Interviewing a Person With Special Needs

Police officers often encounter citizens with special needs, such as sight, hearing, or mobility problems. These tips will help you conduct an interview efficiently and effectively.

1. Use your voice appropriately. Many people unthinkingly start shouting when they talk to a person in a wheelchair or someone who can’t see. Talk normally. (The same principle applies when you’re talking to someone who doesn’t know much English. Shouting won’t help!)

2. Maintain eye contact. Sit down if the citizen is lying in bed or sitting in a wheelchair. Direct your questions to the person you’re interviewing, not to a family member or caregiver (unless you’re requested to do so).

3. Be respectful. Don’t pet or play with a service animal. Get permission before you move or adjust a wheelchair. Don’t bump into a patient’s bed or sit on it. Listen patiently to citizens with speech impairments: Don’t coach them or finish their words or sentences for them. A blind person will appreciate knowing who else is present during an interview.

4. Offer help when needed (but ask first). A blind person may appreciate being gently steered by the elbow. Some persons who are hard of hearing can lip read if the light is good and you’re directly in their line of vision. Ask how you can facilitate the interview, and follow through when the citizen makes an appropriate suggestion or request.

5. Acknowledge the person’s intelligence. It’s all too easy to patronize or insult a person who has a disability. Use the same vocabulary and sentence structure you would bring to any interview. For example, it is all right to use words like “see” and “walk” in a conversation with a blind person or someone sitting in a wheelchair.

6. Don’t jump to conclusions about a mental or physical abilities, especially when you’re dealing with a child or a senior citizen. A person of almost any age–young or old–may have useful information for you.

7. Arrange to have an adult present when you interview a child. If privacy is needed, have the adult near enough to be seen by the child–or delay the interview until you can locate an adult the child can trust.

8. Be cautious when you’re talking to a third person–an EMT, chaplain, nurse, firefighter, or another officer. Avoid insensitive joking or slurs that a citizen might overhear. In a hospital room, remember that a patient who seems unconscious may still hear what you’re saying.

These simple tips showcase your professionalism, building confidence in you and your agency. Review and practice them until they become second nature: They will serve you well throughout your law enforcement career.

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