Kudos to New York State for making train-the-trainer disability sensitivity training available to its law enforcement officers as of April 2013, with the stipulation that police officers that take the course must take it back to their respective police agencies. But why not make the training mandatory instead of just “available”?

The First Responders Disability Awareness Training Course augments the very basic curriculum in disability sensitivity offered to New York state police officers as part of their core training: 14 hours on mental illness, but only two on autism, Alzheimer’s disease, and blindness and deafness , and none on intellectual disability. The training course talks about the definition of disabilities, stigma and perceptions, and teaches officers communication techniques, project coordinator David Whalen told “The Wall Street Journal”.

The need for the course seems obvious and the support for it is definitely there:

1. Governor Cuomo’s office has made it a funding priority
2. The Developmental Disabilities Planning Council provided funding to ensure that the training will continue through 2015.
3. The Arc and the Division of Criminal of Justice have come out in support of the program, given the policies on interacting with disabled people that New York State police currently have in place and the changing landscape of the how particularly intellectually and developmentally disabled people are living in society now that institutions are closing and community residential options are (thankfully!) much more commonplace.
4. The International Association of Chiefs of Police has taken the position that a failure to train officers properly in disability sensitivity is an ADA violation.

So why won’t New York state make the First Responders Disability Training Course mandatory for its police officers?

Sgt. Kern Swoboda told “The Wall Street Journal” that state police have adequate disability awareness training.

Respectfully, I disagree. Any organization whose basic disability awareness training doesn’t make a distinction between a developmental disability like cerebral palsy and a mental condition like schizophrenia, and acknowledge that people with these respective diagnoses may need to be treated differently in an arrest situation, isn’t providing adequate disability training.

The First Responders Disability Awareness Training Course has been held in six New York counties at publication time. There’s no denying that it’s a significant step in the right direction…but it needs to be mandatory for all New York’s law enforcement officers.

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