Pearl Pearson is your typical father and grandfather. He loves his family and respects the law enforcement careers his son and son-in-law pursue. Back in January, Pearl was pulled over by a highway patrolman on a traffic violation. When the officer commanded an action, Pearl didn’t respond and the situation turned violent. Police surveillance video shows Pearl being assaulted by the patrolman, handcuffed, and led to the patrol car. The reason Pearl didn’t respond to the officer is because he could not hear him. Pearl is deaf.
For the record, Lipreading Mom is a friend of Pearl’s son, Dack, who is a police officer. Dack and I attended the same high school more than 20 years ago. Also to be noted is the assault on Pearl took place in Oklahoma where my father served in law enforcement for 40 years and retired last year. Most significantly, I am a person with hearing loss and have been in a situation in which I could not hear a patrol car’s siren until it had followed my car for two miles. It was scary for me as a young woman to be shouted out and told to step out of my car immediately by an officer who was visibly upset. He didn’t know I had hearing loss because I didn’t tell him.
Does Telling an Officer You Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing Make a Difference?
In Pearl’s case, he did have a note on his car visor and driver’s license indicating he is deaf. According to PearlPearson.com, a site set up to support the Pearson family, Pearl was about to show the visor card when he was assaulted. He was then denied a sign language interpreter after his arrest. This made communication difficult since Pearl’s first language is American Sign Language (ASL).
In my case, I had nothing on my driver’s license or visor to indicate I have hearing loss. Because of the officer’s loud voice and my ability to lip read, I was able to hear and respond to his questions. I walked away with a speeding ticket.
Many years after being pulled over, I have learned the importance of letting officers know I have hearing loss. In another traffic-related incident in which an officer pulled me over for making a sharp turn, I responded differently than before. My hearing aids were visible and I indicated not being able to hear the police siren because of my hearing loss. This time, I walked away with a warning.
Why Pearl Pearson’s Case Is Important
This month, the Pearson family heads to court in Oklahoma to seek justice regarding the arrest and assault. Pearl still does not know why he was assaulted, nor does his family.
In an email interview with Pearl’s son, Dack, he expressed how imperative it is for law enforcement to be trained to understand communication needs of the deaf and hard of hearing (HoH).
“This incident has brought me understanding to what deaf/HoH people deal with on a daily basis,” Dack Pearson said. “Yet still many are not compliant with law regarding the deaf. I feel Oklahoma is behind the curve with business, hospitals, clinics, courts, law enforcement agencies, etc. in complying with the law. My hope is that my father’s case will force Oklahoma to adhere to the needs of the deaf.”
Pearl’s case has drawn national attention with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). In an online petition, the ACLU has called for the Department of Justice to mandate all law enforcement officers be trained in the needs of the deaf and hard of hearing. Read the petition here.
In Oklahoma, Pearl’s supporters have created a fundraising event on August 22 to help pay for his medical and legal expenses. “Having the community’s support is what makes the difference in those moments when justice seems out of reach,” said Janice Woods in an email interview. “Hopefully one of the outcomes of what happened to my dad is Oklahomans in general will become more knowledgeable on accessibility for people with disabilities, and Oklahomans will not tolerate ignorance any further.”
“I’ve experienced overwhelming support from fellow officers, family and friends,” Dack Pearson added. “This incident shocks the conscience to anyone that is exposed to the story, which often makes people question why. In due time, when the facts become public, I feel regardless of the outcome many will not change their opinion or support for my father.”
Know Your Rights
In an effort to educate the public, Academy Award-winning Actress Marlee Matlin, who is deaf and married to a police officer, has created a video that explains what rights a deaf or hard of hearing person has in a police-related situation. Matlin uses ASL in the video, and it is also captioned and voiced. Watch the video here.
The First Responders of Spokane, Washington, have put together a captioned and voiced training video for how law enforcement and emergency responders can best communicate with the deaf and hard of hearing. Watch the video here.
“There are existing laws that cover the fact that deaf people have a right to accessibility,” Woods said. “In this day and age it is inexcusable for someone to work within law enforcement or medical settings and not ensure compliance with those laws. The Americans with Disability Act has been in effect since July 26, 1990. It is time for training and education.”
The Best Thing You Can Do When Pulled Over
Greater advocacy within the deaf and hearing loss community is needed when it comes to law enforcement situations.
One of the most important things motorists who are deaf or hard of hearing need is a visor indicating they cannot hear. Click on either visor image featured above or click this Google link, and print from your computer the visor message of your choosing. Then clip this message on your car visor. After getting pulled over and before the officer approaches your vehicle, unclip the visor message and place it over your steering wheel. Roll down your driver side window. When the officer stands next to your car, keep both hands on the steering wheel and say ‘I am deaf’ or ‘I am hard of hearing.’ The officer will also see your visor message in front of you. From that point on, watch the officer closely for visual cues on how he or she wants you to proceed. If you still do not understand the officer’s words, repeat ‘I am deaf (or hard of hearing). I did not understand what you just said because I couldn’t hear you. Would you please write down what you just said?’ If you are unable to speak, motion your head in the direction of the visor message, which will explain that you cannot hear.
“I would love to see more of the deaf community become knowledgeable about how the legal system works and become advocates for themselves and each other as they deal with people within law enforcement and medical settings,” Woods added.
Readers: Your Opinions Are Important
Lipreading Mom wants to know your thoughts on the topic of law enforcement training in the area of hearing loss and deafness. What do you think the training should consist of?
Have you been in a police-related situation? Did you disclose your hearing loss or deafness? Why or why not?