Alyssa Sutton

The La Grande Police Department is reaching out to the hearing impaired to help bridge the communications gap.

The LGPD, in partnership with the Oregon Association of the Deaf and Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training, is now providing laminated visor and wallet cards to serve as a tool for communication between individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing and law enforcement officers.

These cards will help ensure effective communication in situations when someone who is hard of hearing is in need of assistance or is contacted by the police as part of a traffic stop or an investigation, according to a press release from the LGPD.

“Sadly, we know there have been some tragic interactions around the nation involving law enforcement officers and individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing,” DPSST Director Eriks Gabliks said in a press release.

The visor cards say “Driver cannot hear you” while the cards say “I am deaf or hard of hearing.” There is additional
information on the back of the cards that include tips for better means of communication and a list of potential needs if the person is arrested or asked to come in for questioning.

According to the Center for Hearing Loss Help, if police are aware of an individual’s hearing impairment, they will then use alternate communication strategies including American Sign Language, hand signals and writing things down.

La Grande Police Sgt. Jason Hays told The Observer that Chief Brian Harvey learned about the laminated visor and wallet cards at the Oregon Association of Chiefs of Police Conference.

According to the press release from the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training, a partnership among DPSST, the Oregon Association for the Deaf and the Public Safety Subcommittee of the Oregon Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services has resulted in an update to the basic police curriculum used to train new law enforcement officers. In addition, deaf and hard of hearing role players are now participating in scenario-based training at the Oregon Public Safety Academy in Salem.

“In my career (of almost 20 years), I have only had two situations where I have had communication with a deaf person, and these were not on traffic stops,” Hays said. “I think because of our sparse population, we do not encounter this (as we would in a) metropolitan area.”

Still, the police department wants to be prepared so potential encounters go smoothly.

Anyone with a hearing limitation may stop by the La Grande Police Department to pick up two wallet cards and a visor card to display in their vehicle, according to the LGPD press release. The items became available on May 3.

The La Grande Police Department currently has 10 cards available but they can order more to have on hand if needed.

According to Hays, as of the evening of May 7, no one had come to pick up a card yet.