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DHSS Press Release

Dr. Kara Odom Walker, Secretary
Jill Fredel, Director of Communications
302-255-9047, Pager 302-357-7498

Date: February 22, 2017


WILMINGTON (Feb. 22, 2017) The Delaware Division for the Visually Impaired (DVI) partnered with the Wilmington Police Department earlier this month to provide visual impairment sensitivity training for almost 65 police officers at the Walnut Street precinct. With the success of the training, conducted by DVI certified orientation & mobility therapists Heather Dougherty and Maria Lepore-Stevens, additional training dates have been scheduled for March.

Dougherty and Lepore-Stevens designed the two days of interactive training to help officers understand the difference between individuals who are blind and legally blind; how to approach and assist people with visual impairments; and how to develop awareness of everyday barriers. One activity included blindfolding participants and providing them with a white cane and sighted guide before sending them to navigate the halls, stairs, and the outside front area of the Justice of the Peace Courthouse in Wilmington. The 64 officers who participated also listened to Patti Addison and Frederick Noesner, who have visual impairments, describe their experiences and challenges.

The idea for the training came from the parent of a teen with a visual impairment who was concerned about how her son might be perceived by police if he had an encounter. "Her son dresses like a teen and often uses a hood to reduce glare from the sun," Dougherty said. "He has limited peripheral vision. However, there really is no way to determine he has a visual impairment based on appearance alone, particularly because he doesn't wear glasses or use a cane."

Dougherty said the mother was concerned that her son might respond differently to police cues than people without a visual impairment. "She worried that this barrier could expose him to unwarranted issues with police," said Dougherty, who brought the concern to Wilmington Police Chief Bobby Cummings in January 2017 in order to discuss ways to help officers learn more about visual impairments. "The chief was highly receptive to the idea and we began to plan the training. Together, the chief and I agreed to bring in a variety of clients, pathologies, and ages, and to make the training as functional and hands-on as possible," she said.

Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) Secretary Dr. Kara Odom Walker said she appreciates the plans of the Division for the Visually Impaired to expand training to other precincts, as well as state and county police departments. "The police are a vital component of society who often must act quickly in critical situations," Secretary Walker said. "The more they understand the diversity of the people they serve, the better they can serve all of the people, especially when quick decisions are required. I thank the Wilmington Police for embracing this training and furthering their understanding of people with visual impairments."

DVI is a division of the Department of Health and Social Services. To learn more about DVI services including eligibility requirements or to schedule training for your organization, call 302-255-9800 or visit the DVI website.

NOTE TO MEDIA: Photos of the training are available to be downloaded from DHSS' flickr page:

The Division for the Visually Impaired is committed to providing educational, vocational, and technical support to empower and foster independence for Delawareans with visual impairments.

Delaware Health and Social Services is committed to improving the quality of the lives of Delaware's citizens by promoting health and well-being, fostering self-sufficiency, and protecting vulnerable populations.