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Secretary of State Benson highlights new designation to help residents with communication barriers

Xavier DeGroat & Jocelyn Benson
Posted at 9:57 PM, Jul 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-19 22:15:28-04

LANSING, Mich. — Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson made a stop in Mason on Monday to meet with constituents with communication impediments.

Benson talked with representatives from multiple autism, deaf, hard of hearing, and deafblind advocacy groups to highlight changes to state law that allows residents to include a new designation to their driving record. The hope is that the description, called a communication impediment designation, will lead to improved interactions with law enforcement.

“Alerting law enforcement to the needs of the citizens they interact with helps ensure the safety and comfort of everyone involved,” said Benson during the meeting. “It not only facilitates effective communication between officers and citizens but also helps diminish anxiety surrounding these interactions, opening new doors of opportunity for all Michiganders.”

“I advocated and provided testimony for this bill because of my experience as someone with autism being pulled over by an officer, and having an anxiety attack because of it, and the officer did not know how to respond,” said Xavier DeGroat of the Xavier DeGroat Autism Foundation, who helped advocate for the legislation. “That’s why I advocated for it and I’m happy to see these bills are taking effect.”

Michiganders with a communication impediment can apply through the Secretary of State’s office at no cost. The designation is not printed on a license or vehicle registration but added to an individual’s record.

“Fully 7.4 percent of Michigan residents identify as deaf, deaf, blind, or hard of hearing. We are a diverse community with equally diverse communication preferences and tools we rely on to communicate in our daily lives,” said Annie Urasky, Director of the Michigan Division on Deaf, Deafblind, and Hard of Hearing. “This voluntary designation for driver licenses and state ID cards gives our community an important additional tool for easing communication with police.”

The communication impediment designation program was developed to help law enforcement improve their interactions with the public. According to Benson’s office, when officers know about an individual’s communication impairment they will be more able to assist.

For instance, Michiganders with autism are often sensitive to loud sounds and flashing lights. With that information sirens and flashing lights can be controlled when an officer is working with an individual who is overwhelmed by them.

Awareness is the first step to understanding, and for a person with autism, understanding opens doors,” said Colleen Allen, Ph.D., President, and CEO of the Autism Alliance of Michigan. “This designation will not only keep people safe, it will help give Michiganders with autism a new opportunity – the ability to navigate their communities knowing that, whether in an emergency or routine traffic stop, law enforcement can be made aware of their needs and tailor their interaction to them.”

More information can be found here.

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