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November 27, 2002

Cards help deaf drivers, cops communicate

From:, VA - 27 Nov 2002

Local program for the deaf is going statewide.

The Free Lance-Star
Program started here debuting statewide

A local effort to help police communicate with the deaf and hard of hearing will soon be going statewide.

Visor Alert, a program started by Fredericksburg's disAbility Re-source Center, has been picked up by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police and the state Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. It is expected to begin next month.

"I am so excited," said Arva Priola, an advocate for the deaf who started the visor program in Fredericksburg this summer.

The disAbility Resource Center has distributed more than 1,800 visor and wallet cards that notify police officers and others that the bearer cannot hear. Police departments and advocacy groups in California, Ohio, Maryland, North Carolina, Florida and Texas have requested copies.

Earlier this year, Priola showed the cards to state officials, who were "flabbergasted" that something similar wasn't already being used, said Frank Kowaleski, director of programs for the Virginia police chiefs association.

The DMV agreed to fund the project with a $16,000 traffic-safety grant. It printed 11,000 copies each of the blaze-orange visor and folding wallet cards and produced 400 copies of a training video.

The 10-minute video will be given to state and local police departments across Virginia to instruct them in the best way of interacting with the deaf. Priola and others with various levels of hearing loss are actors in the video.

Both of the cards display the "broken ear," the international symbol of the hard of hearing. Those who use the visor card are instructed to attach it to the sun visor in their car and to point to it and to their ear when stopped by police.

The card says, "I am deaf or hard of hearing."

The wallet card is meant to be handed to strangers. It identifies the bearer as deaf or hard of hearing and recommends the best way to communicate, such as sign language, lip reading or writing.

Hearing loss is otherwise invisible, Priola said. The cards can prevent a misunderstanding when a deaf person interacts with a police officer during a traffic stop, crime scene or crash scene, she said.

More than 600,000 deaf and hard of hearing people live in Virginia, according to the state Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. The department will distribute the cards at its 10 regional offices.

Copyright 2002, The Free Lance-Star Publishing Co. of Fredericksburg, Va.