PARAMUS, N.J. – When Jonathan Uloa, a deaf student at Bergen Community College, rolled up in the parking lot nearest Ender Hall late Friday morning and saw the flashing lights on Sgt. Christopher Sloma’s police vehicle, he stopped and turned off his engine.
When Sloma asked him for his license and registration, Uloa communicated to him that he was deaf, at which point Sloma walked to his police car and returned to Uloa with a colorfully illustrated card. By way of pointing at pictures and words, Sloma thoroughly communicate to the driver that he had not observed the stop sign.
The motor vehicle stop was a demonstration, which was watched by a couple dozen people on the chilly late morning of November 8, when members of the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office and members of Bergen Community College’s Office of Specialized Services, which assists close to 1,300 students with disabilities each year, unveiled the card the entities created so that communication challenges never exist between law enforcement officers and members of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community again.
“Put simply, this card attempts to solve a very simple, but age-old problem, and that is how law enforcement officers effectively communicate with someone who is deaf and hard of hearing,” said Bergen Community College President Dr. Michael D. Redman. “Even with the best of training, few law enforcement officers have the skills in American sign language to make it possible for them to interact seamlessly with the deaf and hard of hearing people. With this card, the officers and those hard of hearing can communicate better with each other using pictures and words.”
The card will be distributed at the college among students and among 52 police officers and placed in 70 departmental vehicles. It will also be handed out at social service, governmental and public agencies.
“This communication card offers a great deal of assistance for the officer and the driver alike,” said Jennifer Flynn, a member of the Office of Specialized Services who helped create it with Sgt. Sloma and her colleagues, Maria Bohn and Kevin Bonomolo.
“This card will help to keep officers safe and in legal compliance with communication needs until an Interpreter can arrive on the scene.”
Flynn said that increasing concern over active shooters in headlines and Sgt. Sloma’s uncertainty about how to communicate with a deaf student in an emergency situation prompted dialogue between her colleagues, Kevin Bonomolo and Maria Bohn and deaf students about what they wish police officers knew about their culture. Countless weekends ensued between students and officers who spent time on how to work together effectively and keep all parties safe in such situations.
“Through research, Kevin and Maria learned that many other states had a similar cards in use and that Bergen County was lacking in certain resources,” said Flynn. “This card has modifications made to best meet the needs of New Jersey driving laws.”
This collaboration is one of many benefits the college has reaped from its decade-long partnership with the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office to bring law enforcement to the campus.
“We have created a remarkably safe campus here at Bergen Community College where students can go back and forth to class without being unduly concerned about their safety,” said Redman, who will retire at year’s end. “This is a really large college. We are essentially a small city, so the safety record stands as a testament to the good job that’s being done on campus.”