New safety program allows Ohioans to inform police of communication disabilities

A police cruiser. Photo from the Village of New Concord website.

The program allowing Ohioans to identify as having a communication disability, for the purpose of informing law enforcement, is now in place.

Residents with a diagnosed communications disability can voluntarily be added to the database. The hope is that officers can learn about someone’s disability prior to making contact, which the program’s website states will allow them to “approach the vehicle with awareness to reduce any potential misunderstandings or problems.” Officers can access the database via a normal search of the Law Enforcement Agencies Data System (LEADS). 

The program is available both for drivers with disabilities and those who are regular passengers. 

State Sen. Theresa Gavarone, R-Bowling Green

The program, championed by advocacy groups and law enforcement agencies, stems from a bill passed by legislators and signed into law by then-Gov. John Kasich in 2018. State Reps. Scott Wiggam, R-Wooster, and Theresa Gavarone, R-Bowling Green, introduced the bill after having heard from constituents who have children with disabilities. The parents spoke of fears about their children potentially not responding well to a stressful situation such as being pulled over. (Gavarone is now in the Ohio Senate.)

The proposed program quickly received support from the Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD) office, as well as the Ohio Association for the Deaf, the State Highway Patrol and many others. Kevin Miller, the OOD director, noted that while officers would be flagged for a communication disability, the exact disability would remain private to help protect an individual’s privacy.

State Rep. Scott Wiggam, R-Wooster

Gov. Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted also offered praise, with the governor saying in a statement the program reflects a commitment to making Ohio a “Disability Inclusion State.”

Tom Stickrath, director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety, said the improved communication “creates trust, community stability and officer safety.”

Those interested in being added to the database can download a verification form on the program website. Completed forms should be submitted to a BMV office or emailed to [email protected]

An instructional video is also available on the above website, or Ohioans can call 614-438-1203 for more information.