Nurturing Relationships with First Respondents is on Form of Good Advocacy and Education

Our guest blogger this month is Dennis Polselli, Publicity Coordinator at Community Autism Resources.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about disability and first respondents, especially in the wake of Ferguson Missouri and New York City. This is not a blog to bash police, not at all. It is a blog to point out how important it is for those of us with disabilities (and our care-givers, and service providers, who advocate for us) to use these tragedies to take steps in our own disability community to build concrete relationships with police and fire departments in our cities and towns.

I’m reminded of an article I read in 1988 in a publication for the Blind which detailed a misunderstanding between an individual who is blind and a police department in a community in California. This individual had a collapsible White Cane that can be broken down in 4 to 5 pieces. In order to use the cane, you pull up on the string and the pieces come together creating a useable White Cane. When the police officer was about to make an arrest of this blind individual, he grabbed his cane to use to move about, but the police officer thought he was grabbing for a weapon and threw the individual to the ground. It was fortunate that being pulled to the ground was the only thing the officer did and not something more drastic. There have also been instances where persons with cognitive disabilities were shot and killed by police in states like Arizona, California and New Mexico. When there is any kind of emergency, police need to act quickly. Our job, and I believe our responsibility, is to get on the calendars of Police and Fire Departments and provide in service training on issues involving disabilities from blindness, deafness, to individuals with cognitive disabilities.

I’m sure, in fact I know, that my colleagues here at Community Autism Resources would be happy to assist parents and advocates of individuals on the Autism Spectrum to provide any information you need to help local first respondents to understand the issues surrounding persons on the Autism Spectrum. This includes information on the ALEC Program. The ALEC (Autism and Law Enforcement Education and Coalition) program, a project of the The ARC of Bristol County that is now a national model, offers First Responders training programs. A number of the training programs have taken place throughout Southeastern Massachusetts. Please call Community Autism Resources for further information on the ALEC program and to find out if training has happened in your area. It is so important.

For 15 years at Framingham State University, my wife and I team-taught two sessions of a nursing course on how to deal with issues and support patients with disabilities. And, during my recent double by-pass heart surgery, I learned we have a long way to go in our efforts to educate and advocate with hospitals. If it weren’t for my sister, Barbara Domingue, and my wife’s advocacy, the experience would have been much worse than it turned out to be for at the beginning, people were coming in and out of my room not identifying themselves and performing different procedures on me.

We (as service providers, care-givers, and advocates) must take responsibility and introduce ourselves, and our issues, to Police, Fire officials, and medical establishments and they themselves, for the most part, would appreciate our assistance.

To find out more about ALEC or to set up an ALEC training session, contact Bill Cannata at: or call The Arc of South Norfolk , 789 Clapboardtree Street, Westwood, MA 02090 at 781-762-4001, ext. 420.

ALEC facebook page address is:


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