icons for things like warnings and tickets.

Along with the icons are helpful tips for communicating, such as, “Maintain eye contact with me while speaking” and “Shining a flashlight in my face will make it hard for me to understand you.” The card ends with a list of things a deaf or hard of hearing person might need if arrested or brought in for questions, like assistive technology for phone calls and a sign language interpreter.

So although traffic stops and flat tires still happen, this communication card can make the interaction safer, easier, and more productive for law enforcement and deaf and hard of hearing people alike.