Communicating with People Who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

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This directive is for internal use only and does not enlarge an employee’s civil liability in any way. The directive should not be construed as creating a higher duty of care, in an evidentiary sense, with respect to third party civil claims against employees. Violations of this directive, if proven, can only form the basis of a complaint by the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office for non-judicial administrative action in accordance with the rules and laws governing employee discipline.
DIRECTIVE TYPE: POLICY SUBJECT: Communicating with People Who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing NUMBER: ADMN-123.00
APPROVED BY: Sheriff Ken Christesen EFFECTIVE DATE: 10/18/2015
NMLEA STANDARDS: Not Applicable LAST MODIFIED: 05/31/2017 LAST REVIEW: 05/30/2017


PURPOSE:


The San Juan County Sheriff’s Office has specific legal obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act to provide to all community members, including those who are deaf or hard of hearing, with a consistently high level of service. This policy supports the legal requirements and establishes the agency’s standards when employees are communicating with people who are deaf or hard of hearing.


POLICY:


Explicitly stated in the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office Mission Statement are the truths that employees will uphold the law in a fair and equal manner and maintain professionalism and compassion. As an organization dedicated to the community it serves, the Sheriff’s Office will carry out this legal and moral obligation by making certain its employees have the training, knowledge, and tools required to ensure that no individual who have identified themselves as deaf or hard of hearing are excluded, denied services, segregated, or otherwise treated differently because of the absence of auxiliary aids and services. The Sheriff’s Office has adopted and will comply with the requirements set forth in Attachment C to the Settlement Agreement between the United States of America and San Juan County, New Mexico in DJ# 204-49-86 (attached and incorporated by reference) which was used as the basis of this policy.


DEFINITIONS:


The following definitions will apply for the purposes of this policy:


  • Assistive Listening System (ALS) – Also known as Assistive Listening Devices (ALD), these are amplifiers that bring sound directly into the ear. They separate the sounds, particularly speech, that a person wants to hear from background noise. They improve what is known as the “speech-to-noise ratio.”


  • Auxiliary Aids & Services –A comprehensive list of auxiliary aids and services required by the ADA for deaf and hard of hearing people includes, but is not limited to: “qualified interpreters, note takers, real-time computer-aided transcription services, written materials, telephone handset amplifiers, assistive listening devices, assistive listening systems, telephones compatible with hearing aids, closed caption decoders, open and closed captioning, including real-time captioning; voice, text, and video-based telecommunication products and systems, including text telephones (TTYs) videophones, and captioned telephones, or equally effective telecommunications devices; videotext displays; accessible electronic and information technology; or other effective methods of making aurally delivered information available to individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.” 28 CFR § 36.303 (b)(1).


  • Designee – A person who has been designated to carry out a specific duty or role; or a person selected by the Sheriff to carry out a specific duty.


  • Telecommunications Device for the Deaf (TDD) – Also known as a TTY (text telephone), is a special device that lets people who are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech-impaired use the telephone to communicate, by allowing them to type messages back and forth to one another instead of talking and listening. A TTY is required at both ends of the conversation in order to communicate.


  • Telecommunications Relay Service (TRS) – Also known as a Video Relay Service, IP-relay, or Web-based relay service; is an operator service that allows people who are deaf, hard of hearing, deafblind, or have a speech disorder to place calls to standard telephone users via a keyboard or assistive device. TRS uses operators, called communications assistants (CAs), to facilitate telephone calls between people with hearing and speech disabilities and other individuals. Telecommunications Relay Services also provide access to 911 emergency call centers; operate 24/7; are provided free to relay users; and comply with strict confidentiality requirements.


PROCEDURE:


GENERAL


The Sheriff’s Office will make every effort to ensure that all employees communicate effectively with people who have identified themselves as deaf or hard of hearing.


Effective communication with a person who is deaf or hard of hearing, whether as a victim, witness, suspect, or arrestee, is essential in ascertaining what actually occurred, the urgency of the matter, and the specifics of the situation.


The input of people who are deaf or hard of hearing and who are involved in incidents is just as important to the law enforcement process as the input of others. Deputies and employees must not draw conclusions about incidents unless they fully understand, and are understood by all those involved, including people who are deaf or hard of hearing.


Various types of communication aids, known as “auxiliary aids and services”, are used to communicate with people who are deaf or hard of hearing. These include the use of gestures or visual aids to supplement oral communication, an exchange of written notes, the use of an assistive listening system or device to amplify sound for persons who are hard of hearing, or the use of a qualified oral or sign language interpreter.


The type of auxiliary aid or service necessary for effective communication will depend on the individual’s usual method of communication, and the nature, importance, and duration of the communication at issue.


In many circumstances, oral communication supplemented by gestures, visual aids, an exchange of written notes, use of a computer, or use of an assistive listening device will be effective. In other circumstances, qualified sign language or oral interpreters are needed to communicate effectively with persons who are deaf or hard of hearing. The more lengthy, complex, and important the communication, the more likely it is that a qualified interpreter will be required for effective communication with a person whose primary means of communication is sign language or speech reading. For example:


  • If there has been an incident and a deputy is conducting witness interviews, a qualified sign language interpreter may be required to communicate effectively with someone whose primary means of communication is sign language. A qualified oral interpreter may be required to communicate effectively with someone who has been trained to speech read (read lips).


  • If a person is asking for directions to a location, gestures and an exchange of written notes will likely be sufficient to communicate effectively and a sign language interpreter is often not required.


To serve each individual effectively, primary consideration should be given to the communication aid or service that works best for that person. Employees must ascertain from persons who are deaf or hard of hearing what type of auxiliary aid or service they need and defer to those expressed choices, unless:


  • There is another equally effective way of communicating, given the circumstances, length, complexity, and importance of the communication, as well as the communication skills of the person who is deaf or hard of hearing.


  • Providing a particular auxiliary or service would fundamentally alter the nature of the law enforcement activity in question or would cause an undue administrative or financial burden (only the Sheriff or his or her designee may make this determination).


  • Due to exigent circumstances or the urgent nature of the contact with the hearing impaired person, there is no time or it would be significantly dangerous to the deputy or other person to secure proper communication services. Once the exigency has passed, further communication will be completed utilizing the appropriate auxiliary aid or service.


People who are deaf or hard of hearing will not be charged for the cost of an auxiliary aid or service needed for effective communication.


ON-CALL INTERPRETIVE SERVICES


The San Juan County ADA Coordinator will maintain a list of sign language and oral interpreting services that are available (on-call 24 hours per day) to provide qualified interpreters as needed. Each of these services will be chosen after having been screened for the quality and skill of its interpreters, its reliability, and other factors. This list will be updated annually and forwarded to the San Juan County Communications Authority for access by deputies and other Sheriff’s Office employees.


A qualified sign language or oral interpreter is one who is able to interpret effectively, accurately, and impartially, both receptively and expressively, using any necessary specialized vocabulary. Accordingly, an interpreter must be able to sign to the deaf individual (or interpret orally to the person who speech reads) what is being said by the employee and be able to voice to the employee what is being signed or said by the deaf individual. The interpreter must be able to interpret in the language the deaf person uses (e.g., American Sign Language or Signed English) and must be familiar with law enforcement terms and phrases. Because a qualified interpreter must be able to interpret impartially, a family member, child, or friend of the individual who is deaf may not be qualified to render the necessary interpretation because of factors such as professional, emotional or personal involvement, or considerations of confidentiality. Additionally, although a “qualified” interpreter may be certified, a certified interpreter is not necessarily “qualified,” if he or she is not a good communications match for the deaf person (e.g., where the deaf person uses Signed English and the interpreter uses American Sign Language) or for a situation where the interpreter is unfamiliar with law enforcement vocabulary. Certification is not required in order for an interpreter to be “qualified”.


TTY AND RELAY SERVICES


In situations when a non-disabled person would have access to a telephone, the Sheriff’s Office must provide persons who are deaf or hard of hearing the opportunity to place calls using a telecommunications device for deaf people (TDD). The Sheriff’s Office must also accept telephone calls placed by persons who are deaf or hard of hearing through a Telecommunications Relay Service.


In the event a TDD or TTY is unavailable or deemed impractical to use, a Video Relay Service may be utilized. A VRS call may be initiated by a person who uses sign language or by a hearing person to a sign language user with a video interpreter relaying the conversation. Due to monetary implications, the Sheriff or his or her designee must authorize the use of a Video Relay Service prior to its use.


The following websites provide Video Relay Services (a high speed computer with a webcam will be required):


  • http://www.attvrs.com/vrs_ssl/index.aspx
  • www.sprintvrs.com
  • www.freerelay.com
  • www.lifelinksvrs.com
  • http://www.hamiltonrelay.com/state_711_relay/state.html


TECHNIQUES FOR PERSONNEL TO COMMUNICATE EFFECTIVELY


Sheriff’s Office personnel should utilize the following auxiliary aids as appropriate and when available to communicate effectively:


  • Use of gestures;
  • Use of visual aids;
  • Exchange of written notes;
  • Use of a computer;
  • Use of an assistive listening system or device;
  • Use of a text telephone (TTY);
  • Use of a qualified oral or sign language interpreter; and/or
  • Use of a telecommunications relay service (TRS).


Deputies must review and have a working knowledge of the ADA publication Guide for Law Enforcement Officers When In Contact with People Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing. This document reviews how deputies should communicate effectively in the types of situations they may encounter. These situations include, but are not limited to


  • Issuing a motor vehicle or non-traffic citation;
  • Communicating with a person who initiates contact with a deputy;
  • Interviewing a victim or critical witness to an incident;
  • Questioning a person who is a suspect in a crime;
  • Making an arrest or taking a person into custody;
  • Issuing Miranda Warnings to a person under arrest or in custody; or
  • Interrogating a person under arrest or in custody.


ADMINISTRATIVE:


TRAINING


All Sheriff’s Office employees will receive annual training on the requirements of the ADA and appropriate ways of serving people with disabilities. Newly hired Sheriff’s Office employees will receive this training within the first year of employment and annually thereafter.


CROSS REFERENCES:


  1. Attachment C to the Settlement Agreement between the United States of America and San Juan County, New Mexico in DJ# 204-49-86.
  2. Guide for Law Enforcement Officers When In Contact with People Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing.
  3. 28 CFR § 36.303 “Auxiliary aids and services”
  4. SJCSO Policy ADMN-100.00 “Mission Statement”