OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – There are around 85,000 adults and children in Oklahoma with autism.
Autism advocates are pushing lawmakers to pass a bill that would allow Oklahomans with autism to voluntarily register their disability on their state IDs and driver’s licenses.
Several other states have some version of this idea and Oklahoma advocates are hoping to hop on board.
Autism advocates say this would be beneficial during traffic stops as often times people with autism may feel uncomfortable and give off the wrong impression to law enforcement. They say this is crucial to keeping both parties safe.
“It says on the ID this person’s autistic. Law enforcement can go, ‘okay, the normal playbook doesn’t apply here… That interaction can end up resulting in a meltdown,’” said Tom Taylor, autism advocate.
Tom Taylor has high-functioning autism and also serves as a board member on the Autism Foundation of Oklahoma. He is working with the organization and lawmakers to get a bill written, heard and hopefully passed.
Lawmakers at the Capitol heard from Taylor just last week.
“Over half of autistic adults report that they’ve had four or more interactions with law enforcement in their lifetime. And so disabled people are seven times more likely to have interactions with law enforcement than people who are not disabled,” said Taylor.
The Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office told KFOR they are supporting the effort. They say the more information they know about a person, the better, so they can make the appropriate accommodations.
“It would be a tremendous amount of help when in a traffic stop, that’s a high stress situation,” said Major Charles Avery, Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office.
The Sheriff’s Office is also hoping to see other disabilities included as well.
“Any additional information before we make it to the car and or when we make it to the car is beneficial for everybody involved,” said Major Avery.
While this bill is in the works, there are free resources.
There are self-identification cards provided by Autism Foundation of Oklahoma which is something you can use when confronted by law enforcement or a first responder.
It helps explain your diagnosis and why you may not be able to communicate properly.
The self-identification cards can be mailed to you for free by contacting email@example.com.
Taylor stresses if the bill passes next legislative session, it would not be mandatory or required, it is just an option for those with autism.
“It’s completely voluntary and it’s just a means to improve interactions with law enforcement and try to keep the community safe,” said Taylor.
Not only would this apply to driver’s licenses, but also state IDs as many people with autism cannot drive.
Next steps include getting a lawmaker to author the bill.
Taylor says they are working with Representative Nicole Miller. KFOR reached out to her office, but has not heard back yet.