Law Enforcement

Interaction between People with Hearing Loss and Law Enforcement Officers

We sometimes hear horror stories about tragedies involving people with hearing loss and law enforcement officers. In too many situations, a simple misunderstand can result in tragic consequences. Fortunately, more law enforcement organizations are teaching their officers about people with hearing loss and how to deal with them. Here’s hoping that this training reduces tragic outcomes.

Visor Cards and Driver’s License Stickers

September 2002

There’s been quite a discussion on bhNEWS recently about methods of informing a police officer that the person he stopped for a traffic violation is deaf or hard of hearing. The discussion focused on visor cards, which are becoming popular in several areas, and driver’s license stickers, which have recently been adopted in one state. The issues are
– which method is superior, and
– is either better than nothing at all?

The visor card has some clear advantages. It is large and visible and will be immediately recognized by an officer if the card is publicized and the person he stops is from that area. On the downside is the possibility that the card might be visible to someone who could take advantage of knowing that the driver is deaf or hard of hearing. Another downside is that when an officer asks for a driver’s license, he expects the driver to reach for a wallet or a purse, not the visor. An untrained officer or one in an area where visor cards aren’t used might be surprised when the driver pulls down the visor, and bad things can happen with officers are surprised.

The other option is a sticker on the driver’s license. This method has the advantage that the officer will see the driver produce his driver’s license, which is what the officer expects, and that the bad guys won’t see an indication that the driver is deaf or hard of hearing. The disadvantages are that the sticker might be overlooked by the officer and will likely not be recognized by officers in locations that don’t issue stickers.

The question of what to do when a cop stops you is one that comes up repeatedly in the hearing loss world, and there seems to be no good solution. I’d be very interested in your opinion of how to handle this situation. And if you have experience with a visor card or driver’s license sticker, please let us know what you think of that.

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Reader Response to Visor Cards and Driver’s License Stickers

September 2002

Last week we published an article about two alternatives for informing officers about hearing loss if you’re pulled over. Several readers responded with their comments (thanks!).

Carolyn reported that she was cognizant of being sure the officer knew what she was doing, and that her husband affirmed she had handled the situation well. She says:

“[The policeman] followed me through the construction area and then pulled me over. The first thing I said to the policeman at my car door window was: ‘I cannot hear well.’ I didn’t even want to reach for anything until I had told him that. My purse to get my License, by the way, was in the back seat and I had to tell him that, too. Otherwise, he would have wondered what I was reaching for, right?

“He then gave me a warning re: watching carefully for the Speed Limit signs around construction sites. And let me go on. Later I talked to my husband and he agreed that I had handled that correctly by speaking up immediately to tell the policeman I could not hear well. Immediately — that is the key, too.”

Les Garlock (Lmgarl@bellsouth.net) writes that the officer he spoke to didn’t think reaching for his visor card would be a problem. Here’s his report:

“I have a visor card showing that I am hearing impaired. My wife doesn’t want me to place it on the back of the sun visor because she always drives with the visor down and it would distract her. So I have placed it in the pocket of the driver’s door. I was concerned that a police officer might think I was reaching for a gun if I attempted to remove it to place in the side window if I were stopped. At a recent Police Appreciation Day I was having my VIN etched on my car windows and a couple of cops were standing near by. I took the opportunity to show them the visor card in the door pocket and asked if I might get in trouble if I reached for it. They didn’t seem to be concerned a bit by that action. Maybe I was so old looking that they thought I was harmless and wouldn’t draw a gun on them.”

Arva Priola (avpapri@aol.com) reports that Virginia is working on a visor card program. She reports:

“We will be coming out with a prerelease very soon as Virginia is the second state in the nation to adopt this.
We have a training video that will be going out to all towns, cities, and counties to their police department.
We have gotten input from deaf and hard of hearing. We have been contacted by the LA police department. I really feel that the Michigan and the Virginia version can become a model for the nation. It does not leave out anyone with hearing loss.

“The FBI has also been in my office to get copies. DMV is paying for everything. The VA Association of Police Chiefs have been wonderful to work with along with Department of Deaf and Hard of hearing. We are proud of what has happened in VA. ”

And finally, Diane Edge has some comments. You’ve met her on these pages before in connection with visor cards. You can (and should!) read more about her advocacy efforts, including those on visor cards, at aslsomd.8m.com. You can also email her at diane_edge@yahoo.com. Here are portions of her response:

“The name Visor card – well, that is exactly where the card should be kept. Leaving it out on a dashboard is something that I personally would not do or promote. I am a woman and also deaf – I do not want to call undue attention to myself.

“Unless someone is just not paying attention – the placement of the visor is handy and in the event that you are pulled over by a law enforcement officer with a spilt sec… there should be enough time as you are being pulled over to get the visor out and place it in the window FACING the officer…. or lower your window and hand the card to the officer at that time.

“I use both the visor card and have created a small version of the deafear logo that I made for my visor card (yes it is copyrighted thank you!) and with the help of my copier- I made a small deafear symbol and have that “taped” on my driver’s license.

“You see, I believe in protecting myself in everyway possible, I do not plan to only be stuck in one selection – I want to do everything I can possibly do and think of beforehand that might be needed, prepare for that and then create the avenue to promote self advocacy.”