Governor Abbott launches Driving with Disability program
CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – You’re speeding down the freeway and suddenly get pulled over. It’s a situation that usually scares most of us, but for people with disabilities, getting arrested can be an even scarier situation.
Governor Greg Abbott announced the Driving with Disabilities program on Thursday, a program that will train law enforcement through videos on how to communicate with people with disabilities like autism, PTSD and paralysis cerebral.
Alejandro Montes is the clinical supervisor of the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities at Corpus Christi.
The Driving with Disability program will help law enforcement understand the behavior of a person with a disability when they are stopped.
He said the lights and sirens in a law enforcement officer’s car could instill more fear in the disabled person than in a non-disabled person.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t comply or don’t want to interact with the officer. It’s just being aware that this interaction may feel completely different,” Montes said.
It is important for law enforcement to be aware that some people with disabilities may need more time to understand their situation.
“Them getting arrested for the first time could be a very scary scenario for them and it could lead to a lot of different things like being anxious, not being able to respond to the officer,” he said .
However, approaching someone’s car when they are being pulled over can also be a harrowing experience for an officer.
Officials never know who they’re arresting, so Montes said it’s important for law enforcement to understand the situation before they misinterpret it.
“Keep it as a very simple usual stop of escalation to something else, where now that individual might be hurt or might be misunderstood, or avoid unnecessary arrest, or someone getting hurt,” he added.
Teaching someone with a disability how to drive and how to prepare for getting pulled over can also benefit them if they ever find themselves in this situation.
Rick Hinojosa has been a special education teacher for about 25 years. He now owns the Hinojosa driving school.
“As far as driver training goes, they were some of my best drivers,” Hinojosa said.
People with disabilities tend to memorize driving facts faster because they repeat them out loud.
He said the new program would change the interactions between law enforcement and people with disabilities because it would teach law enforcement to be more patient.
“These children could be frozen, literally, and not respond to the officer and the police could become furious with this kind of behavior,” he added.