Deaf, hearing impaired learn how to communicate with police

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WACO, Texas (KWTX) -- Members of the deaf and hearing impaired community in Waco, Texas gathered for an information session earlier this week on how to effectively and safely communicate with police.

(Photo by Ke'Sha Lopez)

Those in the community say concerns continue to grow as the country see more officer-involved shootings.

They said in an already hypersensitive situation, the language barrier must be overcome.

Tazz Speasmaker said she has had a few run-ins with police for things such as speeding, or not having her license plate number visible.

The encounters, she said, were frustrating because the officer did not understand that she could not hear them.

"I indicate that I'm deaf and I can't speak. Usually they continue speaking to me. I keep indicating that I can't hear them, and then sometimes they finally say, 'Wait,' and then they go and do something,” she said.

"If I try to sign, they back away from me. They may think I have a gun, or a weapon, or a spray, or a knife; anything along those lines. They're also suspecting that I might be involved in gang activities because I'm signing so they'll maybe call backup,” she said

Speasmaker said the deaf community is growing in central Texas and the chances of these encounters could happen again if people and police don't understand how to communicate effectively.

Waco Police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton says officers do receive training on how to communicate with disabled individuals, but events such as Tuesday's meeting offers reminders.

"One thing that we would indicate to our deaf or hard-of-hearing community members is to let the officers know and it's a simple signal by just pointing to the ear and shaking your head (to indicate) ‘I can't hear you,’ and nod, then the officers will understand."

He also advised against reaching for pen and paper, which, he said, officers will provide.

Read the original version of this article at kwtx.com.