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Americans with Disabilities Act, Law Enforcement, and the Deaf:

By Kevin B. Young


"ADA, State and Federal Guidelines Concerning Law Enforcement as pertaining to People who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing"

As set forth by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, with additional amendments made in 2008, the definition of a disabled individual has three major conditions:

*  Physical or mental impairment that severely inhibits a life activity
*  A documented or record of said impairment
*  Classified as having an impairment by an acknowledgeable authority

Needless to say, hard of hearing or deaf individuals -- with respect to the individuals, are lawfully considered to have a disability. As such, ADA standards mandate additional effort from law enforcement to safeguard constitutional rights when dealing with deaf or hard of hearing individuals. While there has been numerous articles produced by the ADA, this paper will analyze an article released in January 2006 titled, "Communicating with People Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing" and correlated federal and state litigation relevant to standard police procedure concerning provisions of the ADA.

The focal point of this article highlights what law enforcement agencies are mandated or lawfully compelled to do when dealing with a deaf or hard of hearing suspect. As stated in the article, law enforcement agencies must provide reasonable accommodation for effective communication when in a situation that safely allows for it. This includes provisions of hearing aids and interpreters if requested by the case in point. Officers in Victoria County, Texas were found to be criminally liable as per violation of Sec. 12132 and Sec. 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act- respectively.

That State Court found officers to have intentionally discriminated against the plaintiff, whom was stopped in a traffic situation and given multiple sobriety tests. Now, correlating with the ADA's guidelines for communicating with deaf and hard of hearing, the officers failed to acknowledge the suspects disability and also failed to provide reasonable accommodations for effective communication. Instead, the officer treated the suspect as an individual without the hearing disability, using a series of standard sobriety tests strictly constructed for non-hearing disabled individuals.

A federal appeals court of an unknown district, later upheld this decision and solidified the jurisprudence of mandated accommodations for communicating with deaf and hard of hearing. In review of the ADA's guidelines for communication, law enforcement are given a series of hypothetical situations constructed to help officers determine when an interpreter or accommodation is needed. In traffic cases, reasonable suspicion allows for officers to stop any vehicle. If the driver or concerning individual(s) in the vehicle are deaf or hard of hearing, the officer can take out a note/pen and convey his words through text.

For exigent situations such as responding to a domestic violence call, if officers are faced with violent or any felonious and threatening elements, officers have the right to forgo ADA protocol and act according to standard police procedures. In Tucker V Tennessee, the State court found the petitioners -- whom are deaf, to have no right to lawsuit against officers who arrested them without first providing communication aids and services. The State Court ruled that because of the severity of the situation- responding to potential violence, and also actual violence, officers had the right to forgo ADA protocol.

The totality of the ADA strives to inhibit the potential for discrimination against Americans with disabilities. The U.S. Department of Justice has provided guidelines for effective communication between law enforcement officers and deaf or hard of hearing individuals.


Communicating with People Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing: ADA Guide for Law Enforcement Officers, January 2006. U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division; Disability Rights Section. Retrieved From:

Farber, J, Bernard. (2009). Police Interactions with Deaf Persons: Civil Liability Law Section. AELE Monthly Law Journal, March Edition, 3rd Issue, Pages 101-109.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) As Amended by the Amendments Act of 2008. Retrieved From:



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