My friend Yuni got in an accident yesterday, it was in no way her fault, she stopped at a crosswalk to let a pedestrian pass, and she got rear-ended. Now, this could have gone a few ways, the other driver could have gotten very upset at her for no reason, or as what happened, he could be very apologetic. He understood what happened was his fault, he made sure she was ok before they moved their cars out of the road. When he learned she was Deaf, and used ASL, he was more than happy to write for her. Then it was time to call the police, to have a record of what happened, and the Accident investigator was there to determine fault, and insure there was no injury… that is their job… what happened… not the Accident investigators job.
I will let Yuni tell you about it (and don’t worry, if you don’t understand ASL, I will sum it up underneath in my comments).
so… what happened?
The guy was very nice, understood he was at fault, wrote as soon as he realized she needed him to, called the police, exchanged insurance information. They worked out a communication style that worked for both of them, it wasn’t her lip reading and speaking, it wasn’t him trying to decipher a language he didn’t know… they used a common language, they wrote in English, and it was easy (albeit nerve racking) for both of them.
The Accident Investigator showed up… and the whole situation changed. The investigator wasn’t interested in finding out what happened once she learned Yuni is Deaf, she asked her questions like, do you lip-read, do you speak, wanting Yuni to conform to the investigators preferred method of communication style instead of finding one that fits both of them. Then when the investigator actually starts writing down, she is only discussing hearing aids. Asking why Yuni doesn’t wear them, how can she hear the sirens (and I’m sure other things such as, car horns, etc). This is a police officer, one who is suppose to know the law, suppose to know there is NO requirement where we live to wear hearing aids or a CI to drive. After trying to explain quite a few times, 1. She is an adult and can make the choice to use HA’s or not, 2. Hearing Aids have NOTHING to do with the current investigation, the fact that a HEARING man rear-ended her. The Accident investigator told her she MUST wear a hearing aid, and kept writing about something that had no interest in the investigation… Only after explaining that Yuni had had her license for 2 years and this is the first time she has gotten in an accident, and it is NOT her fault, and she has never so much as gotten a TICKET… does the cop relent, say the man who hit her is getting a ticket and it wasn’t her fault. Then why did the cop spend so much time explaining how she had to use a hearing aid… which can cost up to $6,000 a piece, including ear mold and fitting.
So then, Yuni explains what happens when her mom shows up on the scene, and this gets her thinking. Is this purely an audist attitude, or is there some deeper racial profiling going on?
Her mom speaks English, but for her to understand better, it is much better for the speaker to speak slow, which was explained to the accident investigator. Yuni’s mom came to make sure she was ok, to see what happened, and to know why it happened. Did the cop follow the directions she was given? To speak slowly so Yuni’s mom could easier comprehend? NO, she spoke very quickly… then when this was brought up to her again… she started treating Yuni’s mom like a child as well… This is why Yuni began to think… maybe this wasn’t purely an audist thing, although there was blatant audist beliefs being portrayed by a person who is suppose to protect all of our rights… maybe this had more to do with race than previously though. You see, Yuni is Mexican, her mom is Mexican the man who hit her was white, the cop was white… and yet the only people who were treated as someone to be pittied, as someone who was less intelligent… they were Mexican. Is it a language barrier at this point, or could it be something more sinister?
I have had experience with audism as well, and from the people who are suppose to protect my rights, my life… the police officers who patrol our streets, answer emergency calls, it hasn’t just been one time… but a few. Let me explain.
My first, recent encounter was almost a year ago, I woke up on my birthday, ready to drive an hour to see my father for lunch, which is something we hadn’t done in MANY years due to a falling out, but I was excited, it was my birthday, why shouldn’t I be excited. I walked out my front door, went to my car, unlocked it, opened the door, and noticed that… something was wrong. I hadn’t remembered there being a hammer on my drivers seat, and I hadn’t remembered leaving my window open that night… but all over my dash, all over my seats, there was this substance, of what my brain initially saw as snow… but it ended up being glass. Once my brain recovered from this shock, I went inside and dialed 911 with my Video Relay. Explained the situation, and informed the operator that I was deaf, so I would need to have the officer write for me or have someone who signed… and I was immediately asked how, if I was deaf, was I able too call 911. When the officer showed up, she wouldn’t write for me, so the burden of communication was left on me. I spoke, I lipread, I was the only one making an effort. She didn’t like having to repeat herself, and she became very frustrated when I couldn’t understand what she said. She didn’t take any fingerprints, and acted as though she didn’t feel my situation was very important. She reluctantly took the hammer that was left on my seat, and said she would try to get finger prints off it, though I never heard back from them. I was left, on my birthday, feeling as though I wasn’t important enough to do a through investigation, as though I was taking away her valuable time with my “situation” with the break in that occurred to my car, with the items that were stolen, with me being distraught… I wasn’t worth her time, and the effort that I was having to put into communicating with HER was just slowing down her day.
My next adventure with the police was a few months later, and after finding out the situation and the reasons for being pulled over, I do agree that I was in fault, but that doesn’t excuse how I was treated.
Let me preface this with saying, normally, I do not speed, I have been called a grandma by friends because I go the speed limit, unfortunately I slipped up, didn’t see the change in speed (from 55 to 35, nothing in between), and got stopped right after the change happened.
I was driving back to work after working on a clients computer at their home, when I saw lights in my rear view mirror, I pulled over, thinking the motorcycle cop would go around me, instead, he pulled up behind me. I had been at work, so my hearing aids were on, to alert me to sound, but I needed to lipread to understand what was being said. I pull out my drivers license, my card that says I’m deaf, and my registration, ready to hand them to the police officer. He walks to my window, with his microphone on his helmet in front of his face, his words were incomprehensible to me… the only sound I heard was “akdfjaldkghlkdghasl”. I hand him my information, with the card stating I am deaf, and need him to write or use ASL with me on top, or at bare minimum, be sure I can see his lips. He looks at the card, and throws it on the ground, continues to speak, at which point I understand he will not do anything to help me… I must, once again, take the burden of communication onto myself… I speak, inform him again that I am Deaf and if I have any hope of understanding the words coming out of his mouth I need to see it, or better yet, I need him to write for me. NONE of this happens, he continues to speak with the microphone covering his mouth, and when he goes back to his motorcycle to put in my drivers license number to be sure that I am not a wanted criminal, he steps on my card that simply states, “I am Deaf and have special communication needs” (they can be found here, and hoh/non signing version here and I am not letting one cop stop me from using them).
The rest of the conversation goes like this… he speaks, I don’t understand, I ask him to write, he shakes his head… it goes on and on around like a merry go round… with me not understanding anything, and the both of us obviously being frustrated. I finally am able to leave with a ticket in my hand… and my since of self, once again crushed by those who were suppose to protect me.
But the unfortunate thing is, the story doesn’t end there. When I go to pay the ticket, I have a conversation with his supervisor… which was no better. They tried to tell me that a Deaf person wasn’t allowed to drive, that we must use Hearing Aids or Cochlear
Implants if we want to drive, because we have to be able to understand spoken English… that it was not required for the cop to write for me, and that it wasn’t important for me to be able to UNDERSTAND why I was being pulled over… in summary, it felt like he was telling me I had no rights because I couldn’t hear.
My situations were different from my friend Yunis, but unfortunately, they both had similar themes… if you can’t understand me speaking to you… you aren’t worth my time, let me tell you how to live your life, so you can be as similar to me as possible… you aren’t worth it. Yuni’s also had hits of racial issues. What could we have done differently to make the situations go more smoothly? Should Yuni, who’s situation happened yesterday, take any recourse? Should our police officers, who are supposed to be there to protect us from bodily harm, to protect our rights, to be guardians of the people… shouldn’t they understand the laws better? Should they have to have training, what should they do… or does the burden of communication always have to lay on us alone?