Mount Union Raises Awareness About Ohio’s Communication Disorders Law

ALLIANCE – Avoiding eye contact, clapping, and displaying excessive stress or worry are signs of autism.

Behaviors can lead to miscommunication during traffic stops.

That’s why Mount Union’s Spectrum Education Center is sponsoring Courage 2 Communicate, a public service campaign designed to raise awareness of Ohio’s communication disorders law.

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The law aims to reduce communication problems between law enforcement and people with communication disabilities, such as autism, cerebral palsy or people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

It allows people with medically diagnosed communication disabilities or those driving someone with a communication disability to voluntarily enter a database that connects to law enforcement agencies’ data system.

“Registering your vehicle gives first responders a warning when they look at the tag that there is someone in the vehicle who has a communication disability, so it may be difficult to interact in some measure,” Kristine Turko, director of the Spectrum Education Center at Alliance, told Reuters.

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The law has been in effect since 2018.

“But nobody is aware of this possibility of registering their cars,” Turko said.

About 1,300 license plates are registered with the state, according to Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities. Meanwhile, the Autism Society of Greater Cincinnati reports that approximately 40% of children with autism are nonverbal.

Turko hopes to increase awareness of Ohio’s communication disorders law in Stark County. Spectrum Education Center will be sending stickers, window stickers, and additional information to special education directors in each county school district this month to help educate families.

The center works closely with Alliance City Schools, as well as Brown Local and Canton City school districts, she said, and hopes other districts in the area will join in the effort.

What is Ohio’s Communication Disorders Law?

People with communication disabilities can complete a verification form and have it validated by their doctor, psychiatrist or psychologist in order for their vehicle to be included in the database.

“What this does is the police officer passes the plate, it appears on their LEADS computer system with a very bright red indication that says ‘note: occupant may have difficulty communicating with the agent,'” said Kevin Miller, director of Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities.

Miller said the idea came to him when his son, who is on the autism spectrum, wanted to get his driver’s license several years ago. Miller worried about his son’s reaction if he was arrested.

Visitors hear about Mount Union's Spectrum Education Center during the facility's open house in September.

A friend of Turko’s had a similar experience when she was arrested with her non-verbal autistic adult son sitting in the car. Disruptions in routine can be difficult for people with autism, so Turko’s friend explained the situation to the policeman.

“(His son) was so upset and anxious about the change in routine that he started banging his head on the car when the officer took his license back to his car, and he tried to escape from the car. car. You can imagine what kind of a situation that can lead to,” Turko said.

Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities consulted with various law enforcement agencies and disability advocates when developing the idea.

The law does not exempt people with communication disabilities from receiving tickets, he said, nor does it identify a person’s specific disability.

“Not every state (has this law) and it’s not national,” Miller said. “So in other words, if you sign up here in Ohio, if you get arrested in Indiana, that’s not going to happen. That would be something I’d like to see later down the road, but we’re taking baby steps here.”

Ohioans can also register multiple vehicles in the database. Miller said 526 people signed up for the program, Miller said.

Turko said his goal through the Courage 2 Communicate campaign was to make more people aware of the law.

A graphic from the Spectrum Education Center's Courage to Communicate public awareness campaign.

Mount Union launched the Spectrum Education Center several years ago to provide coursework and internship opportunities for students interested in autism advocacy and intervention. The center also offers professional development, intervention services and certified behavior technician training.

It is located in the former Stark State College satellite facility at 1725 S. Arch Ave. Mount Union began subletting the building in 2021.

To participate in Courage 2 Communicate, contact Turko by email

[email protected] or call (330) 829-2830.

Those interested in registering their vehicles should complete the verification form available on the Opportunities for Ohioan’s with Disabilities website, then take the form to their licensed physician to validate the individual’s communication disability.

Completed forms can be emailed to [email protected], delivered in person to a BMV, or mailed to the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles, Attn: Remittance/DPU, PO Box 16521, Columbus OH 43216-6521

Contact Paige at 330-580-8577 or [email protected], or on Twitter at @paigembenn.

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