Police officers reached out to the deaf community in their own language signing for the third year in a row at Mayfest.
Officers had an Internet Safety booth at Mayfest, which is put on by the Ontario Association for the Deaf at Exhibition Place May 9 to 11.
Many different exhibitors and entertainment participated in the event for the deaf community.
Sergeant Deborah Hartford, who is fluent in ASL (American Sign Language ) because her mother is deaf, Constable Daniel Ramos, is fluent in ASL as both his parents are deaf, and myself, an ASL student at the Bob Rumball Center for the Deaf all participated in the day.
The booth was set up with funding from the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services and the Ministry of the Attorney General. The booth materials were donated by Cybertip.ca and the Canadian Center for Child Protection.
This event provided some members of the Deaf Community their first ever opportunity to speak with a police officer and officers fielded questions such as:
What do I do when I get pulled over by the police? How should I conduct myself when dealing with the police?
I explained to members of the deaf community that it is important to keep in mind the difference between police and deaf culture. In deaf culture, hand movements and facial expressions are exaggerated and that is a part of the language. In police culture, exaggerated movements can be seen as a threat. I advised them that it is important to remain calm when speaking to the police and use signs that a hearing person might understand, for example, pointing to their ear and mouthing the word “deaf.” I also advised them to not make sudden, unexpected movements, such as reaching in their glove box, and that they could try pointing and indicating to the police their intended movements.
- How many police officers can sign?
I had many questions about how many officers can sign on the Service, and I advised that there are 15 of us,with different levels of signing proficiency. I advised them that if they were speaking with a police officer, they could always inquire as to whether or not there was an officer working who knows ASL.
- Questions regarding internet safety
The two websites that I find most helpful are:
cybertip.ca (To report child exploitation-related occurrences online)
protectchildren.ca (Best online resource for children and parents)
- How do I call 911?
I told them that the Text 911 program is still not available in Toronto but that we are working towards getting it. Currently, deaf persons must still call 9-1-1 and leave the phone off the hook or find a hearing person to call for them. It is very frightening and frustrating to them that they cannot communicate with the dispatcher and they hope to have this program soon as we all do.
- If I am handcuffed, how do I communicate?
I explained to them that if they were arrested that they would likely be placed in handcuffs, but that they should remain calm during the arrest. I told them that eventually the handcuffs, would be removed and that it would likely to be obvious to the officers that they were deaf or hard of hearing.
Overall Mayfest was a great opportunity to educate people on how to protect themselves on the internet, address their questions about the police and meet officers in a positive and relaxed environment rather than in a crisis.