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Wallet cards help promote understanding

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By VASHTI HARRIS
Staff Writer

EAST BRUNSWICK Offering an informational resource to help its officers better handle encounters with residents who have autism or intellectual disabilities, the East Brunswick Police Department (EBPD) continues to promote autism wallet cards.

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Officially called the Wallet Card Project, the program was created by Disability Independence Group Inc., a nonprofit legal advocacy center for disability rights. Its mission is to expand opportunities for participation, education, employment and acceptance of persons with disabilities through advocacy, litigation, education and training, according to Deborah Dietz, executive director of Disability Independence Group.

The purpose of the card is to help individuals identify themselves in the event of an encounter with police or other first responders and assist them in understanding some of the challenges the person may display. The cards also include emergency contact information, according to a prepared statement from the EBPD.

The card is free and is available for teens and adults.

The EBPD began to promote the Wallet Card Project in 2015 under former Police Chief William Krause, according to Lt. Sean Goggins. Current Chief James Conroy has continued to promote the program and said that the EBPD will continue to train its officers on how to better handle encounters with citizens who have intellectual abilities or autism.

“Any time we are going to go help someone and we can get that information from somebody who has a disability, we can understand that person better and be able to assist them and that’s a no brainer. That’s a great thing. I am all for that.”

The Disability Independence Group developed the cards in 2011 which included training for families who had adult children with disabilities. By 2016 the project expanded to include joint training with persons with disabilities and law enforcement, according to Dietz.

Dietz said that the organization chose to do its wallet cards geared toward people with autism or intellectual abilities because of their impaired communication skills.

“We chose [autism spectrum disorder] and [intellectual disabilities] because these disabilities have a lot to do with how people communicate, especially [autism]. The key is to find a way for people with disabilities to quickly and efficiently communicate with the police so that the police can accurately assess a situation. We hope to expand to other disabilities in the future,” Dietz said.

For more information or to register for a card, visit www.justdigit.org/wallet-cards/.

Contact Vashti Harris at vharris@newspapermediagroup.com.

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