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April 23, 2014


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NEW YORK – Academy Award winner Marlee Matlin is featured in a video released today that spotlights the sometimes tragic results of contacts between police and people who are deaf or hard of hearing. The “Know Your Rights” video is part of a new public education effort launched by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of the Deaf (HEARD) aimed at ensuring people who are deaf know their rights when interacting with law enforcement.

The campaign centerpiece is an 8-minute American Sign Language video specifically geared toward those who are deaf or hard of hearing. It stars Matlin, who is deaf, explaining step by step how deaf people can best be prepared if stopped by police, what to do if arrested, and actions to take if they feel their rights have been violated.

“Getting stopped by the police, even at a routine traffic stop, can be a scary experience. For those of us who are deaf or hard of hearing, it can be even scarier. When officers don’t realize we can’t hear them, it can lead to confusion or worse,” said Matlin. “As the wife of a law enforcement officer, as well as a deaf person, I know that police culture and deaf culture can be very different, and this video is here to bridge the gap.” 

There have been reports of deaf people being assaulted by officers for what has been described as a failure to comply with verbal commands, aggressive hand signaling or resisting arrest. Many deaf people use their hands to communicate, and police may perceive this action as a threat. Police also may assume someone can hear, when in fact the person can’t. One such case involves 64-year-old Pearl Pearson, who was pulled over by Oklahoma Highway Patrol in January and reportedly beaten by officers for disobeying orders he could not hear. His story is included on the campaign webpage in a video titled “Driving While Deaf.”

“This is a two-way street. Our video with Marlee Matlin helps people who are deaf understand police culture. But police also need to understand deaf culture so that people don’t get beaten up at a simple traffic stop,” said Susan Mizner, disability counsel for the ACLU. “The bottom line is that being deaf doesn’t mean you lose your civil liberties.”

In addition to the “Know Your Rights” video featuring Matlin, the campaign webpage includes a list of resources for law enforcement, a way to share a personal story, and an ACLU petition calling upon the Department of Justice to update guidance and training for law enforcement agencies on how to appropriately interact with those who are deaf or hard of hearing.

“Deaf people are at real risk when interacting with the police. Miscommunication can lead to confrontation. We are trying to stop that from happening,” said HEARD founder Talila Lewis.

Matlin won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in the 1986 film, Children of a Lesser God. Her numerous credits include recurring roles in film and television series, including The West Wing, The L Word, and Switched at Birth, currently airing on ABC Family.

The Matlin video is embeddable and easily shareable. Find it here:

The ACLU petition is here:

The ACLU press release is here: