A Traffic Violation Can Be
High Anxiety For Some
Deaf/Hard of Hearing Citizens

By Officer Randy Melton

You are driving along at night and one of your worst fears comes true.  You look in your rear-view mirror and see there is a law enforcement officer behind you.  His emergency lights are turned on and you are the one he wants to pull over.  Now your anxiety level kicks into high gear.  You wonder - how long has he been behind you trying to get you to pull over, will he be angry and how will I let him know that I am deaf/hard of hearing?

You pull to the right side of the road bringing your vehicle to a stop.  Your heart is pounding; your anxiety level goes even higher.  Will he shine his flashlight directly in your eyes making it impossible for you to see his face?  Your palms begin to sweat; your breathing is shallow and fast.  As he approaches your door you try desperately to think of how will he react to you not hearing him? 

Your worst fears are met when he does shine his flashlight in your eyes and he begins to speak.  He stands a bit behind your door so you have to turn all the way around to even see him.  At this point you start to cry from the overload of anxiety.  The officer seems stunned as he steps back and is still talking to you - he doesn't have a clue what the problem is. 

If you are deaf, you point to your ears, shake your head from side to side and you hope he sees the anxiety in your face.  If you are hard of hearing, you tell him you are hard of hearing as you are point to your ears and shake your head.  You try desperately to communicate, to see any reaction in the officer's manner.  Your anxiety is now at it's peak.  The next move by the officer is dreaded because he could become angry that you are not doing what he has instructed you to do.  Or will he recognize the sign or words that you have a hearing problem? 

Does this sound familiar to you?  This real-life situation was told to me by a hard of hearing lady I have known for several years.  As she was telling me what happened she again began to cry because the telling brought the anxiety flooding back . . .all over again.

Over and over,  this and similar scenarios have been described to me by many deaf/hard of hearing people.  As a law enforcement officer for over thirty years, fifteen of which I have been the deaf/hard of hearing liaison for the Houston Police Department, I understand the anxiety a deaf/hard of hearing person has when being pulled over for a traffic violation.  For this reason I developed a "Deaf/Hard of Hearing V isor Card" for deaf/hard of hearing citizens to carry in their vehicles.  I am not the only law enforcement officer that has seen this need.  The Michigan State Police and the Chicago Police Department also have visor cards for their deaf/hard of hearing citizens.

These visor cards all work the same way: the deaf/hard of hearing citizen places the card on top of the drivers' sun-visor.  If a law enforcement officer stops you, stay calm and put both hands on the steering wheel.    When the officer gets to your door, point to your sun visor.  When the officer moves to look at the visor you gently pull the visor down, showing the visor card.  The card simply states "I Am Deaf/Hard of Hearing".

Congratulations! You have just conveyed your message in a simple movement and your anxiety level has lessened.  Now alternative forms of communications can begin . . . lip-reading, pad and pen, or speaking slowly.  This is just one of the examples I use in my eight-hour presentation to law enforcement officers.

I firmly believe that officers truly want to help people and be fair to all citizens but they just do not receive the necessary  training on the deaf/hard of hearing cultures.  When requested by a law enforcement agency I travel to that city  to deliver an eight-hour presentation entitled "Bridging the Gap Between Deaf/Hard of Hearing and Law Enforcement Cultures".   I explain many other cultural differences to the officers in this presentation.

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