DOJ settles with SC police department in accessibility suit

Placing handcuffs in front to allow a detainee to sign or write
Handcuffing in front will allow a detainee to sign or write

The police department of South Carolina’s largest city announced a comprehensive settlement with the Department of Justice on May 3, to ensure effective communication with people who are deaf and hard of hearing in law enforcement matters.

“Our first responders play a critical role in protecting the safety of our communities, and we must ensure they can communicate effectively with all people, including those with hearing disabilities,” said Vanita Gupta, head of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, in a news release. “This settlement will ensure that the Columbia Police Department complies with federal law, protects the civil rights of all its residents and more effectively advances public safety.”

Police departments, like other state and municipal governmental entities, are governed by Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which mandates that they ensure their communications with people with disabilities are “as effective as” with their peers.

To that effect, the settlement mandates that the Columbia Police Department provide sign language interpreters or other auxiliary aids, at no cost, to people who are deaf or hard of hearing. The Department agreed to make it standard policy to handcuff people with hearing disabilities in front of their bodies, to allow them to communicate via  sign language or in writing.

Each police precinct must be equipped with teletypewriters and video phones. Moreover, the Department must designate an ADA coordinator, develop and design a communication card for routine interactions in the field, develop a communication assessment form, and create and publish new grievance procedures, according to the news release.

The full settlement can be read here.