New IDs foster communication between drivers with disabilities, police
"My medical condition may impair my ability to communicate with others, especially with strangers or in stressful situations," reads the introduction on a new identification card designed to ease interactions between police and people with disabilities.
"Please do not interpret my behavior as refusal to cooperate," the card tells authorities as it seeks to explain what its owner may struggle to verbalize.
The card was introduced this year as part of a state law sponsored by state Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, an Oswego Democrat, and state Sen. Linda Holmes, an Aurora Democrat.
Called the "Person with a Disability Wallet Card," the new form of identification is available free from any secretary of state's driver services facility. After verification, the cards will be given to applicants 16 and older who have been diagnosed with an intellectual, developmental or mental disability such as autism, epilepsy, anxiety, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.
"This card will serve as a tool to foster communication between the public and our first responders," Kifowit said Monday during an event to promote the cards to disability service agencies in Aurora. "Hopefully it will de-escalate any stressful situation, it will help first responders do their jobs, and in essence it will keep our loved ones safe."
Lori Price of Aurora, president of the Indian Prairie Unit District 204 school board, brought the idea forward nearly two years ago.
Price said she was beginning to teach her now 19-year-old son, Colin, how to drive and was worried about how behaviors related to his autism could affect him if he were pulled over.
"I could see him and others like him, because of social deficits, becoming somewhat argumentative," Price said.
She said people with autism might become panicked, disoriented or anxious if stopped by police. This could cause them to become nonverbal or to appear angry or agitated.
Because the experience of being pulled over is not routine, Price said drivers with autism might not know how to act, and their reluctance could be misinterpreted, even by well-meaning or well-trained officers.
The card, which can be kept in a wallet with a driver's license or taped to a visible spot inside the car, will help officers understand what otherwise could be deemed unusual -- even suspicious -- characteristics and behaviors.
"This should be a great tool," Aurora police Lt. Mike Abbs said. "The more information we have on people's abilities and disabilities when we first encounter them, the better we can serve them."
The state has printed 100,000 Person with a Disability Wallet Cards, but Kifowit said officials do not have a count of how many have been handed out since they became available Jan. 2.
While driver's licenses already note on the back whether a person has a disability, the indication is small and not easily noticeable for busy police officers during traffic stops, Kifowit said.
The wallet cards aim to make the presence of a disability more apparent. They advise officers to speak slowly, repeat questions and allow time for responses. The cards give the carrier space to list a contact number for a person who can further explain their diagnosis and condition.
"We're just complementing existing law with the ability to get a wallet card," Kifowit said.