Jess Stainbrook

Jess Stainbrook

A man in Denver was driving his car and was pulled over.  When the officer contacted him, his speech was slurred, and his hands were unsteady. Suspecting the driver may be intoxicated, the officer asked the man to exit the vehicle. The man had an unsteady gait and could not keep his balance. There was no alcohol in his system when he took a breathalyzer test, but he was arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs.

The man has cerebral palsy. 

Also read: COUNTERPOINT | A label won't help the disabled

What if there was something that discreetly gave the officer information about this man’s disability that would de-escalate this tense situation before it even started?  That’s what Colorado HB21-1014 is all about! 

Ali Thompson

Ali Thompson

Eighty percent of people with disabilities have an “invisible” disability, one that cannot be readily seen because of using a visible assistive device such as a wheelchair, hearing aid, or other device. Invisible disabilities include MS, epilepsy, diabetes, deaf or hard-of-hearing, autism, and other conditions that people are living with every day. In Colorado, the number of people living with invisible disabilities could fill Mile High Stadium almost 15 times! 

Colorado’s House Bill 21-1014 is called the Disability ID Symbol and offers three main things:

  • The voluntary option to have a designated disability symbol on a driver’s license or government ID.
  • The voluntary option to have information about a regular driver or passengers’ disability in a database that is available for law enforcement when they query your vehicle’s license plate.  
  • Required training for law enforcement on the symbol.

This bill is important because it provides for an approved government ID that can be used in various situations to help people who are living with disabilities. Our goal is to make invisible disabilities VISIBLE for those who may want or need additional identification help, like in the case of Karen Garner in Loveland who has dementia. This is why the Invisible Disabilities® Association has initiated this bill in Colorado and other states. If the man in our real example had the notation in the database attached to his vehicle registration, the officer could know that the driver may have a disability before he even approached the car, and he would have then had an explanation, other than intoxication, for the signs he was seeing. If this man had a discreet symbol on his driver’s license, perhaps the entire interaction may have gone differently.

Another goal of this bill is to help support our first responders by giving them additional tools to help identify people with invisible disabilities. Law Enforcement officers strive to help their citizens and having the ability to recognize and explain why an encounter is not going the way they expected can help both law enforcement and the person with disabilities. 

The ability to include information about passengers’ disabilities in the vehicle registration field gives parents of children with disabilities, peace of mind.  If I become incapacitated in an accident, upon running my license plate, the officers will have the information that my child has autism and is non-verbal and can get them any help they need. 

The ID symbol is completely voluntary.  Some say that this symbol could be used to discriminate, but think about all the people who are currently being discriminated against because they don’t have this ID available. This bill helps people with invisible disabilities to get assistance they need and gives law enforcement another tool to be able to help the citizens of Colorado. This will change lives.

Jess Stainbrook is the executive director of the Invisible Disabilities® Association. Ali Thompson is a 20-year law enforcement officer and the mother of two children with special needs.

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