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Suffolk County police are trying to use digital conferencing technology to better communicate with those who are hard of hearing and speech impaired. 

“This announcement is about making our department more accessible and inclusive to the communities we serve,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said at a press conference July 31. “It is a top priority.” 

The department will be using the service, Language Line Insight Video Interpreting, which will allow officers to instantly connect with an interpreter who can assist in communicating with hard of hearing or speech impaired individuals in American Sign Language during a traffic stop, home visit or other emergency. 

“The days of having to wait for an interpreter to arrive on the scene and communicating through pen and paper — those days are over in Suffolk County,” Bellone said. Stu Cameron, chief of department, said this new addition will help close the loop in communications when officers are on the scene.  

Typically, if a deaf or hard of hearing person needs assistance, officers rely on pen and paper or they call a sign language interpreter to the scene or the local precinct. This can be a lengthy process and Cameron said he feels by adding this app to the officers’ tablets, they will be more effective in assisting those individuals.  

“Not only will our patrol cars have this capability, but our investigative units and detectives will have this as well,” he said. “ … We can get information very rapidly without having to go back and forth.”

Geraldine Hart, Suffolk police commissioner, said more than a year ago the department began outfitting vehicles with portal tablets to give officers immediate access to language access services. 

“There are millions of people who communicate in sign language, making it the fourth-most used language in the U.S.,” the police commissioner said. “While we teach our recruits basic sign language and ways to communicate with deaf or hard of hearing people — we want to do more.”

Similarly, last year the department launched a text 911 program in an effort to help those with hearing and/or speech impairments.

The implementation of the new tablets is part of a three-year capital project, officials said. Currently, the department is in the second year of the project and has 155 tablets installed in patrol cars. Cameron said he expects by the end of next year to have all patrol cars equipped with the devices and have more than 450 tablets in use.   

Members of the Northport-East Northport school board discuss creating an ASL course during an Oct. 8 meeting. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

The Northport-East Northport school board mulled adding American Sign Language to the district’s curriculum at a meeting on Thursday.

Currently no such course is offered in Northport-East Northport schools.

“ASL is something I find really interesting, and many other students do too,” Emily Faltings, a student at Northport High School, said. “I think it’s very important we involve it in our district. Why don’t we have it?”

Many audience members agreed that it’s important for the district to add a sign language course.

“It’s not just for special needs kids who have hearing loss,” Cathy Josephson, a Northport resident said. “It’s also for people who want to communicate with them.”

Josephson said she has brought the issue to the board’s attention for the last six years, and she hopes members actually follow through this time.

Matthew Nelson, assistant superintendent for instruction and administration, said the reason the course hasn’t been offered is because the district can never get enough students to fill a full class. Trustee Jennifer Thompson wondered if this was because students aren’t getting enough exposure to the different language choices at a young age.

“I don’t know if there is a chance for students to recognize what other languages they could take,” Thompson said. “Maybe there could be more of a discussion about what other languages students could take and are interested in.”

Board President Andrew Rapiejko said that it sounds like no one on the board is opposed to the idea, and that the real challenge is figuring out how to publicize the course.

Superintendent Robert Banzer wondered where school officials would begin.

“Do we start this at the high school level?” Banzer said. “What would be the entry point? These are questions we can definitely look into.” Banzer also said the district could look into offering an ASL course at the middle school instead.

Trustee Regina Pisacani said language teachers in the district inform potential students of their course. She said the teachers from the middle school visit fifth grade classes and give presentations to the students about the language classes they teach.

“I think a lot of the students’ choices are influenced by the exposure of the teachers coming into their classroom,” Pisacani said. She said she thought that would be a good approach in publicizing an ASL course.

Trustee Lori McCue said that maybe ASL could be added to the elementary schools’ after-school programs, and many audience members cheered for the idea.

“That’s an obvious solution,” Rachel Friedman, a Northport resident said. “This is not something that should wait until high school. I think the best suggestion is to start it as an after-school program and then they can make that choice to continue in seventh or eighth grade.”

The board agreed that it would look into these options. No other decisions were made.

Members of the Northport-East Northport school board discuss creating an ASL course during an Oct. 8 school board meeting. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

The Northport-East Northport school board mulled adding American Sign Language to the district’s curriculum at a meeting on Thursday.

Currently no such course is offered at Northport-East Northport.

“ASL is something I find really interesting, and many other students do too,” Emily Faltings, a student at Northport High School said. “I think it’s very important we involve it in our district. Why don’t we have it?”

Many audience members agreed that it’s important for the district to add a sign language course.

“It’s not just for special needs kids who have hearing loss,” Cathy Josephson, a Northport resident said. “It’s also for people who want to communicate with them.”

Josephson said that she has brought the issue to the board’s attention for the last six years, and that she hopes members actually follow through this time.

Matthew Nelson, assistant superintendent for instruction and administration, said the reason the course hasn’t been offered is because the district can never get enough students to fill a full class. Trustee Jennifer Thompson wondered if this was because students aren’t getting enough exposure to the different language choices at a young age.

“I don’t know if there is a chance for students to recognize what other languages they could take,” Thompson said. “Maybe there could be more of a discussion about what other languages students could take and are interested in.”

Board President Andrew Rapiejko said that it sounds like no one on the board is opposed the idea, and that the real challenge is figuring out how to publicize the course.

Superintendent Robert Banzer wondered where school officials would begin.

“Do we start this at the high school level?” Banzer said. “What would be the entry point? These are questions we can definitely look into.” Banzer also said the district could look into offering an ASL course at the middle school instead.

Trustee Regina Pisacani said language teachers in the district inform potential students of their course. She said the teachers from the middle school visit fifth grade classes and give presentations to the students about the language classes they teach.

“I think a lot of the students choices are influenced by the exposure of the teachers coming into their classroom,” Pisacani said. She said she thought that would be a good approach in publicizing an ASL course.

Trustee Lori McCue said that maybe ASL could be added to the elementary schools’ after-school programs, and many audience members cheered for the idea.

“That’s an obvious solution,” Rachel Friedman, a Northport resident said. “This is not something that should wait until high school. I think the best suggestion is to start it as an after-school program and then they can make that choice to continue in seventh or eighth grade.”

The board agreed that it would look into these options. No other decisions were made.

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