National Disability ID Improves Interaction with Law Enforcement, First Responders
“Nobody should have to worry about being gunned down by police, or attacked by security staff, just because there was a misunderstanding”, says Athena Stevens, a contributor at The Mighty. This worry extends to families and loved ones of persons living with invisible disabilities like Carissa Rupp, a mother of a daughter with autism. Rupp writes, “It’s becoming increasingly difficult to not worry about how my daughter would react to a police officer pointing a gun at her. The fact of the matter is, she will run.”
A study from the Ruderman Family Foundation shows that disabled individuals make up 33-50% of all people killed by law enforcement officers. This raises the issue of non-apparent, or hidden (invisible) disabilities in relation to a person’s contact with law enforcement. Many of these contacts can happen when the police respond to emergencies including a mental health crisis, or a routine inspection.
The following are some examples of how an invisible disability can be misunderstood:
- A person with diabetes may be mistaken for being under the influence.
- A person carrying medication could be suspected of illegal drug use.
- A person whose hearing is impaired or deaf may appear to be ignoring a law enforcer’s commands.
- A person with an intellectual or developmental disability may not process an officer’s commands and appear to be non-compliant.
- A person with autism may run from a police officer.
- A person with a sensory disorder may become violent if touched due to sensory defensiveness that provokes a “fight or flight” response.
Misunderstanding of invisible disabilities are not limited to major police encounters but also occur in everyday life. Some examples are getting accessible parking and other privileges for people with disabilities, seen or unseen. For those with non-apparent disabilities, the emotional pain of people questioning the legitimacy of an illness can hurt more than the medical condition itself.
The National Disability ID Initiative
The National Disability ID is an initiative by The Invisible Disabilities® Association for a person to voluntarily designate on a driver’s license or identification card, a discreet symbol that identifies a person with a medically verified cognitive, mental, neurological, or physical disability or combination. The goal of this initiative is to help alert law enforcement and first responders to a person’s non-apparent disability during a traffic stop, or other routine contact.
The symbol can also help the public to think beyond the wheelchair in identifying a person’s disability. Quick identification could help save someone’s life in many difficult situations. Alaska is the first state to have passed this much needed legislation and the Invisible Disabilities Association is currently working directly with legislators across the nation to advance this initiative.
The Alaska Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) also offers the following best practices for affected citizens to improve outcomes in interacting with law enforcement:
- If you are being pulled over, signal immediately to show the officer your intentions and pull over to the right as soon as it is safe to do so, even if you are in the left lane of a four-lane roadway.
- Try not to stop on a curve, just after the crest of a hill, next to a guardrail, or other location that would make the stop unsafe for you and the officer.
- The driver and all passengers should remain in the vehicle.
- When it’s dark outside, turn the interior lights on.
- Keep your hands visible, such as on the steering wheel.
- Wait for the officer to ask prior to retrieving any documents from your wallet, purse, center console or glove compartment.
- When the stop is complete, the officer will remain in place until you signal and safely reenter the lane of traffic unless they instruct you otherwise.
Another way that persons with invisible disabilities can help identify themselves and their medical condition is by wearing a medical ID bracelet or necklace. A medical ID for invisible disabilities is a form of custom engraved jewelry that contains the medical symbol also known as the staff of Asclepius to alert first responders of a medical condition. It’s an easy and effective way to communicate illness, visible or not, when a person can’t advocate for themselves, if they become unconscious, or unable to speak. 95% of emergency responders check for a form of medical identification around the wrist or the neck.
American Medical ID is the corporate approved provider of custom engraved medical ID jewelry for the Invisible Disabilities® Association. Together with IDA, they actively increase awareness on the importance of wearing a medical ID for those living with chronic medical conditions or drug/food/insect allergies.
“The value of having various methods of identifying invisible or any disabilities is immeasurable,” says Jess Stainbrook, Executive Director of the Invisible Disabilities® Association. “The more possible and proactive ways we can help provide positive interactions in any situation for people living with any disability is why we’re so passionate about creating numerous opportunities for ID’s.” Along with the official Government approved symbol on Driver’s Licenses that the National Disability ID is moving forward, the new medical bracelets are well-crafted and very decorative, so provide both purpose and beauty for anyone wearing this specialized jewelry.
How to support the National ID Initiative
The Invisible Disabilities® Association encourages the public to join hands in supporting the National ID Initiative. Here are ways that individuals can help:
- Contact your legislators and have them get in touch with IDA so they can pass legislation in your state.
- Help support the funding needed for lobbying efforts and creating the certification programming for law enforcement and first responders. You can donate here.
- Share this story on your Facebook page, Instagram story or Twitter feed and tell your friends and family to get involved
- Order “Invisible No More” wristbands to share with others to help raise awareness.