Ask A Trooper: How do officers handle people with disabilities?
Question: How and what does law enforcement do when they come across someone who is deaf or has hearing disabilities?
Answer: This is a good question and as a State Trooper I have come across situations dealing with this on traffic stops, motorist assists and crashes.
Minnesota's deaf and hard of hearing community recently helped 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.
A portion of state statutes were used with permission from the Office of the Revisor of Statutes. If you have any questions concerning traffic related laws or issues in Minnesota, send your questions to Trp. Jesse Grabow — Minnesota State Patrol at 1000 Highway 10 West, Detroit Lakes, MN 56501-2205. (You can follow him on Twitter @MSPPIO_NW or reach him at, firstname.lastname@example.org).