Free police communication cards distributed for Deaf Awareness Week Sept 18-24

September 18, 2023

Oklahoma City – Today, Sept. 18, marks the start of Deaf Awareness Week, celebrated each year in Oklahoma and internationally during the last full week in September.

This year, Services to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing staff will distribute free laminated cards designed to improve communication between drivers who are deaf or hard of hearing and law enforcement officers.

“Deaf Awareness Week helps increase public awareness about deaf culture, heritage and American Sign Language, which are unique to deaf people,” David Hankinson, Services to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing program manager said. Hankinson, who is deaf, is an official spokesperson for the celebration.

SDHH is an employment program in Vocational Rehabilitation, a division of the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services.

The Oklahoma School for the Deaf provides public education and outreach services to students across the state from the campus in Sulphur. OSD is also a division of DRS.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey estimates, 194,000 Oklahomans, all ages, or 5.0 percent have hearing loss.

“Police interactions with deaf drivers are fraught with the possibility that one side or the other – and possibly both – are misunderstanding the person in front of them,” Hankinson said. “Our police communications card offers tips and pictures drivers can use to explain that they need an interpreter for the deaf, for example. The card helps officers explain traffic violations or the need to see a driver’s license by pointing to the pictures on the card.”

Hankinson said law enforcement officers do not usually know American Sign Language, while drivers may not know how to respond to lawful police officers’ commands.

“Some encounters between deaf individuals and the police have ended in tragedy,” Hankinson said. “Others have ended in lawsuits levied against the law enforcement agencies. In both cases, people suffered, but the communication card helps avoid those problems.”

When deaf drivers do not respond to verbal directions, the officer may assume the person is being intentionally non-compliant, when drivers with hearing loss did not hear the commands.

Miscommunication risk is higher at night if police officers shine their flashlights into the deaf drivers’ faces. Those drivers cannot get visual clues the officers are trying to communicate.

“We want deaf or hard or hearing drivers to keep police communication cards tucked into their car visors to quickly identify themselves,” Hankinson said. “Our cards save lives and help deaf drivers and police officers communicate important information most commonly needed in traffic stops.”

DRS’ Services to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing rehabilitation counselors serve Oklahomans across the state from their offices in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. They are proficient in sign language and other communication techniques for clients who are deaf, hard of hearing, late-deafened, deaf-blind, and those with speech disabilities

These offices provide jobseekers with hearing loss with evaluations, career guidance and counseling, training, assistive technology equipment and job placement assistance.

High school students with hearing loss can participate in a Transition program that addresses the unique issues they encounter and prepares them for work or postsecondary college or training.

SDHH staff also manage the Oklahoma Quality Assurance Screening Test program, which evaluates and certifies the proficiency of interpreters for the deaf in Oklahoma.

Oklahoma drivers who are deaf or hard of hearing may get free police communication cards by emailing Services to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing staff at SDHH@okdrs.gov or using voice or video phone at 405-543-2646. The cards are also available in SDHH offices in Oklahoma City at 5005 N. Lincoln Boulevard in suite 205 and in Tulsa at 8740 E. 11th Street in suite F.

For more information about programs and services, visit https://oklahoma.gov/okdrs/independence/sdhh.html, email SDHH@okdrs.gov or phone 800-833-8973 in Oklahoma City or 918-836-5556 in Tulsa.

Find out more about Oklahoma School for the Deaf at https://www.osd.k12.ok.us/, 04 580-622-4900.



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