IM this article to a friend!

January 12, 2003

Visors help deaf drivers communicate with police

From: Kingsport Times News, TN - 12 Jan 2003

By Amy Gatley

Phyllis Manning. Amy Gatley photo.

NORTON - For people who are deaf or hard of hearing, a simple traffic stop could turn into a serious situation if they can't communicate effectively.

That's why the Connie Reasor Deaf Resource Center in Norton is handing out blaze orange vehicle visors so that hearing-impaired motorists can easily communicate their disability.

Center outreach specialist Phyllis Manning said the visors were created by the Department of Deaf and Hard of Hearing and are being distributed by the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Anyone with a hearing loss can pick up the free signs, which are designed to be placed on the driver's visor. The signs also come with a wallet card for motorists so they can be identified as deaf or hard of hearing in case of an emergency.

"Because sign language is sometimes misunderstood by police as being some type of aggressive move, the idea is that they simply flip it down as the police are walking to their car, and they put their hands on the wheel and don't move. When the police come to them, then they point to the visor. When the police sees then that they are deaf, then they can come up with some alternative communication," Manning said.

Unfortunately, Manning said there have been cases nationwide where police have mistakenly interpreted sign language as a threatening move.

In one case Manning cited, a deaf man pulled over for a traffic stop was killed because he was signing "I don't know" in an angry manner.

"You could very clearly see the deaf man going, ‘I don't know. I don't understand.' But because he flipped his hand out, and he was frustrated and did it fast and furious ... the police interpreted as he was about to hit him. ... This is an attempt to protect the deaf as well as facilitate communication," Manning said.

You don't have to be completely deaf to need the visor, Manning added. Elderly people who are hard of hearing or people who have developed hearing loss over the years may not be able to effectively communicate with the police during a traffic stop.

Manning said this is the first time visors have been available to the public, a fact that may be surprising to many.

"In recent years, we have become more aware of deaf persons among us. You see deaf actresses on television now. Deafness is something that we are more acceptive of. In the past, it was assumed that deaf people shouldn't be driving in the first place," Manning said.

In fact, Manning said deaf drivers are statistically just as safe as hearing drivers because they are used to picking up visual cues that hearing drivers may miss.

Manning has already passed out 20 visors and believes there are many more people who could use the signs.

Signs can be picked up at the Department of Motor Vehicles or can be mailed by the Connie Reasor Deaf Resource Center. For more information call Manning at (276)679-5988.

Copyright 2003, Kingsport Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved