ALBANY, N.Y. — New Yorkers with developmental disabilities or their loved ones can now apply for a state-issued identification card designed to ease encounters with first responders.

The card, made possible thanks to a 2018 state law, contains basic information such as name, address and date of birth, as well as emergency contact information. Most importantly, it contains special information about a person’s disability and a disclaimer that advocates hope will smooth out interactions with law enforcement and emergency services personnel.

“Nonverbal, does not make eye contact, does not like to be touched, is non-violent, likes to be called Johnny, pica, uses a wheelchair,” is one example the state shared on a sample card.

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The disclaimer on the front will read: “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. A developmental disability is not an excuse for illegal behavior. I am not intentionally refusing to cooperate. I may need your assistance. Please see the back of this card.”

New York residents interested in obtaining a card, either for themselves or a loved one, can request one online. The cards are free and voluntary.

The goal of the initiative is to help first responders such as law enforcement, firefighters and emergency medical services personnel better understand and interact with people with developmental disabilities who may not be able to communicate their situation effectively.

State Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara and Sen. Pamela Helming sponsored legislation last year that enabled the state Office for People With Developmental Disabilities to create and issue the cards.

Santabarbara, whose son has autism, told the Times Union at the time that he was moved by a 2017 incident out of Arizona, where a police officer mistook the repetitive behavior of a teenager with autism as a sign of drug use. The officer ended up slamming the teen against a tree and then the ground after he refused to cooperate.

That incident, as well as others, prompted advocates to push for better law enforcement training when it comes to dealing with individuals on the autism spectrum, and those with other developmental disabilities.

“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,” Santabarbara said.

Standardizing the cards was also important, he said, as families have even resorted to crafting their own handmade notes and cards for loved ones.

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