06/06/2000

Henry is helping hearing impaired

County providing four interpreters for all types of situations, including those involving policeThe Atlanta Journal and Constitution -- The police stop is routine enough. A female driver is pulled over in a traffic check. As the officer approaches, the woman gestures and displays a piece of paper calling for an interpreter. The officer doesn't understand, even though the woman is neither Spanish nor foreign to America --- she's deaf. As Henry's population has mushroomed, police and county officials decided it was time to train officers and county managers on how to communicate with the growing population that includes the hearing impaired. The effort resulted in the creation of the Henry County Interpretive Services Program. Launched May 24, the initiative provides four interpreters on demand for all types of situations involving the hearing impaired and county government - -- especially police. County leaders and advocates for the hearing impaired said they are unaware of a similar program in the state. "Some counties are unwilling to comply with ensuring effective communications with deaf or hearing impaired residents," said Jennifer Whitcomb, the director of Georgia Council for the Hearing Impaired. "Other counties do not know what to do, so the best solution is to ignore the reality of the need." Whitcomb praised Henry's effort and said she knows of no other program like it in the state. The effort got started at the urging of Henry Police Capt. Tim Hatch, who won support from the Henry County Commission. The commissioners recommended that Hatch involve supervisors from other departments. So Hatch, whose officers relayed the story of the deaf driver to commissioners, teamed up with Whitcomb. "The issue of providing services to the deaf and hard of hearing community are addressed in the federal statute of ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and has the potential of being felt in every community across the country," Hatch said. "We had no guide for this from the state level." Despite federal requirements for interpreters for the hearing impaired, no other governmental entity in the state has launched a similar program, Georgia Department of Human Resources officials said. "Any agency that can help accommodate the needs of people who are deaf or hard of hearing is providing a valuable service to the community," DHR spokesman Peter Lee said. "We hope others will follow (Henry's) lead." There are approximately 28,031 Georgians who are deaf and 328,935 who are hearing impaired, according to the Georgia Department of Human Resources. More than 118,000 hearing-impaired people live in the greater Atlanta area alone. Hatch, head of the uniform division for Henry police, has seen the need for interpreters increase yearly. He got involved in the issue at the urging of fellow church member Susan Holly, a local interpreter for 10 years. Both attend the Eagles Landing First Baptist Church, where nearly two-dozen deaf and hearing-impaired members worship. Hatch said when he learned someone had requested the services of an interpreter during a police stop, he realized that his department was not prepared. The absence of interpreters poses problems for police, because the Georgia Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf shows that many adult-aged members are drivers, Hatch said. Before Henry's program started, members of the deaf community were left to seek interpreters from DHR during regular business hours, Hatch said. Now, interpreters will be available around the clock. "It's (providing interpreters) required by law, and it's a necessary service," Holly said.

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