Chicago report card on disabilities mixed

May 6, 2009 at 3:39 PM Leave a comment

Working within the field of disabilities, I was proud when Chicago became an Accessible America Award winner by offering a wide range of fun and accessible experiences for families and children with disabilities.  Physical disabilities are in some ways easy to understand, recognize and relate to.

But recognizing and relating to mental or less apparent disabilities can pose a whole new set of challenges.  So I was once again proud to learn that the Chicago Police Department was conducting the first ever Autism Safety Awareness night with Easter Seals on Monday, April 20th and had distributed a training memo to all sworn personnel on autism and the recommended police responses.

That was before the news waves bristled on April 22nd revealing that a 16 year old boy with autism was allegedly struck and injured by an officer amid his family’s pleas that he was a “special boy.”  It appears that as the police were trying to question the young boy, he reacted in a way that triggered an aggressive response from the officers.

I don’t like stories like this because they leave me conflicted.  Working for the National Lekotek Center has sensitized me to how truly “special” all children with disabilities are and how much needs to be done to help their young spirits successfully navigate the world

But I was also raised as the daughter of a Chicago cop and I know a little about the incredible stress, danger, fear and courage it takes to step up to those words painted on the side of a squad car, “We Serve and Protect.”

My ending thoughts are that the Chicago Police must continue those training efforts.  Perhaps the publicity that this young boy and his family have stirred can open up some eyes and minds.  “We Serve and Protect,” is a wonderful motto for the Chicago Police Department.  It’s a lot to live up to.  Perhaps we all must play a role in extending that commitment to those who need it so desperately.

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