ASL interpreters crucial in law enforcement and court interaction
American Sign Language Interpreters and Certified Deaf Interpreters can be used at any point in a law enforcement or court interaction.
Through a video conference, Jimmy Beldon, a Certified Deaf Interpreter and chief operating officer of Keystone Interpreting Solutions, said the company provides services to law enforcement during the booking process, court trials and everything in between.
A deaf interpreter is a specialist who provides interpreting, translation and transliteration services in American Sign Language and other visual and tactual communication forms used by individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing or deaf-blind, according to the Deaf Interpreter Institute. Deaf interpreters often work in tandem with a hearing interpreter.
Beldon said in a situation where an officer is going to a house where they know a deaf person lives, they should bring an interpreter with them before they engage.
"It really does help in volatile situations to have an interpreter there," he said.
Beldon has provided training to police on real-life scenarios and strategies. He said he taught officers to not make assumptions about a deaf person and how they communicate — "if they use their voice, if they lip-read, if they can hear or can't."
"I'm deaf, I can't hear, I can catch a little bit on the lips, but I prefer American Sign Language as opposed to another individual who is in the same room and can use their voice," he said. "A police officer has to understand that our communications vary. It has nothing to do with our intellect. It has to do with where we are at in our communication, our education."
How officers handle any situation can be affected by their training. Beldon said from his experience, there are agencies that have training but deaf individuals don't always live in concentrated areas, so there are lots of counties where they don't have the training. He said it is a great idea for officers to have continuing education training on ASL and deaf culture, but he cautions that just because someone may know ASL, that doesn’t make them an interpreter.
"Lack of communication is often the catalyst for a lot of them getting through the legal system," Beldon said.
In a perfect world, Beldon said it would be nice to always have an interpreter on hand — even for something as simple as a traffic stop.
"All people know — and deaf people know — that when they get pulled over, there is not going to be an interpreter there, and 'I am busted' and 'I knew I went through that red light' or whatever," he said. "But if it is beyond that, get an interpreter."