By Megan Valle and Akanksha Kar
Nassau County legislature unanimously passed a law on Wednesday Sep. 26th, that requires the county’s Police Department to provide cards for deaf and hard of hearing drivers that they can use to communicate their disability to officers.
This is the second bill introduced and passed for the hard of hearing and deaf community. Both were passed by Joshua Lafazan, Legislature for the 18th District in Nassau County. The first bill was passed on Apr. 25th and ensures that American Sign Language Interpreters will be provided at all emergency press conferences held in Nassau County.
“So, one time I was driving from Nassau to Suffolk on Sunrise Highway and I got pulled over,” Daniel Geiger, a deaf motorist from Long Island, said. “I was nervously waiting for him [the officer] to come and I saw him on the opposite side, not on the driver’s side, but the passenger’s side, and he was trying to talk to me and I said I’m deaf and he asked me if I read lips and I said no and he said it seems as if you can read lips.”
The encounter was frustrating for Geiger, as it was difficult to make it clear to the officer that reading lips is not the best form of communication.
“I studied disability employment policy at Cornell University under a professor Thomas Golden,” Lafazan said.
“Professor Golden changed my life because he made me promise him that if I was ever lucky enough to be elected to higher office, that I would be an elected official who would fight for people with disabilities, because I believe that a major responsibility of our government is to care for those who are most vulnerable in our society.”
The bill has also reached Suffolk County thanks to The Mill Neck Organization, which had major involvement in passing the bill. The cards are available through the DMV and police stations.
“The card has a lot of illustrations,” Michael F. Killian, President and C.E.O of the Mill Neck Family of Organizations, said. “The driver can check off [on the card] that they are deaf or hard of hearing, and the police officers can check off why they got a ticket.”
“It’s really communication through print,” he said.
Interactions with the police are an often overlooked concern for the deaf community because hearing people don’t know how bad a situation can get between an officer and a hearing impaired driver Emily Rosenkrantz, a resident in East Meadow and part of the American Sign Language Society, said.
“A hearing person can have a normal conversation but a deaf person can’t say “hey I’m reaching for my license” and with police officers if you can’t communicate well, it can get bad really quickly,” Rosenkrantz, said.
The September bill was created as a response to the demands of the deaf and hearing impaired community, Lafazan said.
“Make sure your stories get to people at advocacy organizations,” Kathryn Carroll, Policy Analyst at the Center for Disability Rights in New York, said. “My colleagues and I work on many different policies in our advocacy, and we may know what changes need to happen, but without stories from consumers, our work lacks depth.”
Elsewhere in the nation, interactions between deaf drivers and police officers have turned deadly.
In August 2016, a North Carolina highway officer fatally shot a deaf driver after attempting to pull him over for speeding. The driver, Daniel Harris, eventually exeted the car and was shot after an encounter with the officer, according to news reports.
This bill will hopefully prevent the same from happening in Nassau County, Lafazan said.