Bridging the silence
Waupaca County sheriff’s deputies will now have picture books that will help open communication with deaf citizens.
The binders were from James Williams and Mary Ann LaPine, whose Fond du Lac company, Phonetically Speaking & ASL, produces them.
Williams described the books as “communications devices for bridging law enforcement, fire departments and EMTs with people who are hard of hearing, autistic and Spanish speaking.”
The binders have photos of a man making gestures that correlate with the American Sign Language used by deaf communities.
Deputies who do not know sign language can point to the photos to communicate. Messages include, “Hello. I am a police officer. I am here to help.” There are also questions such as, “You need medical help?”
In addition to sign-language photos, there are Spanish translations under the English.
Officers can use the books to read the Miranda rights, question victims or suspects, obtain information about possible injuries, obtain names and identification.
“Waupaca is the first county sheriff’s office that has taken on the program,” LaPine said.
“We felt that anything we can get to help us to communicate better would serve the public better,” Waupaca County Sheriff Brad Hardel said.
Hardel said the books will go into all the squad cars and be available for officers at the jail.
The books will not replace the need for interpreters, but can be used by a deputy until an interpreter is available.
“Time is of the essence and it can be 30 minutes until an interpreter comes to the scene,” Hardel said.
Jude Williams described how a tragedy inspired his father to create the books.
“About 15 to 16 years ago, my mom and father were in a serious car accident,” Jude Williams said.
His mother was deaf and pregnant. She and Jude’s father were transported to different hospitals, and since no one knew sign language, they could not communicate with Jude’s mother. The baby did not survive.
In addition to law enforcement, Phonetically Speaking has prepared books especially for emergency medical workers and firefighters. There are translations available for eight different languages that can be added to the binders and a book called “The Language of Love” that can be used to communicate with autistic children.