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DC police install software for the deaf community

by Hawke Robinson last modified Sep 20, 2015 11:31 PM
Associated Press - By NAFEESA SYEED - Friday, June 18, 2010 - Police in the District of Columbia are seeking to improve communications with the city's large deaf and hard of hearing population through new software in police cruisers — a move believed to be among the first nationwide.

The Metropolitan Police Department installed the software in 15 police cars this week under a pilot program. It provides a video link that allows people to communicate with police through American Sign Language interpreters.

Police spokesman Officer Eric Frost said the department already has a special unit for deaf and hard of hearing residents and officers who translate sign language. But the software allows officers to gather information from the scene more rapidly, he said.

"We have a very large deaf and hard of hearing community in this city," Frost said. "It's allowing us to serve that community with much more efficacy and efficiency."

The region is home to Gallaudet University, the nation's premier university for deaf and hard of hearing students, and thousands of federal government workers who are deaf.

Fred Weiner, Gallaudet's executive director of program development, said language and cultural variables can cause communication problems and misunderstandings, which sometimes lead to unfortunate results or people's rights being violated. Weiner, who is deaf, said D.C. police are the first to adopt the software.

"While it does not resolve all the communication issues deaf and hard of hearing people encounter when interacting with law enforcement officials, it is a very important step in the right direction," he said in an e-mail.

Police said three of the cruisers are in the district where Gallaudet is located. The software also is installed at each of the department's seven police stations and three substations.

The Rocklin, Calif.-based Purple Communications Inc. did not charge police for installing the software, according to Paul Singleton, director of strategic accounts. Singleton said D.C. police are the first in the nation to use the service in their vehicles.

The software connects an officer's laptop webcam to one of the company's 24-hour ASL interpreters, who then provide police with the translation. The service also allows deaf people to make phone calls from the scene.

Singleton, who lives in Bethesda, Md., said he has hereditary deafness and is fourth-generation deaf. There have been emergencies in which he's had trouble calling police or had problems communicating with authorities, he said. But new technology is alleviating those obstacles, he said.

"All those barriers have totally been removed and my options as a deaf person are unbelievable compared to my grandfather," he said while communicating via his laptop to an interpreter.

Capt. Edward Delgado, head of the D.C. police special liaison unit, said the software has already proven successful since it was installed. Delgado said it helped facilitate the conversation between an officer responding to a deaf person involved in a traffic accident.

About a month ago, he said officials also installed separate hardware programs in each police station that allow deaf and hard of hearing residents to speak with police and other D.C. government agencies.