A sign of the times for Charleston, W.Va.
According to Smith, the waterline break was before the shutoff valve so this did not help the situation. He then started pointing and saying “basement,” hoping she could understand and lead him to the basement.
“Once in the basement, I was able to turn off several shutoff valves and eventually got the water shut off,” recalled Smith. “The only thing I could think of was to exchange handwritten notes. I was able to make contact with her insurance company to start the process of the repairs.
“Approximately one week later, I received a card at roll call. To my surprise it was a card from the hearing-impaired family thanking me for what I did. I read it to all the officers in roll call and was very appreciative they took the time to send me a thank-you card. To this day, I still have the card.”
Smith spoke of another encounter with a hearing-impaired lady who was involved in a traffic crash. The other person driving was very upset so he tried to explain the situation that the lady was hearing-impaired.
“I think that helped and I was able to resolve it peacefully,” said Smith.
“The only other encounter was one day I was at a convenience store in our city and was tapped on the shoulder. Once I turned around, I was surprised to see the lady who I had the 911 call hang-up call from in the past. We were both very excited to see each other and passed handwritten notes for awhile just to catch up. I wish I would have had a better way to communicate, but I was just excited to see her and happy that she remembered me.”
Though Smith really can’t give a good time frame for when his officers will begin the ASL classes regularly, but work is underway.
“My goal is once Major Redden gets some of the training under her belt, she can begin training the entire department,” said Smith. “As you probably know, this falls back on money and our police department being short-staffed, which makes it difficult to get all the training we need. We will make it happen, but I wanted to get the process started.”
One thing the officers can also do while learning ASL is interact deaf people signing in a public place and attempt to start a conversation. It’s been said many times that the deaf community is delighted when a hearing person learns sign language, no matter how basic their training is. This author has witnessed the phenomenon several times. How much more pleased they will be if an officer cares enough to learn their language.
The Charleston police force also engaged Sgt. Wendy J. Cox, of the Parkersburg Police Department, who taught a sign language for law enforcement class to members of the Charleston Police Department.
Cox shared why she was inspired to learn sign language in the first place.
“I met a young man on a 911 call who was deaf from birth and was struggling with teenage emotions and began acting out, which led his parents to call for help,” said Cox. “I felt so helpless being unable to communicate with him that day and then I tried putting myself in his shoes. I imagined how he must feel so disconnected from the world around him and I wanted to try to bridge that gap for him and the other deaf members of our community who may feel disconnected or excluded.”
As to the cost ASL training, it depends on many variables.
“For instance, how far I might need to travel would affect the fee,” said Cox.
Cox gave credit to BridgeValley, which helped with the training due to the proximity of its campus and the fact it had sign language instructors who were willing to come and assist with the training.
“They took turns interpreting while I lectured and they helped teach signs when we broke into small groups,” said Cox, adding the sign language she had learned had come from personal lessons taught to her by a deaf friend who was a social worker for 40 years. The friend also helped with teaching signs to the officers in that class.
NEXT: Distracted driving often ends in forever moments
“In conclusion, only positive things can come from making efforts to include often-forgotten members of our communities.”
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