The safety of individuals with disabilities that are not immediately apparent may be at risk during encounters with law enforcement and first responders.
To reduce these safety risks, a person may now voluntarily designate a nonapparent disability on a driver’s license, identification (ID) card, and vehicle registration. This way, individuals can be discreetly identified with a medically verified cognitive, mental, neurological, or physical disability.
The goal, according to the Invisible Disabilities Association, is to help alert law enforcement and first responders to a person’s nonobvious disabilities that could be misunderstood during a traffic stop or other routine contact.
The Center for Disability Rights lists invisible (or “hidden”) disabilities as learning differences, deafness, autism, prosthetics, traumatic brain injury (TBI), mental health disabilities, Usher syndrome, bi-polar disorder, diabetes, ADD/ADHD, fibromyalgia, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety, sleep disorder, and Crohn’s disease, among many others. In the coming months and years, hidden disabilities will likely include the many after-effects of those infected with COVID-19 as well.
In Wisconsin, police officers have begun receiving crisis intervention training and education on mental illnesses by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). However, there is still a general lack of understanding about these disabilities and the types of behaviors associated with them.
An invisible disability can be misunderstood in a number of ways, such as:
a person with diabetes may be mistaken for being under the influence of drugs or alcohol;
a person carrying medication could be suspected of illegal drug use;
a person whose hearing is impaired or deaf may appear to be ignoring commands;
a person with an intellectual or developmental disability may not process an officer’s commands and appear to be noncompliant;
a person with autism may run from a police officer; and
a person with a sensory disorder may become violent if touched, due to sensory defensiveness that provokes a “fight or flight” response.
As of Jan. 1, 2019, a new applicant or existing holder of a Wisconsin driver’s license, ID card, or vehicle registration can choose to disclose a disability that may not be immediately apparent to another person. Information is available on the Wisconsin Department of Transportation website.
The choices on the Wisconsin form include:
appears deaf or unable to understand;
has difficulty speaking or communicating;
engages in repetitive or self-stimulating behaviors such as rocking or hand flapping;
appears anxious, nervous, or upset;
becomes agitated due to physical contact or stressful situations;
acts indifferent or unresponsive; and
An individual wishing to add this designation to an ID can complete theInvisible Disability Disclosure form MV2167. They can either send it to the address on the form or present it to their local DMV customer service center. Documentation from a treating medical professional may need to be included and, depending on the disability, may need to be annually certified.
With the disclosure, officers searching license and plate information will be alerted to the invisible disability.
An invisible disability disclosure is completely voluntary, and a person can remove information about their invisible disability at any time by using the same form MV2167.
For more information and to access the form, visit Wisconsindot.gov.
This article was originally published on the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Public Interest Law Section Blog. Visit the State Bar sections or the Public Interest Law Section webpages to learn more about the benefits of section membership.