Monday, January 25, 2010

Deaf community reaches out to police

Deaf community reaches out to police

BARRIE - What starts as a routine traffic stop, can quickly go awry if a police officer asks a question and the driver turns away to reach for something unseen, says Louise Gagne, executive director of Deaf Access Simcoe Muskoka (DASM).

“Misunderstandings can occur if the officer isn’t anticipating a Deaf person,” said Gagne, whose team had the opportunity recently to provide awareness training to Barrie Police officers. “Our goal was to provide information and opportunities to problem-solve communication challenges.”

Deaf people all being able to read lips is only one popular myth that can cause miscommunications.

Most of the verbal English language is constructed inside the mouth, which makes it especially difficult to figure out by someone who has never had the opportunity to speak it.

“Often times, the literacy level of a Deaf person in their second language of English is Grade 3,” Gagne explains. “Hearing people expect Deaf people to be able to read and write at the same level as they do, but once they understand that a Deaf person does not use this second language in their daily business, they can appreciate the Deaf person would not be fluent at a higher level.”

American Sign Language (ASL) is a three-dimensional visual language that is not written, she continues. And it is actually more similar in grammatical structure to French than English.

“Oftentimes people think that signing is a short form for English, and it’s not,” she says. Instead, it’s a fully-formed grammatical construct that stands alone.

The training, provided to approximately 80 officers, included some scenario-base examples led by DASM board member Jeff Flindall, who is also an RCMP officer.

Barrie Police were also told about the availability of interpreters and how to access them, especially important since the right to the assistance of a professional interpreter has been guaranteed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms since 1985.

The information, however, did not flow only one way.

While officers learned how flashing a light into a car at night can make it impossible for someone who does read lips to understand what is being said, the trainers were able to take back to the Deaf community an understanding of some of the protocols that can’t be changed and how such instances can best be handled.

The Barrie Police Training Unit is interested in passing on any information valuable to officers on the road, says Sgt. Dave Berriault, who heads up the unit.

“Obviously, if they’re Deaf, there could be some communication issues,” he says of the relevancy of the DASM training sessions. “Clearly with so many variables out there, we try to help the officers.”

His team has also facilitated training related to diabetes, he cites as an example, because individuals with the disease can suffer from “excited delirium,” he says, which could be misdiagnosed by officers – perhaps as a mental illness.

“Officers need to know on the road, because they need to immediately seek medical attention,” he explains. “It could cause fatal consequences.”

This training goes hand-in-hand with a regular police-officer training regime that includes certification in the use of force and firearms, suspect-apprehension pursuit and first-aid.

“These are all actual tools needed to function on a daily basis out there on the road,” says Berriault. “We always try to bring the new techniques in anytime we have the opportunity.”

His office, for example, also provides train-the-trainer sessions on the use of the TASER, so instructors can deliver the annual training to supervisors and tactical teams. The use of the technology is fully legislated, he says, “to eliminate potential injury” during an arrest.

In its mission, the unit is also happy to respond to requests to provide training and awareness at community groups.

For more information about training options, call Berriault at 725-7025, ext. 2954.