By Jean Reynolds

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passed in 1990 is an important topic for police training programs. ADA guarantees disabled persons—including those who are deaf or hearing impaired—the same level of service that ordinary citizens receive. In the past a number of law enforcement agencies have faced penalties because they did not provide reasonable accommodations to persons who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.

Because the US population is aging, it’s likely that the number of deaf and hearing-impaired citizens will grow, and you’ll be more likely to encounter citizens who don’t respond to spoken commands. Do not make hasty assumptions about a person who doesn’t obey an order from you. Always consider that the person may be deaf rather than uncooperative.

The ADA does not require a sign-language interpreter in everyday situations, such as checking a driver’s license or giving directions. But interpreters are required for interviews. You should be aware that deaf persons may use either of two sign languages—American Sign Language or Signed English. You can ask the deaf citizen which language he or she uses.

Do not rely on friends or relatives of the deaf person to interpret, since they may not be objective. You want to use a certified interpreter.

Some deaf persons get excellent results from lip-reading or a hearing aid, but there’s no guarantee that they will catch every point you’re making. Written reinforcement is a good idea.

Here are some guidelines for interviewing a deaf person:

  • Choose a well-lighted area. Get the person’s attention by waving your hand or tapping a shoulder. If several people are conducting the interview, make sure only one person speaks at a time.
  • Position yourself directly in front of the person you’re interviewing. Don’t cover your mouth, chew gum, or shout.
  • Speak directly to the person even if an interpreter is present. Use “you.” Never say to an interpreter, “Ask him if he remembers what the suspect was wearing.” Appropriate wording would be, “Do you remember what the suspect was wearing?”
  • Speak normally or slightly slower. Use facial expressions, gestures, written words, and visual aids to reinforce what you’re saying.

These simple guidelines will help you comply with the ADA and—more important—assist a deaf or hearing-impaired person who needs your professional assistance.