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Autistic, hearing impaired in Michigan offered designation

July 19, 2021 GMT

MASON, Mich. (AP) — Michigan residents with conditions that could impede communication with law enforcement such as deafness or autism can now apply to have a designation associated with their information that comes up on officers’ computer system during traffic stops.

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson promoted the so-called communication impediment designation that took effect this month during a news conference Monday in Mason. She also discussed measures to allow residents more access to appointments at branch offices that should reduce backlogs by Labor Day.

The designation wouldn’t appear on identification cards or documents, but it would appear on the Law Enforcement Information Network used by police to create safe and productive interactions.

Benson attributed the change largely to the efforts of community advocate Xavier DeGroat, whose own experience with police at a traffic stop spurred him to create better interactions between people with autism like himself and law enforcement.

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“I am one of those individuals that has strived for justice for my own self being pulled over here about five years ago, being told by a police, ‘Hurry up, hurry up, get your insurance card’,” DeGroat said. “With the sirens going off, I didn’t know how to react properly to the officer.”

With DeGroat’s leadership, the Legislature passed two bills unanimously to create the designation.

Certain actions can make it difficult for people with autism to comply with directions, while the inability to hear and react to commands can potentially create danger during traffic stops.

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Anna Liz Nichols is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.