Alabama First To Mandate ‘Sensory Inclusion’ Training For State Law Enforcement

August 4, 2021

By a Biometrica staffer

In a bid to improve the relationship between law enforcement and the community, and to help officers de-escalate tense but not necessarily criminal situations, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey announced on Tuesday, August 3, that the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) would be entering into a statewide partnership with KultureCity, a nonprofit, to train officers in becoming “sensory-inclusive.”

This means fostering understanding, compassion, acceptance, and empathy in those first responders in situations involving people living with sensory processing issues or invisible disabilities. The hope is that this education will increase officers’ understanding, making it easier for them to identify when they are dealing with people who have different needs. This move makes the ALEA the first state law enforcement agency to take this step.

Under this initiative, all state troopers, Special Agents with ALEA’s State Bureau of Investigation, communication personnel, and employees of the Driver License Division have completed the training. The module included a training video and a test, after which the officers were certified by KultureCity and were given sensory-aid kits with tools like noise-cancelling headphones, nonverbal communication cards, and fidget spinners to keep in their cars and offices.

Gov. Ivey said the move was based on the fact that “individuals with sensory-issues have often been misdiagnosed or received delayed assistance due to the lack of understanding of their sensory issues.”

A person with sensory-processing issues typically struggles to manage stimuli information like sight, sound, and taste. An invisible disability, on the other hand, is any “physical, mental or neurological condition” that is not noticeable — i.e., through the use of a cane or wheelchair — but that still impacts a person’s movement, senses, activities, and everyday life.

Estimates vary on how many Americans are living with sensory-processing issues or invisible disabilities as the prevalence of these conditions is difficult to fully measure. KultureCity says that around one in six Americans has a sensory processing need of some kind, while others peg it at around one in every five. Approximately 96% of severe disabilities (which itself affects around 42 million Americans) are invisible, according to some estimates.

In addition to autism spectrum disorder, these two categories could include conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), dementia, the after-effects of a stroke, Parkinson’s disease, chronic pain or fatigue, traumatic head or brain injuries, diabetes, cancer, lupus, Crohn’s disease, and fibromyalgia, among many others.

Experts say people who struggle with these problems are often the subject of misunderstandings or judgements, as the lack of an outward manifestation can lead others to think they are “faking it.” Yet, many of these conditions are protected by laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Children are more likely to have sensory-processing issues, while adults who do have them have likely had them since childhood and probably have learned how to manage and hide their symptoms from others. Some data suggest that anywhere between 5% to 16% of school-aged children have sensory-processing disorders.

Of particular concern is the fact that sensory processing difficulties and invisible disabilities can cause turbulence in the emotional, social, academic, and civic spheres of a person’s life. Such a person may find it difficult to make friends or interact socially with others, and could get into trouble with authority figures frequently. People living with such problems may also have concurrent mental health issues like anxiety and depression, making them prone to acting out or being overwhelmed.

In a successful use-case earlier this year, the Helena Police Department in Alabama was able to use their KultureCity training to defuse a situation in which a person who appeared to be experiencing a psychiatric episode was blocking a highway. Officers managed to prevent a potentially deadly outcome in that situation. Officials in Helena say it is the first city to have trained 100% of its employees in sensory-inclusive practices.

KultureCity began working with law enforcement first in Salt Lake city, in Utah, when the fatal shooting of a young boy spurred officials to invest in the training. By April this year,  95% (over 9,000) of fire, police, and 911 personnel in the city had been through the training. The CEO of KultureCity said that the training has already prevented “four potential police-related shootings” in Salt Lake so far.