Archive for Monday, July 24, 2006

Program aims to prevent ‘communication breakdown’

Placard would identify deaf motorists to police before frustration begins

July 24, 2006


A new statewide program will provide special "safety communication visors" for deaf and hard-of-hearing drivers to put inside their car and display when they're stopped by police.

The campaign aims to prevent the kind of problems that can escalate when a deaf driver can't hear an officer's commands or can't read his or her lips because of a shining flashlight.

"It can prevent a communication breakdown," said Rebecca Rosenthal, executive director of the Kansas Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. "It's rather simple if both parties remain calm and not let the frustration build up."

It's an issue that occasionally leads to conflict between officers and deaf motorists they encounter. A Graham County man is suing the Kansas Highway Patrol, claiming he was physically mistreated by a trooper who grew upset with his noncompliance in an encounter on the Kansas Turnpike near Emporia.

Christopher E. Zvolanek, who is legally deaf, claims in his lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court that on Dec. 15, 2004, he tried to report aggressive driving by three cattle trucks to a turnpike toll collector. He claims he asked for a pen and paper to write down his complaint, but the collector denied his request and called a trooper, who arrested him.

Zvolanek, who is represented by the Lawrence firm Stevens & Brand, alleges that under the state's policies, the deaf are "treated as criminals instead of disabled or handicapped persons."

The defendants' version, however, is that Zvolanek refused to pay his toll, and that he never requested reasonable accommodations.

For years, the state has been providing deaf drivers with 4-by-4-inch stickers to place on the back of their vehicle, but Rosenthal said some were concerned about their privacy and safety. The new, reflective, 11-inch-long signs can be tucked in the driver's side visor and either flipped down or displayed in a window during a traffic stop - although the agency is warning drivers not to put them under the seat or in the glove compartment.

Drivers must complete an official form before they can receive a sign.

In Lawrence, brochures about the program appeared earlier this summer outside the Douglas County Sheriff's Office. Rosenthal said they're also being placed in motor-vehicle division offices around the state.

So far, fewer than 100 of the signs have been sent out to drivers, and police statewide haven't yet been trained on the program.

"We haven't really reached out yet," said Rosenthal, a Lawrence resident. "My next step is to begin training law enforcement."

Johnson County Sheriff's Department spokesman Tom Erickson said the program sounded like a good idea.

"It would allow you to take measures a little more quickly - to either get an interpreter or get the pen and paper out so you can start communicating with them," he said.

Lawrence Police spokeswoman Kim Murphree said officers generally communicate in writing when they encounter someone who is deaf, although the agency also keeps a list of 15 American Sign Language interpreters.


Mike Birch 11 years, 10 months ago

I must admit there is nothing quite like hearing about

someone who is physically disabled being mistreated by

the Kansas Turnpike Authority and the Kansas Highway

Patrol. Is there any humanity left in the world at all?


Confrontation 11 years, 10 months ago

Perhaps the deaf man is the one telling the lie. It seems like there are many holes in his story.

OldEnuf2BYurDad 11 years, 10 months ago

Why would someone lie about that? It's not like he was pulled over for speeding then made claims about the cop. I spend a lot of time on the turnpike, and I can tell you that I've not always been impressed with the abilities of some of the toll takers.

Confrontation 11 years, 10 months ago

He'd lie for the same reason that idiotic parents sue the city because their brats fell off a swing at the park. Money. Everyone has their card that they play. Race card (even white people), disability card, age card, etc., etc.

By the way, I'm not saying that he's lying. I just hate when people assume the cops are the liars.

Baille 11 years, 10 months ago

You know, stepping outside the recreational use exception for a moment, the vast majority of people in personal injury cases don't sue out of need. They sue because their medical bills have hit the six-figure mark and the person or entity that caused the harm won't step up and take responsibility They sue because the insurance company refuses to pay for the full amount of the loss. They sue because they can no longer work, or walk, or breathe without pain, or live their life they way that they used to and the person or company that harmed them tries to walk away without taking responsibility. They sue because other people ditch.

By the way, I am not saying that is this guy's motivation. I just hate it when people who have managed to fit the complexities of life into a playing-card based philosophical model think they have the civil justice system all figured out.

Sandra Willis 11 years, 10 months ago

Seems to me that Mr. Zvolanek was only trying to report aggressive driving of three cattle trucks to the toll-taker: not avoid paying his fare. Seems that the person who wanted to take his toll over-reacted ...


Baille 11 years, 10 months ago

Huh. "Need" should have been "greed." Most people don't sue out of greed. They sue out of need. Bad typo.

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