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Cards help police communicate with deaf people

Jackson County police agencies have a new simple tool intended to help them better communicate with people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

That aid comes in the form of specialized cards tailored for vehicle visors and wallets. Those cards have messages like “Driver cannot hear you” printed on the former and “I am deaf or hard of hearing” for the latter. There is also additional information on the card backs that includes tips for better communication and a list of potential needs if the person is arrested or asked to come in for questioning.

The cards were a coordinated effort between the Oregon Association for the Deaf, the Oregon Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services Advisory Committee’s Public Safety Subcommittee, and the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards & Training, according to a DPSST news release.

The partnership between the three state agencies has also resulted in updates to the basic police curriculum and scenario-based training that features deaf and hard of hearing “role players” at Salem’s Oregon Public Safety Academy, the news release said.

The card aids have already proven popular in Medford.

“We actually went through our first batch,” said Lt. Justin Ivens of Medford police. “They actually ran out, but we received more.”

Encounters between officers and those who are hard of hearing are rare, Ivens said. That said, he thinks the cards will be a useful tool in streamlining the communication process.

“It gives them notice that they’re going to have to find a different form of communicating with the person. I think that’s the big thing. ‘OK, I’m talking to this person, I’m not getting the response that I’m expecting,’” Ivens said. “It will prevent that awkwardness, the ‘What’s going on here?’ moment. It just kind of will speed things up.”

Chief Tighe O’Meara of Ashland police said the cards will also be useful in establishing that initial lack of communication in certain situations — say, someone who was just pulled over for speeding — doesn’t stem from lack of cooperation.

“It’s a good solid way of establishing that there are some communication difficulties,” O’Meara said.

Not all Rogue Valley police agencies have received cards of their own to distribute yet, including Central Point police and the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department. Not to say agency officials aren’t interested.

“It is something we will look into,” said Sgt. Julie Denney of the sheriff’s department. “This looks like it could be a way that could help bridge the gap.”

Reach web editor Ryan Pfeil at rpfeil@rosebudmedia.com or at 541-776-4468.

Submitted photo A card being distrbuted by Oregon police agencies is intended to help improve communication between officers and people with hearing issues.