OH bill to shrink information gap between police and people with communication disabilities

WOOD COUNTY, Oh (WTVG) - Jenny Hughes is a mom of two. She never thought her idea would take off as quickly as it did, but now, it's close to becoming official in Ohio.

"It's very exciting," she said.

Both of her adult sons have autism. Her youngest is completely non-verbal and her oldest is high functioning. While having his driver's license is great for his independence, it also brings a whole new set of concerns.

"If he were to get pulled over, he may not act the way they'd [police] expect a 20-some year old young man to act," Hughes said.

People living with autism can display behaviors similar to someone who might be impaired or hiding something, like fidgeting, poor eye contact and not responding to questions.

In a situation like a traffic stop, those can sometimes be red flags for officers. That's why Hughes went to Ohio leaders with a plan.

"She had an idea," Ohio state representative Theresa Gavarone, out of Bowling Green said. "She wanted a way to inform law enforcement before they approached the vehicle that there may be someone in the vehicle with this condition."

That's how House Bill 115 was born. Representative Gavarone says it's intended to improve communication with police and those with communication disabilities, like autism, Parkinson's disease, or PTSD.

If it's passed people could submit a form, signed by their doctor to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. It would be put in a data base and then at the fingertips of officers.

"When an officer runs the plates, it would show communication disability and it would alert the officer before they even approach the vehicle," Gavarone said.

"It can make a world of difference," Hughes said. "Just that little bit of knowledge."

This service will not be mandatory and won't be information accessible to anyone besides law enforcement.

Right now, the legislation is still going through the Ohio House. A vote is expected in the near future.