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Saturday, March 25, 2023

Pushback Against RI License Bill

In The Politics of Autism, I write:

[M]any police departments have trained officers and other first responders how to spot signs of autism and respond accordingly.[i] Some organizations have also published identification cards that ASD adults can carry in order to defuse potential conflicts. Virginia provides for an autism designation on driver licenses and other state-issued identification cards. Once again, however, the dilemma of difference comes into play. One autistic Virginian worries: “Great, so if I get into an accident, who’s the cop going to believe, the guy with the autistic label or the guy without it?” Clinical psychologist Michael Oberschneider is concerned about the understanding level of first responders: “I think many people still think of Rain Man or, more recently, the Sandy Hook Shooter, when they think of autism even though very few people on the autistic spectrum are savants or are homicidal and dangerous.”[ii]

Antonia Noori Farzan at The Providence Journal:
A proposal to create special driver's licenses and car decals bearing the word "autism" is generating backlash.

Advocates described the legislation introduced by two Westerly Democrats — at the request of an autistic teenager — as well-intentioned but misguided.

The bill, which will probably be revised, aims to ensure that an autistic driver is not perceived as a threat during a police stop. But opponents say that it could lead to harassment and discrimination.

"It is literally labeling us and putting us into a box, rather than uplifting and supporting us," said Camille Shea.


People who testified against the bill on Tuesday expressed concerns that drivers with a special driver's license or car decal could face harassment, bullying or discrimination.

"Licenses are shown for many purposes, and this designation would lead to stereotyping and breaches of the individual's confidentiality," wrote Mireille Sayaf, executive director of the Ocean State Center for Independent Living.


Adria Marchetti, a self-described "Black autistic person and parent of autistic children," suggested that the creation of a voluntary registry would "only be used as an excuse for police brutality when Black and brown people don't register."

"If this bill takes effect, could lack of disclosure during an incident be used against the autistic person, aka 'you should have opted in?'" wrote Heather Bryant of North Providence.

Hannah Stern of the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island said the group understood the intention behind the legislation, but took issue with the fact that it "puts the burden on an individual with a disability."