I Can't Hear You! Police and the Deaf Community

August 18, 2012


In 2009 a deaf woman, Esther Valdez was arrested for resisting arrest because she couldn’t hear an officer telling her to stop.   This month, the City of Austin settled a lawsuit with Ms. Valdez which covered her attorney fees and paid her $500.  The criminal case had already been dismissed.

This case brings up the issue of police officers being able to communicate with the deaf community.  The city did admit any fault in the case but agreed to provide training for officers on how to communicate with the deaf and call for a sign language interpreter.  Videophones will be installed in the jail’s holding room as well as the municipal court building.  

Unfortunately, Valdez's experience is not unique among Austin's sizable deaf population – nor is it particularly unique among the nation's estimated 1 million deaf people. (According to Gallaudet University, the nation's premier educational institution for the deaf, there are also roughly 8 million Americans who are hard of hearing.) Advocates in Austin and elsewhere describe an ongoing problem of communication between deaf people and the police, even though the Americans With Disabilities Act makes it clear that police have a duty to provide effective communication to people with disabilities in the populations they serve.

What do you think the city and police department could do to make the communication with the deaf community easier and more effective?  Do you think the settlement that was reached was fair for Ms. Valdez?