TRENTON, N.J. – The Assembly Human Services Committee voted unanimously to approve a resolution sponsored by Assemblyman Hal Wirths that urges law enforcement agencies to train officers on how to approach those who are hearing impaired.
The resolution (AR35) was among three bills taken up by committee Thursday to help hearing impaired individuals.
“The number of people with a hearing disability isn’t as small as you might think, and it’s growing faster as the population ages,” Wirths (R-Sussex) said. “But it’s not something police spend much time learning about.”
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, about 2 percent of adults aged 45 to 54 have disabling hearing loss. The rate increases to 8.5 percent for adults aged 55 to 64, to 25 percent of those aged 65 to 74, and 50 percent of those who are 75 and older.
There are approximately 850,000 New Jersey residents with varying degrees of hearing loss.
“The very first few moments can be the most important, before the officer has figured out that the person is actually deaf,” continued Wirths. “Difficult communication often leads to tense situations. Every policeman and woman should remember when they pull someone over or serve a warrant that they might come upon someone who is hearing impaired.”
Since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the government has been required to provide “effective communication,” “reasonable accommodation,” and equal access to services for those with disabilities. However, almost 30 years later, law enforcement has not always satisfied this mandate.
The U.S. Department of Justice has published a guide, Communicating with People who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing, on how the Americans with Disabilities Act relates to law enforcement and their duties.
This guide contains recommendations on how to best serve the deaf community, how to comply with the ADA, and training and situational scenarios.