When the employment environment shrivels into a withering blistering of mind and home and family, Deaf individuals often have a harder time than their able-bodied counterparts in trying to find meaningful work.  The trick is to exploit the specific skill sets a Deaf person has that can triumph over their Hearing workplace competition.  In Oaxaca, Mexico the answer has been found — and the solution is both cleansing and clarifying.

OAXACA, Mexico – The 230 surveillance cameras that monitor the streets of the historic downtown area of Oaxaca – a southeastern city that was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 – are watched by deaf police officers who maintain a close eye.

The Oaxaca Police’s Command and Communication Control Center (C4) was reopened in May after chronic maintenance problems had kept it closed for six years. But since the surveillance cameras do not have microphones, the authorities had been unable to determine what was being said by suspected criminals.

So officials turned to State Association for the Deaf to provide personnel with a keen sense of sight and ability to read lips, said Ignacio Villalobos Carranza, deputy secretary for Information and Institutional Development at the Public Safety Secretariat of Oaxaca.

What a genius idea!

It is truly smart thinking to use security monitors — with no sound — and use Deaf individuals as security guards to closely watch those screens for criminal events and for causes of concern, and then report whenever they see suspicious behavior.

Being Deaf clearly has psychological and quantifiable advantages in this security realm:

The deaf officers, nicknamed the “Angels of Silence,” are considered an asset because of their ability to read lips, to detect visual cues that might suggest nervousness or suspicious activity, and to pay attention to the visual periphery as they stare at a wall of monitors displaying different camera feeds. …

In a 2010 paper called “Neural reorganization following sensory loss: the opportunity of change,” two Harvard Medical School researchers reviewed the leading studies in this area and found that deaf people often outperform people with normal hearing in control experiments that measure skills like the ability to identify facial expressions and pay attention to the visual periphery. While researchers have not found evidence that the visual cortical areas of the brain actually expand in response to deafness, fMRI studies have revealed instances of what’s called “crossmodal recruitment”—basically when areas of the brain that used to service the diminished sense are co-opted to provide extra processing power for the senses that remain.

While I love the idea of the Deaf being gainfully employed by watching us — I am slightly chilled by this Panopticonic Carceral Nation our world is slowly becoming — where every moment is registered and every nervous tick is noted for future reference.

Being silently watched by cameras being watched by silent sentinels is certainly an eerie feeling, angels or not, and one wonders what will happen to us when every wild sound and specific street utterance are ultimately recorded and transcribed and saved in our personality file — to be recalled and used against us in a never ending court of law. We will forever and always be on trial every mark of our lives. Any little misstep, and we’ll be automatically arrested, bonded, and robo-remanded in a daily cycle that will always keep us without ever quite letting us go.


    1. The great value in these cameras is not so much who is watching, but what is being recorded for later recall in the event something bad happens. Instant Replay for our real lives!

  1. I wonder how long it will be before other municipalities catch on to this idea. It’s a winner!

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