ST. PAUL, Minn. — The St. Paul Police Department announced this month that people can get stickers for their homes or vehicles to tell first responders that someone inside may be deaf or hard of hearing, have autism, dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

“In an emergency, every second counts and the quicker that officers can identify any barrier to communication is better for everyone involved,” said Sgt. Mike Ernster, a St. Paul police spokesman. “The officer could adjust their approach to the situation based on this information.”

The St. Paul Police Department sought input from various organizations, including the Autism Society of Minnesota.

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The group’s executive director, Ellie Wilson, said it won’t necessarily be easy for families to decide to put up a sticker disclosing someone in the home has a disability. If people choose to, Wilson views the stickers as useful for first responders and families because she said behaviors that are associated with autism “are easily mistaken by emergency responders” as someone acting aggressively or suspiciously.

In training first responders, including law enforcement, “one thing they say is the hardest part about learning to support people with invisible disabilities is knowing when someone does or does not have a disability,” said Wilson, who added the stickers could take away some of those initial questions.

St. Paul got the idea from the Scott County Sheriff’s Office, which started offering emergency alert window decals last summer.

Sarah Deppe, the sheriff’s office communications and office coordinator, came upon the stickers being used elsewhere when she was doing research — she knew people have used alert stickers on their homes for pets who need to be rescued in case of an emergency, but hadn’t seen them used in Minnesota for people.

The sheriff’s office has handed out around 400 stickers so far, with the most requested being for autism, according to Deppe.

“These capture why someone might not be responding to commands, if they have PTSD or are on the autism spectrum,” for example, said Scott County Sheriff Luke Hennen. “Officers might be confused about why a person isn’t responding, … so this is another way to bridge that gap and avoid confrontation when it’s not necessary.”

Agencies from around the region and elsewhere have contacted the Scott County Sheriff’s Office and requested their template, including the St. Paul Police Department.

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