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NY Police Department (NYPD) Recruits Taught ASL nypost.com – By Chris Harris

The current class of 600 NYPD recruits learned basic ASL as part of their training, enabling them to better communicate with deaf people during emergencies. According to the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, more than 175,000 deaf or hard of hearing individuals live in the five boroughs. “ASL is the fourth most used language in America,” behind Chinese, Spanish, and English, she said. Jessica Wohlstetter, who teaches ASL at several colleges, led the recruit training, teaching phrases like “Police Officer,” “Ambulance,” “Help” and “Interpreter.” 15 other NYPD officers, already on the force and able to sign (and whose parents were deaf), completed an intensive, 8-week program with Wohlstetter. Soon they will take the national exam to become certified interpreters. Once certified, they can teach sign language to their colleagues or take statements from deaf individuals. Katherine Bouton, president for the NYC chapter of the Hearing Loss Association of America, encouraged the NYPD to also address issues unique to people with hearing loss. Bouton said that sometimes people with hearing loss will use a captioning device on their smartphone, or a small mic that transmits via Bluetooth to their hearing aids. These can seem confusing or even threatening to a police officer. Officers have already been using their new training during live-action simulations at the academy. Wohlstetter hopes this program will become a blueprint for police departments nationwide. She tailored instruction to calls police will likely respond to, including domestic violence and calls involving children. “Ninety percent of deaf children are born to hearing parents,” Wohlstetter said. “Some deaf children don’t have many interactions with signing adults. If their parents don’t learn ASL, they may only use it at school.” But a uniformed officer could be a help. “Hey, there’s an adult here to protect me, and they can sign, too. We hope to inspire kids in the deaf community, too.”

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