Visor CardsóBridging the Communications Gap When Stopped by the Police
© July 2005 by Neil Bauman, Ph.D. (Revised February 2008)
Question: I am hard of hearing. If I am stopped by the police at night, what is the best way for me to let the police know that I can't hear their orders. I don't want to be manhandled or shot for deliberately disobeying orders I cannot hear.óS. D.
Answer: Good question. Let me answer by playing this same scenario twice, but with two very different outcomes. First, picture this one.
Late one stormy night you are driving home alone. Suddenly red and blue flashing lights punctuate the darkness behind you. You don't know whether you are being pulled over for speeding, for having
a broken tail light, or because you are driving a car that looks suspiciously like the get-a-way vehicle seen fleeing
from the scene of a nearby convenience store robbery.
You immediately pull over to the side of the road and stop. You can't see
a thing as you are blinded by the headlights behind you. You don't hear the police officers ordering you to get out of your car and walk backwards towards them. Because you do not follow their directions, the police officers treat you
as a threat to them, and in your case, storm your car, drag you from your vehicle, throw you to the ground and handcuff you.
This never should have happenedóbut didóbecause the police officers thought you were
deliberately disobeying them, and therefore must be hiding something. It never crosses their minds that you neither
heard nor understood them because you have a hearing loss.
Does this happen in real life. You bet. For example, Terrence Cantrell, who is deaf, said police once stopped
him because his car was the same model as the vehicle of a theft suspect.
Officers pointed their guns at him as he tried to tell them he was deaf.
"Without the ability to communicate, I was frozen," he related.
Here is another man's experience. He relates: "I got pulled over and my deaf ears thought the officer on the loud speaker told me to get out of the car. So I got out with my hands in the air like a good criminal. The cop quickly pulled his gun out and aimed it right in my face! He then told me
'I told you to stay in the
car'. He drew his pistol out so fast he could have accidentally bumped the trigger and killed me.
My 3-year old son was in the car with me and saw the whole thing."
Here's yet another real-life example. It this case police were also looking for a
vehicle that matched this man's vehicle. In this case, police were looking for
an armed suspect. Here's how the Modesto Bee paper article began: "One rainy
night last spring, a swarm of Modesto police cars descended on a truck that was
heading north. The pickup stopped and the officers ordered the driver to get out
with his hands up.
Modesto resident Harry "Dan" Tessien sat in his truck, waiting.
Officer Daniel Starr repeated his order several times.
Tessien sat in his truck, waiting.
Starr gave his order in Spanish.
Tessien sat in his truck, waiting.
Officer Yair Oaxaca fired a beanbag shotgun at the pickup's back window,
sending a spray of shattered glass throughout the cab.
Tessien leapt out of his seat, and Oaxaca fired a beanbag into his abdomen.
Officer Rodney Garcia delivered two more rounds because Tessien still had not
raised his hands.
Oaxaca and Garcia delivered six more rounds, according to their reports,
hitting the man in the torso and legs as he ran for cover and ducked under the
front bumper of his truck."1
Now picture the first scenario above, but
this time using a visor card to get the police officer's attention. It's
another dark, stormy night when you are pulled over. This time, you know
exactly what to do. After you have stopped, you immediately reach up and
pull your sun visor down, unhook the end and swing it to face your side
window. You open your driver's-side window all the way, turn on the dome
light, then put both of your hands in plain sight on the steering wheel and
You don't move, even
though you are apprehensive, because you faintly hear, but can't understand,
any of the instructions blaring from the police loud-hailer. Finally a
police officer approaches your door. He shines his flashlight in your
window. Instead of dragging you out of your car, he reads the sign attached
to your visor. Immediately his demeanor changes. Why? Because he now knows
the reason you did not obey his orders. Your visor card, in big, bold
letters declares, "Driver is Hard of Hearing."
You can't blame the police for being
careful. Theirs is a dangerous job, especially at night. Thus, it is vitally
important to establish at the outset that your communications needs are
totally different from those of people with normal hearing.
This is where your visor card
silently, but effectively, works on your behalf. The front of the card
immediately alerts police officers to the fact that there is a communication
problem; tells them what the communication problem is; and gives them
instructions on how to effectively overcome this problem.
Obtaining Visor Cards of Your Own
Now that you've seen just how well
visor cards can work for hard of hearing people, you're probably thinking,
"I want one too!" Your next question likely will be, "Where can I get visor
cards for my vehicle?"
Although visor cards are available
from various agencies in a few states, these cards have one major fault.
They lump deaf and hard of hearing people together, as though both groups
have similar communication needs. This is just not true.
Now, however, the Center for Hearing Loss Help has designed two different visor cards. One specifically spells out the
communication needs of hard of hearing people. The other one specifically
spells out the communication needs of deaf people. Download the card that
best meets your communications needs.
1. Hard of Hearing Visor Card
Obtain a free copy of the
hard of hearing visor card by clicking on
this link (http://www.hearinglosshelp.com/articles/visorcardhoh.pdf), or
(If you prefer, you can purchase a Hard of Hearing Visor Card Pak
already made up. The pak includes 1 Hard of Hearing laminated visor card; 1 laminated wallet
card; and a typeset copy of this article on how to use your visor card. The Hard
visor card pak is just $4.95 (plus S&H).
Order your Hard of Hearing visor card pak here.)
2. Deaf Visor Card
Obtain a free copy of the
deaf visor card by clicking on this link
(If you prefer, you can purchase a Deaf Visor Card Pak
already made up. The pak includes 1 laminated Deaf visor card; 1 laminated wallet
card; and a typeset copy of this article on how to use your visor card. The Deaf
visor card pak is just $4.95 (plus S&H).
Deaf visor card pak here.)
Each 2-page visor card file is in PDF
format. (You need Adobe's free Acrobat Reader, or equivalent
program, in order to read PDF files. Most computers have this software
already installed. If yours doesn't,
click here to download your free copy of
Acrobat Reader (http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep2.html).
Print out pages 1 and 2 on regular
paper and glue them back to back. (A glue stick works great for this
purpose.) Even better, print pages 1 & 2 back-to-back on a sheet of heavier
paper (80# card stock works great). Then you don't have to bother gluing the
Cut along the line on page 1 to trim
your Visor Card to the correct size.
As a bonus, the bottom part of pages 1 & 2 contain a
similar card for you to carry in your wallet. Follow the same procedures you
used for the Visor Card.
Then, to make your cards more durable,
and to protect them from rain, laminate them on both sides. Office supply
stores such as Office Depot, Staples or OfficeMax and some quick print shops
such as Kinkos will laminate your cards for you while you wait.
Incidentally, you can have both a
Visor Card and a Wallet Card laminated at the same time for one price as
they will both fit onto an 8Ĺ x 11 inch sheet of laminate. (Staples
laminated both my Visor Card and Wallet Card for just $1.00.)
When you get home, cut out your cards.
While you are at it, you can download a
full-color 4-page brochure of this article to read and remind yourself how
to properly use your visor cardsócourtesy of the Palm Beach County, FL Sheriff's
Correctly Placing Your Visor Cards
Your Visor Cards is useless unless
they are instantly available whenever you need them. You don't want to have
to rummage around in the glove box or under the seat when you are pulled
over. (Police officers may think you are reaching for a gun and act
The Visor Card is called a visor card
for good reason. You attach it to your sun visor. That way, it is normally
out of sight, yet instantly available when needed.
Here's how to mount it. Fold down your
sun visor. Place the Visor Card on your sun visoróright side up facing you
when your visor is down. Hold it in place with two elastic bands around both
the Visor Card and sun visor.
With the sun visor up, your Visor Card
is hidden out of sight so you are not advertising the fact that you are hard
of hearing, but it is in place, ready for instant use whenever you need it.
Two Visor Cards are Better than One
So far, I have talked about using just
a visor card on the driver's side. However, you should consider having two
visor cardsóone for each side. Here's why.
If you are stopped along a busy
highway, especially one with narrow shoulders, sometimes the police officer
may go to the passenger-side window because it is safer. Police officers
have been hit by vehicles whizzing past, so in such situations, they may
choose to play it safe and come to the passenger-side window. As a result,
you will want to have Visor Cards for each side of your car.
In addition, if the police suspect that you are driving a get-a-way car,
for example, two police officers may approach your vehicle at the same time,
one on each side. This is another excellent reason to have two visor cards
displayed, so both police officers instantly know you can't hear.
Using Your Visor Cards
If you are ever stopped by the police,
follow these steps in this order.
1. Pull over and stop safely. (If it
is dark and you are able to, stop under a street lamp, or pull into a
lighted parking area. This will make it easier for you to speechread.)
2. Immediately flip your sun visor
down, unhook the end by the rearview mirror, and swing it over so your Visor
Card is clearly visible in the driver's side window. If you have two visor
cards and you think a police officer will come to the passenger side, deploy
that visor too. Even better, deploy both visor cards every time you are
stopped. That way, you have your bases covered, no matter what happens.
3. Open your driver's side window all
the way. (Police officers get very nervous with today's dark windows!) Also
open the passenger's-side window if you flipped that visor down as well.
4. If it is dark, turn on your dome
5. Place both of your hands on the
steering wheel well before any police officer approaches your vehicle.
Police officers want to see both your hands at all times. The safest place
is to put them on the wheel at the standard driving positions of 10 o'clock
and 2 o'clock. Keep your hands on the wheel until after you establish
effective communication with the police officer. Have the officer remove
your Visor Card and read the instructions on the back so he knows how to
effectively communicate with you.
That's all there is to it! You may
never have to use your visor cards, but if you ever do get pulled over, you
are prepared. You can "hang loose" and let your Visor Cards do the work of
bridging the initial communications gap with the police.
1 Deaf man
shot with beanbags at traffic stop sues Modesto police. April 22, 2007. The
Modesto Bee, Modesto, CA.