COUNTERPOINT | A label will not assist the disabled | Opinion

Patricia Yeager

Patricia Yeager

Recently, the Colorado General Assembly introduced the Disability Symbol Identification Bill (HB21-1014). The bill adds an option for a person with a disability to require the Treasury Department to place a “disability identification symbol” on their state driver’s license or ID card. Proponents of this law believe that this symbol will cause police officers to slow down and request information from the person when they act strangely or cannot react when run over or stopped. However, this legislation is fraught with problems and takes the wrong approach to assist law enforcement in dealing with people with disabilities.

Also read: POINT | Make “invisible” obstacles visible to police officers

Out of context symbols have little to no meaning and can be confusing. For example, a chilli pepper next to a menu item doesn’t give any real information about how spicy the meal is. To really understand what the food tastes like, a conversation with the server is required.

Now imagine trying to convey complex information about disabilities through a simple icon with no additional context. The proposed disability symbol only alerts law enforcement agencies that a person has a disability and must “handle it carefully”. It cannot convey nuances, e.g. B. whether this person needs a licensed professional or whether they can function without additional support. More importantly, there is no indication of the steps that need to be taken to ensure law enforcement and the safety of the individual.

This bill also invites potential disability discrimination. We use our driver’s license when we write company checks, when we open a checking account or take out a loan, get on a plane, or buy alcohol, to name a few examples. It would be easy for a person checking the ID to ask questions about whether that person should do any of these things.

In addition, the invoice does not require proof of disability. This could lead to misuse of the symbol if people without disabilities believe that the symbol gives them additional privileges or special treatment. In addition, the discussion about entitlement to disability benefits is expanded to include a further level of complexity. Without documentation, the symbol could add more confusion to complicated conversations about public order.

For decades, the disabled community has worked to empower members to speak on their own behalf. They have provided platforms and support so that individuals can reveal their disability when and where they want. HB21-1014 takes away the right. It reduces people with disabilities to a label rather than recognizing them as unique people with different backgrounds and needs.

A symbol cannot de-escalate a tense situation. It cannot provide context or promote understanding. Only people who have real conversations can do that. We need a better approach of educating people with disabilities and law enforcement agencies about strategies that will lead to better results. While peace officers receive basic disability awareness training at the academy, it is not enough to provide a real understanding of the variety of disabilities they may encounter. We owe it to law enforcement agencies to provide them with the extra training and tools they need to get their jobs done while protecting themselves and the citizens. And we owe it to people with disabilities to respect their rights and privacy instead of reducing them to faceless labels.

We respectfully ask Colorado officials to reject this ineffective and discriminatory bill. Instead, we urge members of the General Assembly to use the funds allocated in this bill (US $ 83,000) to take concrete action that will drive real change, including education, training and dialogue between law enforcement and the disability community.

Patricia Yeager, Ph.D., is the executive director of the Independence Center in Colorado Springs, the local home of civil rights for people with disabilities.

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