Disability cards have their place

Columnist Claudette Sandecki says a Terrace woman's call for disability cards has merit

On April 18, 2009 Dane Spurrell, an 18-year-old, was walking along Topsail Road in Mount Pearl, Newfoundland about midnight on his way home from the video store when a police officer stopped him for walking in the roadway.

The autistic teen pointed out the street has no sidewalks. Deciding the teen was high on drugs, the officer arrested him for public intoxication and obstructing a police officer. He was jailed. Police offered him a chance to phone a lawyer but refused his repeated requests for permission to phone his mother.

At 5 a.m. his frantic mother phoned 911 to report her son missing.

Subsequently the police chief visited Dane’s home to apologize. Police eventually gave the family a financial settlement. Nonetheless, the mother filed a complaint with the police commission. A trial followed with 20 witnesses and lawyers representing the police. Dane’s mother defended herself.

Only now, years after the hearing into her complaint began, the adjudicator has concluded the teen was arrested without sufficient cause. The adjudicator also cited failure of the two arresting officers to follow four rules of police protocol.

All this could have been avoided had the teen been carrying an I.D. card such as Yvonne Nielsen advocates for people with permanent disabilities.

Nielsen’s I.D. card would identify any physical disabilities a person might have that mimic drunkenness or being high on drugs.

Disabilities such as autism, stroke, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, impairment of balance, speech, or memory, acquired traumatic brain injury, or spinal cord injury. The card would make clear to  police, first responders, and public transportation the card carrier was physically disabled, not intoxicated or high.

Nielsen’s request for this I.D. card has the support of current and previous Terrace city councils, the  fire chief on behalf of first responders, and the RCMP. Thoughtful, understanding people can see the card’s benefit though they themselves do not suffer from a permanent disability that might impair their quality of life.

Yet the B.C. Disability Alliance who supposedly speak for the disabled is opposed to any I.D. card. They cite their worries over which criteria would determine eligibility for the cards; what the purpose of the cards would be (Nielsen has clearly made that known); and that the cards might become mandatory in the future. (Oddly, opponents of the I.D. card substitute “mandatory” whenever they hear “voluntary”.)

The B.C. Disability Alliance goes so far as to speculate peer pressure could force someone who didn’t  want to carry such an I.D. card to do so. Baloney. Have they met any permanently disabled? In my limited experience, they can be extremely assertive, even stubborn. They do only what they want to do.

B.C. Disability Alliance also objects to disclosing a person’s private medical condition to the world.

But what of the Medic Alert bracelet? That, too, discloses a person’s private medical condition to the world but they voluntarily do so for the sake of their safety. True, the I.D. card would not be primarily  lifesaving, but the principle is the same — either way disclosing a medical condition  is voluntary, not mandatory.

And while the Medic Alert bracelet may save a life once or twice, the I.D. card would improve quality of life daily.

If Spurrell had been carrying an I.D. card identifying him as autistic the police would not have arrested him, his family would not have agonized all night about his whereabouts, and there would have been no trial or police complaints investigation wasting dollars that could build sidewalks.