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Autism Alert Cards - ID Cards by the back door?

A few years ago, I found that South Yorkshire Police (SYP) in conjunction with the Rotherham branch of the National Autistic Society had introduced an 'Autism Alert Card', to alert police and others to the fact that the cardholder has a diagnosis of an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Various other police departments and organisations do similar schemes, and the South Yorkshire scheme was recently revamped.

I decided to write this article after seeing that SYP were pushing the scheme during 'Autism Awareness Week'.

So, What's Wrong with an 'Autism Alert Card'?

As with everything, schemes such as this will have advantages and disadvantages, and they will work for some people but not others.

The recent coronavirus "pandemic" has seen a big increase in the use of medical/disability cards/badges, and a big increase in police officers, security personnel, and other assorted jobsworths demanding to see people's papers to prove who they are and why they are where they are, even if they are not committing any offense.

In order to obtain an SYP alert card, you have to fill in an application form, providing general personal information as well as highly sensitive medical information, which the police will then store, and be able to refer to. The idea is that you carry it with you everywhere in case you have an interaction with a policeman.

Over the last year, I have been attending various protests for various reasons. We have seen police violence at such events, and maybe such a card would help you get out of difficulty, but equally, carrying such a card would give the police immediate access to my name and address and by carrying one, I an basically incriminating myself in advance! Armed with details such as my name and address, they can easily issue fixed penalty notices under the coronavirus regulations.

The idea is that you carry it everywhere. Why would I carry identifying information everywhere? I have never had to do this before. Anyway, interactions with the police are very rare for me. Therefore when I went out for a walk on the morning of 31st December last year I was very surprised to be harassed by two policemen who wanted to "know what I was doing". When going out for a quiet walk in the morning, the last thing I would think to do would be to get my medical information!

What happened with the two policemen? They drove off. They knew I had not committed any offense so there was nothing they could do. Although I think they were annoyed at me telling them to mind their own business.

Personally, I can see no practical use for such a scheme as it is nothing but [yet another] invasion of privacy. An autistic person would be entitled to reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010 anyway, and there is no need to declare your disability to the police in advance of any dealings with them.

Could Such a Card Lead to Abuse?

Probably. If the wrong kind of person was to see your card, they would know your diagnosis and may use it as an excuse for bullying.

The more normalised these schemes become, the more police will expect to see a card. If you don't have one (either for ethical reasons, like me, or because you have one but lost it/forgot it), the police may refuse to provide the reasonable adjustment you are entitled to, demanding the card as proof. They are not allowed to do this, but the police aren't exactly well known for following the law!

Inconsistencies Between Schemes

Different schemes are run differently. In South Yorkshire, you need to provide proof of diagnosis in order to obtain a card. This makes sense as it will save people pretending they have autism in order to obtain a favourable service. However, schemes in other areas do not require proof of diagnosis, you simply ask for one and you get it. Such things will be open to abuse, but will also suit those who are likely to be autistic but are not yet diagnosed. Diagnoses of Autism on the NHS these days can take years.

Why ID Cards Through the Back Door?

In the 2000s, the Labour government tried to introduce national ID cards. This was a major intrusion on civil liberties, and naturally, was a complete failure. David Cameron's Conservative government rightly scrapped it (one of the few good things they did). Over the years we have seen more and more people/businesses try to 'encourage' the use of things resembling ID cards. The more people who apply for an Autism Alert card, the more information the police will have to lose or abuse, and the more it will normalise such things, which will lead to those who don't participate in the scheme being excluded.

Emergency Contacts

Alert cards often ask for details of at least one person who is available 24/7 as an "emergency contact". Why is this? Do the police not want to talk to the disabled person themselves? If you are locked up in a police cell, you need a solicitor, not a friend/relative with no knowledge whatsoever of law. And where do you even find a 24/7 emergency contact? Those with more severe autism are more likely to employ a carer, but those with less severe types of Autism like Asperger's Syndrome may not have any friends or family, and even if they do, they are probably not on 24 hour call out and probably will not have much legal knowledge (if any).

Does carrying such a police-approved card with your photo and name and medical details not resemble a typical ID card?

Autism Awareness Week

Autism awareness events should be used to promote awareness of what autism is, how it affects people, and what people can do to support those suffering from the condition. Instead, South Yorkshire Police decided to use it to promote their ID card scheme.

So, Should I get a card?

As a patient with Asperger's Syndrome, and as a civil liberties and privacy advocate, I recommend against it for the reasons mentioned in this article. Stand up for your right to privacy! Stand up for your entitlements under the Equality Act! However, these things must always be a personal decision. If you want a card, by all means apply for one, but do not be bullied into it.


Official South Yorkshire Police Alert Card Webpage

Rotherham Advertiser Article Advocating Alert Cards (Dated January 2021)