Placard for Deaf Drivers Reveals Problems with Policing

Cincinnati has a new red and white placard that deaf and hard-of-hearing drivers can place in their car to inform police officers of their disability. Here’s an image from a local news tweet.

The placard says, in part:

I am a Deaf/HH Driver
Failure to cooperate with your verbal commands
means I AM NOT hearing you
I do not read lips
Using a flashlight at night will prevent me from
seeing any gestures
Qualified interpreters must be provided …

From the article:

Officer Richard Longworth is with Cincinnati Police Department’s Community Relations Unit and helped design the placards.

“It’s bright red. It’s split between red and white. We wanted highly contrasting colors that the officer would be able to notice if he shined his light up on to a car,” said Officer Longworth.

Drivers display the placard where the officer can easily see it. It explains that the driver has special needs and it also has tips for the driver on how to handle the traffic stop. The placards are necessary because police need to know why a person is not responding to verbal commands.

Longworth explained, “It’s going to be seen as some form of passive resistance.” “He’s going to be giving verbal commands and if they’re not responsive to those commands, it’s going to raise his stress level even higher.”

All of this is true. Too many police take non-compliance on its own, absent other indicators of danger, as a threat requiring escalation. Deaf individuals are at risk.

No one, though, should be required to wear a special badge, piece of clothing, or put up a sign in order to be guaranteed their basic rights. I am concerned that such placards teach police to look for the placard and, if visible, give people their rights. If not visible, well, then it’s back to violence as a reward for non-compliance.

We’ve seen this before. In the wake of the Ethan Saylor killing, some people proposed teaching our kids hand signals, indicating – I am disabled! In Colorado, autism advocates proposed a yellow shirt saying, “I have autism. If I am alone please call 911.”

This shirt, like the placard, like the hand signal, all convey the same message to police: Don’t treat me as badly as you normally treat other non-threatening but non-compliant individuals. 

This is the medical model, in which we attack inequalities diagnosis by diagnosis, rather than working on the underlying problem.

As regular readers know, I call the underlying problem the cult of compliance. You can follow the tag below to see other examples.

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