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Police Hope Id's Help in Dealing With The Blind

Editor's Note: The following article is reprinted with permission from the Austin American Statesman, November 6, 2002.

The confidence level was never 100 percent.

But Teresa Wiggins always trusted that when people told her they were police officers, they weren't faking it.

Now, the receptionist at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired will have an extra layer of confidence. Austin's 1,200 police officers recently were issued cards with braille writing identifying them as members of the Police Department and listing their ranks and names.

"It makes me feel more secure," said Wiggins, who regularly encounters officers at work and once had to interact with police after her home was burglarized.

"I've had people tell me they are police officers, but how am I supposed to believe them?"

The cards, which are embossed on the backs of officers' photo identifications, became part of officers' uniforms after a request from the newly created Austin police monitor's office.

Last month, the City of Austin settled a lawsuit filed against the Police Department by a blind and deaf man who said the city failed to accommodate his condition when he was arrested at the Catfish Parlour on U.S. 183 earlier this year.

As part of the agreement, the city agreed to pay the man $10,000 and to better train officers how to work with blind and deaf people.

Police officials said development of the cards, which cost less than 50 cents each, already was under way before the suit was filed.

"It will give the visually impaired community a little more confidence that the person they are dealing with is indeed an Austin police officer," said Sgt. Donald Baker, who works in the advanced officer training unit and led the effort to issue the cards.

Although no one in the blind community has complained about police imposters, Baker said, the potential has long existed for a visually impaired person to be taken advantage of. The braille cards will decrease that possibility, he said.

Baker said that although only sworn officers have the cards now, all police officials who interact with the public will probably get them in coming months.

Ann Foxworth, secretary for the local chapter of the Austin Council of the Blind, praised the department's sensitivity.

"Frankly, we don't have a clue if someone is telling us that they are a police officer that they really are," Foxworth said. "It's a really good idea."