By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Philadelphia Police Advisory Commission is taking steps to open the lines of communication between cops and those who are deaf and hard of hearing.
Imagine getting stopped by police. The officer shines a flashlight in your eyes. They knock on your window. The only problem is you cannot hear.
“If you are a deaf person you are very blinded by that and it becomes very distressing,” says Neil McDevitt, executive director of the Deaf-Hearing Communications Centre in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. The group organized a recent meeting with the Police Advisory Commission to discuss complaints about police stops among the deaf and hard of hearing.
“It’s a challenge to get the police to understand that some of the protective measures they use may have unintended consequences,” he says, “we are trying to figure out how police and deaf and hard of hearing people can work together.”
McDevitt says up to 20 percent of the Philadelphia population is considered deaf and hard of hearing.
“It’s not just people who use sign language or people who use hearing aids,” he says “It’s a much broader conversation. A lot of people read lips or have figured out other ways to get by.”
“We can’t do anything about these issues unless we have that conversation,” says Kelvyn Anderson, executive director of the Police Advisory Commission. He says they take complaints from a variety of communities to improve police training and create ways to improve police service.
“I was shocked to learn the size of the deaf and hard of hearing community,” he says.
McDevitt says many solutions to the problem that are permanent, like the “yellow dot” program proposed by law makers earlier this year could be problematic.
“Putting a yellow sticker on your car to alert first responders that you are deaf or hard of hearing could make you more vulnerable to crime,” notes McDevitt.
Temporary placards that can be placed on the dashboard or a deaf and hard of hearing police liaison are among potential solutions discussed.
“We’ve been looking at what happens in other jurisdictions to see how we can better serve,” says Anderson.
He says the commission meets monthly and encourages the public to attend.
“We simply want to be able to see a problem and make an attempt to solve it,” he says.