The Austin Chronicle reports on communication problems between the city’s police force and its burgeoning deaf population, citing the example of a young deaf woman who was arrested “because she could not hear Officer Steven Willis yelling at her to stop.” The paper said the problem is not unique among Austin’s deaf population community–nor, more broadly, among the nation’s estimated 1 million deaf people. Advocates describe an ongoing problem of communication between deaf people and police, even though the Americans With Disabilities Act makes it clear that police have a duty to provide effective communication to people with disabilities.
Austin has become a major city for deaf residents, in part because of the reputation of the Texas School for the Deaf and the social service and employment opportunities connected to the world-class educational facility in Austin. One expert estimated Austin is home to about 50,000 deaf people. Nevertheless, problems with police remain commonplace and even expected by deaf people, even though the Austin Police Department has a written policy that outlines specifically what officers are supposed to do during encounters with deaf residents. The problem, advocates say, is that no one seems to be following that policy.