Guest Column From State Representative Terry Johnson
Helping Law Enforcement to Better Serve Disabled Ohioans
May 10, 2017
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Every once in a while, there comes along a piece of legislation at the Ohio Statehouse that quite simply put is a “no brainer.” Such is the case with a recently introduced piece of legislation, House Bill 115, which aids police in better assisting Ohioans who have a communication disorder.

In a society that stresses the inclusion of individuals with disabilities, it is important that our law enforcement personnel are equipped with the knowledge and information necessary to best serve and protect these Ohioans. For those with communications disorders such as autism, conversing and interacting with others can sometimes appear inhibited. With that in mind, it is important for police officers to have as much information as possible about individuals who could respond to their commands differently than others.

As it’s proposed, House Bill 115 would create a voluntary database of individuals with a communication disability to be utilized by law enforcement. Administered by the Ohio Department of Public Safety, the database would be available to law enforcement officers through the Law Enforcement Automated Data System (LEADS), a system that officers often consult prior to approaching a car that they have pulled over.

After running a vehicle’s registration information through LEADS, the database will notify the officer so they know what disability the driver may have and that their response to the officer may reflect such a disability. This will help improve communication between the officer and the individual, preventing possible misunderstandings and improving the safety and security of both parties in such situations.

It is important to note that this database is intended to be a “no labels initiative” and enrollment into the system is completely voluntary. House Bill 115 strives to remove the stigma behind being labeled as a person with a disability by keeping the information private, rather than having a visible marker on the license plate or driver’s license.

The ultimate goal of this legislation is to enhance the working knowledge of our law enforcement officers while giving those with a communication disability an equal opportunity to be fairly heard and understood. The database would be available to those with autism, a hearing disability, or another communication disability, and individuals can voluntarily enroll with the submission of a verification form and certification by a physician.

House Bill 115 is a common-sense measure that makes our officers better prepared to address certain situations while taking steps to end the stigma associated with communication disabilities. Being pulled over can be stressful enough, but this bill can eliminate some of that stress for Ohio’s disabled population.

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