Model Policy for Law Enforcement on Communicating with People Who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing
It is the policy of this law enforcement agency (Agency) to ensure that a consistently high level of service is provided to all community members, including those who are deaf or hard of hearing. This Agency has specific legal obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act [insert the following text if your agency receives financial assistance from the Federal government: and the Rehabilitation Act] to communicate effectively with people who are deaf or hard of hearing. To carry out these policies and legal obligations, the Agency instructs its officers and employees as follows:
- People who are deaf or hard of hearing are entitled to a level of service equivalent to that provided to other persons.
- The Agency will make every effort to ensure that its officers and employees communicate effectively with people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
- Effective communication with a person who is deaf or hard of hearing involved in an incident – whether as a victim, witness, suspect, or arrestee – is essential in ascertaining what actually occurred, the urgency of the matter, and type of situation.
- Various types of communication aids – known as “auxiliary aids and services” – are used to communicate with people who are deaf or hard of hearing. These include use of gestures or visual aids to supplement oral communication; use of a notepad and pen or pencil to exchange written notes; use of an assistive listening system or device to amplify sound for persons who are hard of hearing; or use of a qualified oral or sign language interpreter.
- The type of aid that will be required for effective communication will depend on the individual’s usual method of communication, and the nature, importance, and duration of the communication at issue.
In many circumstances, oral communication supplemented by gestures and visual aids or an exchange of written notes will be an effective means of communicating with people who are deaf or hard of hearing. In other circumstances, a qualified sign language or oral interpreter may be needed to communicate effectively with persons who are deaf or hard of hearing. The more lengthy, complex, and important the communication, the more likely it is that a qualified interpreter will be required for effective communication. For example:
- If there has been an incident and the officer is conducting witness interviews, a qualified sign language interpreter may be required to communicate effectively with someone whose primary means of communication is sign language. A qualified oral interpreter may be required to communicate effectively with someone who has been trained to speech read (read lips).
- If a person is asking an officer for directions to a location, gestures or an exchange of written notes will likely be sufficient to communicate effectively.
To serve each individual effectively, primary consideration should be given to providing the type of communication aid or service requested by the individual. Officers should find out from the person who is deaf or hard of hearing what type of auxiliary aid or service he or she needs. Officers should defer to those expressed choices, unless:
- there is another equally effective way of communicating, given the circumstances, length, complexity, and importance of the communication, as well as the communication skills of the person who is deaf or hard of hearing; or
- doing so would fundamentally alter the nature of the law enforcement activity in question or would cause an undue administrative or financial burden; only the Agency head or his or her designee may make this determination.
The input of people who are deaf or hard of hearing who are involved in incidents is just as important to the law enforcement process as the input of others. Officers must not draw conclusions about incidents unless they fully understand – and are understood by – all those involved, including people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
- People who are deaf or hard of hearing must not be charged for the cost of an auxiliary aid or service needed for effective communication.
ON-CALL INTERPRETIVE SERVICES
The Agency will maintain a list of sign language and oral interpreting services that are available (on-call 24 hours per day) and willing to provide qualified interpreters as needed. Each of these services will be chosen after having been screened for the quality and skill of its interpreters, its reliability, and other factors such as cost. The Agency will update this list annually.
A qualified sign language or oral interpreter is one who is able to interpret effectively, accurately, and impartially, both receptively and expressively, using any necessary specialized vocabulary. Accordingly, an interpreter must be able to sign to the deaf individual (or interpret orally to the person who speech reads) what is being said by the officer and be able to voice to the officer what is being signed or said by the deaf individual. The interpreter must be able to interpret in the language the deaf person uses (e.g., American Sign Language or Signed English) and must be familiar with law enforcement terms and phrases. Because a qualified interpreter must be able to interpret impartially, a family member, child, or friend of the individual who is deaf may not be qualified to render the necessary interpretation because of factors such as professional, emotional, or personal involvement, or considerations of confidentiality. Additionally, although a “qualified” interpreter may be certified, a certified interpreter is not necessarily “qualified,” if he or she is not a good communications match for the deaf person (e.g., where the deaf person uses Signed English and the interpreter uses American Sign Language) or for the situation (e.g., where the interpreter is unfamiliar with law enforcement vocabulary).
TTY AND RELAY SERVICES
- In situations when a nondisabled person would have access to a telephone, officers must provide persons who are deaf or hard of hearing the opportunity to place calls using a teletypewriter (TTY, also known as a telecommunications device for deaf people, or TDD). Officers must also accept telephone calls placed by persons who are deaf or hard of hearing through the Telecommunications Relay Service.
TECHNIQUES FOR OFFICERS TO COMMUNICATE EFFECTIVELY
Officers may utilize the following auxiliary aids, when available, to communicate effectively:
- Use of gestures;
- Use of visual aids;
- Use of a notepad and pen or pencil;
- Use of a computer or typewriter;
- Use of an assistive listening system or device;
- Use of a teletypewriter (TTY);
- Use of a qualified oral or sign language interpreter.
Officers must review and have a working knowledge of the publication Communicating with People Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing: ADA Guide for Law Enforcement Officers. This document reviews how officers should communicate effectively in the types of situations officers will encounter.
PROCEDURES FOR OBTAINING AUXILIARY AIDS AND SERVICES
[Insert an explanation of the department’s procedures for obtaining auxiliary aids and services.]
The Americans with Disabilities Act authorizes the Department of Justice (the Department) to provide technical assistance to individuals and entities that have rights or responsibilities under the Act. This document provides informal guidance to assist you in understanding the ADA and the Department’s regulations.
This guidance document is not intended to be a final agency action, has no legally binding effect, and may be rescinded or modified in the Department’s complete discretion, in accordance with applicable laws. The Department’s guidance documents, including this guidance, do not establish legally enforceable responsibilities beyond what is required by the terms of the applicable statutes, regulations, or binding judicial precedent.