Leaders respond to the hard of hearing

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New iPads allow the deaf community to contact 911

By Nancy Edwards

When an emergency occurs, such as a family member having a heart attack or an intruder entering the home, we automatically pick up the phone and call 911. People who are deaf or hard of hearing in our community have had to reply on a hearing family member or neighbor to make that call. That will be changing this month.

The Fishers Sertoma Club, the Fishers Fire and Police departments and George Martin, an active volunteer for the Town of Fishers who is deaf, have been responsible for the availability of iPads with a device that allows a deaf or hard of hearing person to connect with an interpreter; the interpreter, in return, contacts 911 to explain the emergency. The iPads are expected this month.

Martin, 46, clarified the need for these devices for other emergency/life-threatening situations as well, including domestic violence, if both parents to a hearing child are deaf or hard of hearing. The child, panicked and perhaps not old enough to fully understand the problem, would have to call 911 and explain from his or her point of view what happened when police arrive.

“On the spot, the emotional child has to express what she just saw,” Martin said. “It’s a really sticky situation.”

With the device, the interpreter is available immediately to communicate with police.

“Each parent would have a different point of view of what happened and what the issue was,” Martin said, thus providing the police a well-balanced story.

Martin’s wife, Kelly, added another vital example of how the ability for a deaf person to text 911 would help in reporting emergencies from the road, which is a long-term goal for the community. One day, Martin was driving as he noticed a car driving recklessly along the road. He alerted Kelly, who then called 911, only to be informed by the operator that emergency services could not respond to second-hand information. As a result, Martin followed the car all the way to Anderson to the driver’s home.

“I didn’t want (the driver) to hurt someone,” he said.

Martin, who also serves on the board for the ADA Task Force, first approached the local police department with the idea of providing communication devices—one inside the building’s entrance and another for a policeman on duty. Martin lobbied for the devices at a Town Council meeting, along with other members of the deaf and hard of hearing community. Hamilton County has a deaf and hard of hearing population of 6.1 percent, due in part to the nearby Indiana School for the Deaf.

“The deaf community fell in love with the area and stayed here, which has made the size of the community,” said Martin Wood, Sertoma Club member and owner of Zounds of Fishers, a hearing aid company.

The Fishers Sertoma Club also began raising funds for the availability of such devices.

Sertoma leaders work to improve quality of life and make a difference for those with hearing loss.

Martin continues to be involved with the Fishers community and providing ideas to the police and fire departments as a voice of the deaf community. He completed the Citizen’s Police Academy, a 12-week class for residents who learn about what police do on a typical day, with hands-on activities and learning from a classroom.

“I learned the ins and outs of police work, which was good for me, and I enjoyed it too,” he said. “I asked them about sirens (from emergency vehicles on the road); I can see the flashing lights but I have to be paying attention to what’s in front of me too. I can’t hear for an advanced notice.”

Martin learned that there is technology for a sonic boom that can be installed in emergency vehicles; the technology vibrates as the car drives, and deaf drivers can feel the vibrations.

“The fire department doesn’t have (the technology) yet, but Tony Elliot (Fishers Parks and Recreation Director) and Scott Fadness (Fishers Town Manager) have the funding so that they can add (the technology) when they order new vehicles.”

Martin and Kelly also credit Fadness and Elliot for their enthusiastic support for the deaf community.

“It’s exciting to approach the leaders (with ideas); the leaders listened,” Kelly said. “They have been so supportive of George and welcome him volunteering. They want to improve accessibility for all people. To have people like Scott and Tony, you’ve won the lottery because they get it.”

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