AUSTIN - The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), along with the Texas Governor's Committee on People with Disabilities and advocacy group Aspergers101, announced initiatives designed to assist Texans with communication impairments. DPS also announced it will coordinate with Aspergers101 to provide training and education to DPS officers about autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and potential communications challenges associated with ASD and other disorders. In addition, the department announced it is working with Aspergers101 to develop a camp that will help increase driver confidence and practical skills among communication-challenged individuals.
"I appreciate DPS' proactive approach to address this matter before problems arise," State Representative Ron Simmons (Carrollton) said upon hearing about the department's actions. "As the father of an autistic son living independently, I understand the importance of transportation independence for individuals on the autism spectrum as well as their loved ones."
DPS has offered a special designation on state issued drivers licenses and ID cards to facilitate better communication between officers and communication-challenged individuals. Such individuals may (but are not required to) request a "communication impediment" designation be placed on their driver license/ID card. Printed on the back of a driver license/ID card, the voluntary designation informs officers of a communication challenge in order to help facilitate better communication during any encounter with the individual. This designation, already in use to assist hearing-impaired individuals with officer communications, has been expanded to include individuals diagnosed with certain medical conditions – such as autism spectrum disorders, Down syndrome, or stuttering impairment.
“At DPS, our mission is to serve and protect the people of Texas,” DPS Assistant Director for the Driver License Division Joe Peters said. “This optional notice on the driver license and ID card puts important information in the hands of our law enforcement officers, which will help them better serve and protect individuals with a communication impediment.”
DPS' education and training of officers has also expanded to include training segments that raise autism awareness among officers, and advise them on how best to approach and respond to an individual with autism during traffic stops and in other instances.
DPS is working with Aspergers101 to provide summer camps to help people with communication difficulties learn how to drive and interact with police officers. Once the program is developed and launched later in the year, the Driving With Autism camp will feature classroom instruction and hands-on driving practice for eligible drivers with a communication impediment. Camp attendees will also participate in role-play scenarios about what to expect during a traffic stop.
“Our committee is devoted to expanding opportunities for people with disabilities in all areas of life – one of those being transportation freedom,” said Ron Lucey, executive director of the Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities. “We commend DPS for these initiatives that will put that opportunity within reach for more individuals within the autism and disability communities.”
April is National Autism Awareness Month. Additionally, Governor Greg Abbott proclaimed April to be Autism Awareness Month in Texas in order to educate the public about autism, highlight the need for early intervention, and encourage continued research into the disorder.