New law aims to help police interact with people with communication disabilities

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A bill helping people with communication disabilities and law enforcement interact was signed into law by Governor Kasich on Wednesday. 

It’s a voluntary program that will equip officers with information through LEADS (Law Enforcement Agencies Data System) about a person’s communication disability during a traffic stop. 

“We’ve seen way too many instances across the country where we’ve had individuals with autism arrested for DUI because they don’t make eye contact, some of their answers are very short,” said Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD) director Kevin Miller. “It’s just a miscommunication.”

Two years ago, Chris Page was one of those people who was arrested for drunk driving, even though he was not under the influence. He’s on the autism spectrum and his charges were eventually dismissed. 

But, ever since then, he and his family have been fighting for change and understanding. 

“(For) Chris, it’s nice that his experience is now being turned into a positive,” said his mother Diane Page. 

She said the law has been long overdue. 

“It just blew me away that because he didn’t make eye contact that was one of the biggest triggers,” said Diane. “They thought he was under the influence.”

She said the police dash-cam video from her son’s arrest is now being used to help train police officers on how to interact with people who have communication disabilities. 

“The police officers even said they had no reservation wanting this to be a law because the more knowledge they have, the better equipped they are to handle individuals and understand,” said Diane. 

She hopes that eventually the law can expand to include other interactions with law enforcement outside of traffic stops. 

On Wednesday, she said they were excited to see House Bill 115 signed into law. 

“If they cannot speak clearly or have an issue when they get stopped and have problems with it, helps them be understood,” said Chris. “I want to be treated normally.”

Director Miller said they’ve been working on this legislation for four years. 

His son, Connor Miller, is also on the autism spectrum. Like the Page family, he said he hopes the law helps bring awareness. 

“Some of my mannerisms can be kind of a little different that the officer might be like, ‘Why are you doing this?’ I don’t want to make them to feel threatened or anything,” said Connor. “Even thought I may have a disability, it’s not inability.” 

Director Miller said the law is for anyone who has a communication disability, like deafness, autism or cerebral palsy. He said the bill had unanimous support at the Statehouse, with law enforcement and advocacy groups. 

“Law enforcement has said, anything that helps them with information the better,” he said. “Non-eye contact or not being able to talk in complete sentences or do field sobriety tests doesn’t mean the individual’s inebriated, but it might mean the individual has an inability to communicate effectively.”

OOD said it hopes to have the program ready for people to enroll into by early fall. It will also be working with advocacy groups this summer to organize police training. 

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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