New proposed bill aims to help Ohioans with disabilities communicate with police

Posted at 7:21 PM, Apr 03, 2017

An Ohio man was charged with OVI after failing a sobriety test. The catch? He wasn't drunk, he's autistic - and he's not the only example of this confusion.

Now, there's a proposal to create a registry aimed at helping police communicate when people have disabilities.

On a dark February night, snow packed roads sent Nathan Morgan's car sliding off the road. "My heart was pounding," said Morgan.

Officers rushed to his aid but Morgan  who is on the Autism spectrum says instead of a feeling of relief, he was overcome with panic. "I just felt very overwhelmed, the banging on the window, lights blaring," said Morgan.

He says those sounds act as triggers for someone with sensory processing issues. "[They] asked if I had anything to drink and I was getting more and more disoriented," said Morgan.

Morgan said he was eventually able to reach his mother who helped him communicate with officers. However, now two Ohio lawmakers have come up with a policy to address these types of incidents. Their proposed bill would create a voluntary registry through the BMV, which would alert officers of a driver's disability.

"What is difficult for law enforcement or for other members of the community is that a person with autism presents as an individual," said Milestones Autism Resources Executive Director, Ilana Hoffer Skoff. She believes such a program would prevent body language from getting lost in translation. "The law enforcement individual may come over and want to be helpful but the person with autism may interpret that as being aggressive," explained Hoffer Skoff.

Morgan added, it goes both ways. "I could've looked drunk, I could've looked high, I really could've looked like a potential danger," said Morgan.

But Morgan also believes the bill raises some privacy risks that aren't addressed. "If I for instance were to sign up for the registry, I wouldn't want my information to accidentally be leaked or shared with the public," said Morgan. He also adds further training for officers would compliment the policy.