Disability ID Cards Aid First Responders

The New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) announced on Feb. 28 that identification (ID) cards will now be available for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) in order to help first responders interact with people with these disabilities.

The cards are the result of legislation that was signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in 2018, sponsored by Senator Pamela Helming and Assemblyman and Chair of the New York State Assembly’s Sub-Committee on Autism Spectrum Disorders Angelo Santabarbara. According to an OPWDD press release, Santabarbara was inspired and saw a need for these ID cards as a tool because his son had been diagnosed with autism.  

According to the bill presented in the state assembly, there are currently unofficial versions of this ID card for individuals with I/DD throughout the country. However, the cards do not use a standard language and since they are not official documents, they may not always be recognized by first responders.

“With this new initiative, New York is taking another critical step to help find solutions to the challenges those with disabilities face each day,” Santabarbara said in a press release.  “Whether it’s an interaction at the airport, in a crowded theme park or with first responders during an emergency, the cards can help individuals, parents or guardians easily communicate important information about a person’s diagnosis and describe some of the challenges they may face during an emergency.”

The front of the I/DD ID card states “I have a developmental disability. I may have difficulty understanding and following your directions or may become unable to respond. I may become physically agitated if you prompt me verbally or touch me or move too close to me. I am not intentionally refusing to cooperate. I may need your assistance. Please see the back of this card.” 

The back of the card holds information such as the individual’s name, date of birth, emergency contact information and additional information like whether or not the individual likes to be touched or whether or not they can communicate verbally.

The AHRC—now detached from the acronym’s original because of outdated language— is a family organized I/DD advocacy organization that strives to help those impacted build fuller lives. According to their website, AHRC created the first schools, workshops, day treatment programs and community residences for those suffering from I/DD.

On Feb. 26, AHRC sent a letter to members informing them of the availablilty of these new ID cards and that the organization will be ordering the cards for their fraternity members with I/DD. AHRC advised members to send their “loved ones” information for the cards by March 15. Otherwise the AHRC managers will fill out the required information on the cards based on their understanding of the family member.

“There are so many different types of autism and so many different types of mental illness: there are children that cannot be touched by other people or spoken to by other people because they break down and fall apart, there are children who become extremely talkative and also children who are afraid of other people,” said Geri Russo, mother of SUNY New Paltz student and her twin sister who falls on the Asperger spectrum. “There are also children like [my daughter] who are so incredibly smart yet not able to handle anxiety and what makes her anxious is being away from me for more than five minutes.”

Geri said that she knew her daughters were different when they were 6 months old because they used to cry differently. Her daughter with Asperger’s used to rock back and forth from when she was an infant, up until she was in second grade when she would sit at her desk in the classroom. 

Geri currently acts as her daughter’s caregiver until she “drops dead,” as she was advised to put her daughter in a group home, but she refuses because she does not believe her daughter would “thrive” in that environment.

Third-year and international business major, Jennifer Russo, believes the ID cards would be helpful for individuals like her sister.

“I think it would be extremely beneficial especially in an emergency situation because I know my sister can’t handle a lot of emergency situations due to anxiety and this would help responders or medical personnel in dealing with her,” Jennifer said.