Police in Columbia say they will provide more free aid, such as sign language interpreters, to deaf or hard-of-hearing residents under a new settlement announced by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) Tuesday.
The DOJ investigated after receiving a complaint that police did not provide “effective communication” to a deaf man during his arrest and despite his repeated requests for three months.
“Our first responders play a critical role in protecting the safety of our communities, and we must ensure they can communicate effectively with all people, including those with hearing disabilities,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This settlement will ensure that the Columbia Police Department complies with federal law, protects the civil rights of all its residents and more effectively advances public safety.”
The Americans with Disabilities Act requires all communications between public agencies and those with hearing disabilities to be as “effective” as with those who are not disabled. The DOJ Civil Rights Division says that requirement includes police officers.
Columbia Police dispute the complainant’s portrayal of what happened and the settlement announced Tuesday does not contain any admission of violations by CPD.
Under the agreement, Columbia Police agreed to, among other changes:
• Provide auxiliary aids and services free of charge, including sign language interpreters, to people who are deaf or hard of hearing, within proscribed time frames;
• Modify handcuffing policies to handcuff deaf individuals in front, safety permitting, to enable the person to communicate using sign language or writing;
• Designate an ADA coordinator for law enforcement;
• Develop and utilize a communication card to communicate with persons who are deaf or hard of hearing during routine interactions in the field;
• Conduct annual ADA training for CPD personnel.