Forum held to close gap between deaf community, police interactions

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A forum was held in Union County Saturday to promote a discussion between members of the deaf community and police officers on how to make their interactions go more smoothly and safely.

Organizers say the meeting was designed to help prevent confusion between police and people who are deaf, specifically during car stops or 911 calls.

“Police officers, we're very concerned about hands,” says Capt. Brendan Barton of the Gloucester Township Police Department. “Hands are one thing that could always hurt us, and you know for people who are deaf that's the way they communicate. So it's a tough balance there.”

Joey Garth of the New Jersey Deaf News tells News 12 that he has been overwhelmed with fear when being pulled over because he might not be able to communicate with the police officer.

Garth is credited with organizing the forum. He distributed cards throughout the forum for deaf people to present to police officers.

The cards carry reminders to make eye contact, that deaf people cannot lip read everything someone says, and that shining a flashlight in a deaf person's face may make it more difficult to be understood.

Lisa Oshman, who attended the event, shared that several years ago she was pulled over by police and with the only hearing person in her car being her 13-year-old son, the officers ignored her and spoke with him when they realized she was deaf.

“It really made me feel bad, you know? I felt like, ‘What am I? Not important,’ you know? And, do they do that to other deaf people? I want to stop that,” she said.

The forum was also a chance for police to get feedback from deaf people and to ensure those who are deaf can be comfortable the next time they interact with a police officer.

“I feel it's very important to have the deaf community and the police community be more aware of how to communicate with each other,” says Garth.

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