Over the last couple months I have had the great privilege to engage with individuals representing a number of different disability communities. To be honest, my family and I have been blessed with great health and I’ve lived most of my life very insulated from the everyday difficulties faced by individuals with physical, mental, and emotional challenges.
Because of my lack of exposure to these different disabilities, I never considered that autistic people calling 9-1-1 or dealing with law enforcement may be confused with someone on drugs, unable to clearly communicate or may simply be completely unaware of potential dangers they face from not responding appropriately to a police command. I never considered the constant stress and fear associated with wandering, and having to consider putting silk screened identification information on childrens’ undergarments.
I never considered the fact that a person who is deaf, late deafened or hard of hearing has no way to directly call for emergency services. Instead of being simply able to dial 9-1-1 from any phone and know that help is on the way, knowing where I called from, many have to initiate contact through a third party relay center. Simply calling your doctor to ask about your child’s fever becomes a more complicated and time consuming task. It’s even more complicated if you are trying to call from a mobile phone (see this post on Texting to 9-1-1 if you want to learn more).
So many things we take for granted are monumental challenges for others.
What’s the take-away? All too often those of us in public safety have to make trade-offs on service levels due to costs or other constraints. We need to be careful to remember those that might not be exactly like us. Research shows that people with disabilities have up to 7 times more contact with 9-1-1 and law enforcement. Not only do they deserve equal treatment, they are in the most need of our help.