Michiganders with autism, hearing impairments can now opt to inform law enforcement of their communication needs

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click to enlarge Detroit police squad car. - Steve Neavling
Steve Neavling
Detroit police squad car.

Michigan police will now be able to identify people with deafness or autism before engaging during traffic stops, thanks to a new designation implemented by Michigan's Secretary of State earlier this week, the Associated Press reports.

Jocelyn Benson was joined by advocates and members of the deaf, deafblind, and autism communities this week during her rollout of a new communication tool that informs law enforcement when pulling up their information during traffic stops and other encounters in an effort to facilitate "effective communication" and "diminish anxiety surrounding these interactions."

"Alerting law enforcement to the needs of the citizens they interact with helps ensure the safety and comfort of everyone involved," Benson said during a stop in Mason, adding that this new designation will "open new doors of opportunity for all Michiganders."

People with autism or hearing and sight impairments may have a difficult time complying with orders, processing information, or staying calm when being approached by law enforcement, which often comes with flashing lights, abrasive sounds, and other triggering stimuli overload.

Xavier DeGroat, an autism activist who made history last fall when he became the White House's first-ever intern with autism and helped push the designation legislation forward, spoke alongside Benson on Monday and recalled a traffic stop in which he suffered a panic attack after an officer hurried him asking to show his documentation.

"With the sirens going off, I didn’t know how to react properly to the officer,” DeGroat said.

"I advocated and provided testimony for this bill because of my experience as someone with autism being pulled over by an officer, and having an anxiety attack because of it, and the officer did not know how to respond," he said. "That's why I advocated for it and I'm happy to see these bills are taking effect.

There is no additional cost to receive the designation, but individuals must apply by submitting a communication impediment designation form by mail, email, fax, or when visiting a branch in person.

However, those interested must first receive a formal certification from a healthcare professional including licensed physicians, physical therapists, physician assistants, or certified nurse practitioners in order to become eligible. Legislation is currently pending to add other specialists to the list, such as audiologists, speech-language pathologists, and psychologists.

Statistical findings in 2020 revealed that more than a third of all use-of-force incidents at the hands of police involve people with physical and developmental disabilities or impairments. Americans with disabilities are also three times as likely to become victims of violent crimes than their peers.

To learn more about how to apply for this designation, see Michigan.gov.

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