The information would be available only to officers recalling information from a driver's license or license plate, and officers wouldn't know details about the disability besides that fact it could influence communication.
“We’re trying to close the communication gap between people who voluntarily go through this initiative with a communication disability and law enforcement officers," said Rep. Scott Wiggam, a Wooster Republican who is co-sponsoring the bill.
House Bill 115 was prompted by recent Ohio incidents where drivers with autism were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. The drivers failed field sobriety tests but blood and urine tests came back negative.
How it would work
Individuals who want to participate would fill out a one-page form available at a Bureau of Motor Vehicles deputy registrar's office or online.
A physician would have to sign off on the form confirming the individual has a communication disability, which is defined as impairment in the ability to receive, send, process or comprehend concepts or verbal and nonverbal communication.
That information would be indicated on the record of the driver or associated license plate in the state Law Enforcement Automated Data System or LEADS. The disability would not be listed on the driver's license card or automobile license plate.
Law enforcement officials would see that someone has a communication disability when searching LEADS for a license plate or driver's license.
Wiggam said the registry would cost little to set up because the BMV already administers similar databases.
Wiggam said the registry was proposed by parents worried their children could end up in similar situations.
But there's disagreement among disabled Ohioans about the idea, said Kevin Truitt, an attorney for Disability Rights Ohio. He said individuals are less supportive of making their disabilities known through a database than parents and family members who might be concerned about their safety.
Truitt said comprehensive training is needed to make sure officers can handle the situation properly.
“Training is the most important thing and just having a database, assuming it’s a good idea, is not necessarily going to prevent miscommunication or tragedies,” he said.
The bill has the support of some law enforcement groups, including the Buckeye Sheriffs Association.
Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn said the registry would be helpful. He said road patrol and jail deputies receive crisis intervention training to deescalate interactions with people dealing with mental illness. He said those concepts translate to other stressful situations.
“Knowledge is power and if we make a stop and someone has a disability, it makes it easier for us if we know that as soon as possible,” Wasylyshyn said.
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