Having to deal with law enforcement on any level – even getting a speeding ticket – can be stressful and frightening. That’s often far more true for people with disabilities. Unfortunately, some officers aren’t particularly interested in whether someone needs their wheelchair or other mobility aid. They’re often not equipped to deal with those who may be suffering a mental health crisis.
For people who are deaf or hard of hearing, communication with officers and others in authority can be challenging. In a worst-case scenario, this can result in the use of lethal force. Even if a person isn’t physically harmed by an officer who mistakes failure to hear or understand as lack of compliance, their rights can be violated.
Qualified interpreters and other assistance
Law enforcement agencies are required to abide by federal, state and other laws that protect disabled people from discrimination, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). That includes providing accommodations for those who are hearing impaired.
These don’t always have to include providing an interpreter. Assisted listening devices and other equipment can be used to communicate. Sometimes, simple written notes are all that’s required (for example, at a traffic stop).
However, a qualified American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter may be required when communication needs to be lengthy and/or complex or if it’s mandatory. Note that this must be someone who’s certified as an interpreter and not just an employee at the police station or jail who knows some ASL. An interpreter typically is required (at no charge) before interrogation can begin.
There are also printed documents listing the Miranda rights that can be provided to people under arrest as well as documents informing them of the law enforcement agency’s obligations under federal law. Those should be provided to hearing-impaired arrestees.
Law enforcement officers can make someone feel like they lose their right to disability accommodations if they’re arrested. That’s not the case. A lack of proper communication with law enforcement can have a significant effect on the charges you’re facing and the case against you. It’s crucial to get experienced legal guidance as soon as possible to protect your rights.