Disability and Law Enforcement Agents
Persons with disabilities are part of the society that Law Enforcement Agents come in contact with while discharging their duties. The Discrimination Against Persons with Disability ( Prohibition) Act, 2018, provides for the full integration of Persons with disabilities into the society.
It states in Section 30, that, Persons with disabilities shall be encouraged to fully participate in Politics and Public life without discrimination.
What is Disability?
The Act defines disability to include, long term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairment which in interaction with various barriers may hinder the full and effective participation in society on equal basis with others. The Police is expected to render the same services it gives to the general public, to persons with disabilities.
The Act states the penalty for discriminating against a person on the ground of his/her disability; for individual, the penalty is One Hundred Thousand Naira, while for institution, it is One Million Naira, including a Civil Action.
Who are Law Enforcement Agents?
They are as follows:
- Nigeria Police Force
- Federal Road Safety crops
- Nigerian Correctional Service
- National Security Organisation ( State Security Service)
- National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking on Persons etc.
We take the Police as a good example of a Law Enforcement Agent in Nigeria. Section 4 of the Nigerian Police Act, 1943, mandates the Police to carry out the following duties:
- Prevention and detection of crime
- Apprehension of offenders
- Preservation of law and order
- The protection of life and property
- Enforcement of all laws and regulations with which they are directly charged
- And shall perform all such military duties within or outside Nigeria as maybe required of them by, or under the authority of this or any other Act.
In carrying out these duties, the Police come directly in contact with the public, which includes persons with disabilities. This write-up will focus on one clutter of Persons with disabilities; the Deaf/hard of hearing or hearing impaired.
This group of disabled persons are the most misunderstood persons, due to communication barriers. They constitute 23.7% of the Nigeria population, (Treat,20, Google).
This Article is on how the Police and other Law Enforcement Agents can communicate when carrying out their duties, where any of the parties involved in a matter is deaf/hard of hearing. The Police should not refuse to listen to them and act accordingly. This is to ensure fair hearing for all the parties involved.
The first step is to ascertain and recognize that the person is deaf/hard of hearing and not pretending, ignoring the Police or been rude.
Having found out that the person is deaf, the Police should find out whether the Deaf can lip-read or get a Sign language interpreter where the deaf person is educated, they can communicate via writing.
The ability of a hard of hearing person to lip-read may be hindered when:
- there is more than one speaker ( e.g., group settings or conversations)
- the speaker is not directly in front of the lip-reader.
- the speaker is in motion or not directly facing the lip-reader
- the lips are obscured by hands, beards, or mustaches.
- the speaker does not articulate carefully or has distorted speech.
- the speaker has a regional or foreign accent
- the speaker is using technical or unfamiliar words
- the lip-reader is not familiar with the grammar or vocabulary of spoken English
- the speaker is not well lighted
- the lip-reader has poor vision.*
Lip-reading often supplements other modes of communication, but it is seldom sufficient by itself to ensure effective communication.
Deaf and hard of hearing person do not rely extensively on lip-reading for communication unless they indicate such a preference. In those situations, the following guidelines will help them understand more easily:
- Speak directly to the person without moving around, turning away or looking down at papers or books.
- Use gestures freely, for example, pointing at a wristwatch to indicate time.
- Speak naturally at a normal rate of speed without shouting or distorting normal month movements.
- If you have not been understood, repeat the utterance more slowly. If this is not successful, try using different words.
Sign Language Interpreters
To ensure deaf people receive fair treatment, most Police Station should have a Sign language interpreter. A Sign language interpreter is someone who can translate the meaning of spoken words into a signed language, and can translate the signed language into English.
A Sign language interpreter is said to be ‘qualified’ if the interpreter and the deaf or hard of hearing persons involved are able to understand each other and whether the interpreter is able to interprete effectively, accurately, and impartially for them.
Where the deaf person does not understand properly the interpreter provided by the Police, it is best for him/her to get an interpreter of their own choice, that they understands. The Police should have a list of interpreters preapproved by the deaf community as excellent.
Locating A Sign Language Interpreter
A Sign language interpreter can be found by contacting the State Deaf Association. Most States in Nigeria have a Deaf Association. They are in the best position to find a suitable interpreter for a deaf or hard of hearing person. Also, a school for the Deaf will have good interpreters.
Interpreter service starts at the time of arrest and continue until the case is discharged. The interpreter and the deaf person should be videotaped and audiotaped. This is to ensure the deaf person understood what transpired during interrogation and that there is a complete record of the process.
Do not use family members or children as interpreters because they may lack the vocabulary or the impartiality needed to interpret effectively.
The hazards of using unqualified interpreters is that, what is said will not be what is communicated leading to misunderstanding and so miscarriage of justice. The importance of getting an interpreter that understands a deaf person cannot be overemphasized.
Deaf Person And Correctional Centres
Where a deaf person is in a Correctional Centre, he/she should not be denied basic due process rights and access to rehabilitation programs simply because prison staffs cannot communicate with them. Staffs should volunteer to learn the sign language or get a sign language Interpreter.
Deaf person in Correctional Centres should not be excluded or segregated from services, or otherwise be treated differently than other people.
All Deaf prisoners can be accommodated in a particular Correctional Centre to reduce the number of interpreters needed nationally, and so, reduce cost.
In addition to all discussed above, I recommend sensibility training of the Police to understand the needs of deaf people and how to get communicate help. Such training should be periodically renewed as there is staff turnover and people forget.
There is need for the Police to be patient to hear them out. They should not be looked down on or disrespected. But rather be accorded audience, after all, Police is their friend. By so doing, the Police will hear the truth of the matter.
To get the attention of a hearing impaired person, use your hand to gently tap on their shoulders. Where they are not close to you, use a touch light, wave it in their direction. Don’t shout!.
In conclusion, the Police need to know that there are deaf people in the society, they should not assume that a person is ignoring them when he/she does not respond to their calls or inquiries.
Where a deaf or hard of hearing person is a suspect, witness or defendant, there is need for effective and accurate communication during police interrogation or Court hearing, as a minor misinterpretation can have very serious consequences.
*National Association of the Deaf, Legal Rights: The Guide For Deaf and Hard of Hearing People, 6th Edition, Gallaudet University Press, 2015.
DUMI PROSPHEN OKIEMUTE, is a hearing impaired Lawyer, and a member of the Media and Publication Committee of the Association of Lawyers with Disabilities in Nigeria, (ALDIN). She is a Second Class, Upper Division graduate of both the University of Ibadan and Law School, (Lagos Campus). She now practices as a Solicitor in Ibadan.