Law Enforcement and the ADA
By Cindy Powell

 The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that police officers, sheriff’s deputies, and other law enforcement personnel treat people with disabilities fairly. Title II of the ADA bans discrimination against people in disabilities in State and local government services and programs, including law enforcement activities. The ADA also states that law enforcement may not discriminate against family and friends because of their relationship with people with disabilities.

Law enforcement officials interact with people with disabilities frequently. The ADA affects virtually everything that officers and deputies do including, but not limited to:

  • arresting, booking and holding suspects
  • interrogating witnesses
  • responding to complaints and emergencies.

Awareness and training can assist law enforcement personnel in ensuring effective and equitable treatment of community members with disabilities as well as effective law enforcement. Following are common sense tips to share with local law enforcement about interacting with people with disabilities.

People who are blind or who have low vision
Read aloud documents requiring a signature.
Assist with completing forms if an accessible format is not readily available.
Prior to initiating procedures such as fingerprinting, explain the process.

People who are deaf or hard of hearing
Face the individual.
Speak clearly and slowly, without exaggerating enunciation.
Ensure that communication occurs in a well-lit area.
Rely on a family member, particularly a child, as a sign language interpreter only in dire             emergencies.
Handcuff an arrestee in front so they may write or use sign language.

People with an Intellectual or developmental disability
Treat an adult as an adult.
Use simple words.
Ask questions requiring additional information, rather than a yes/no response.

People with a mobility disability
When pulling over a person with an accessible license plate, be aware that they might reach for        a mobility device (cane, crutches, walker, wheelchair), rather than a weapon.
A breathalyzer, rather than requiring a suspect to walk a straight line, might be the most             appropriate sobriety test.
Ask what type of transportation the person can use, and how to assist in transferring them in
and out of vehicles.
If a power wheelchair is used, an accessible transportation provider might be required.
Assure the person is provided with an accessible location, including restrooms.

People who have a psychiatric disability
Maintain a calm, nonthreatening demeanor.
Arrest only when an offense has been committed.
Inquire about medication.

People who have seizures
Do not restrain the person or place an object in their mouth.
Instead, assure the individual is lying on their side during seizure activity.

People with a speech disability
Be patient.
Allow the person additional time to express themselves.

There are numerous law enforcement resources available. Law enforcement personnel may contact their regional ADA Center at (800)949-4232. Helpful publications and online videos can be found at

Over the past four decades, Disability Educator and Sign Language Instructor Cindy Powell has advised businesses, employers, government agencies and nonprofits about best practices with people with disabilities.


Cindy provides customized training on the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), tax incentives and other helpful topics, such as disability etiquette and service animals. Ms. Powell also provides customized sign language training.


Cindy has served on local, state and national disability organization Boards of Directors. Ms. Powell was recipient of International Association of Workforce Professionals' 2006 Services to Specialized Populations award. Cindy’s disability articles appear in print and online.


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