Credit: Getty Images / releon8211

Some disabled residents and caregivers of disabled residents of the county say proposed  legislation in the Montgomery County Council that would create a voluntary 911 registry would be life-changing. Others have concerns the data collected by emergency responders could be used against disabled residents.

Bill 33-23, sponsored by Councilmember Dawn Luedtke (D-Dist. 7), would allow residents or their caregivers to self-identify traits that could assist emergency response officers when responding. These can include disabilities and health challenges such as “being non-verbal, sensitive to loud noises or bright lights, prone to avoid eye contact,” according to the legislation.

“Sometimes people with Alzheimer’s or dementia, for example, if confronted with a new thing will be combative. If you know coming in, that’s the cause of the irritation, then it helps everyone understand why, and it also helps our EMS clinicians to not try to think of an alternative medical reason for the agitation” Luedtke told MoCo360 in August. “It’s a good thing overall.”

The bill was inspired by a piece of legislation in the Maryland General Assembly this session. HB1176, sponsored by Howard County-based Del. Vanessa Atterbeary (D-Dist. 13) would have created a similar statewide 911 registry.

Although the legislation passed the House, it was stuck in a Senate committee when the session ended in April, leading Luedtke to work on county legislation. Howard County already has its own program.

“I loved Howard County’s legislation,” Luedtke told MoCo360 last month. “I didn’t want us as the largest jurisdiction in the state not to have this, especially with the emphasis that we try to have on serving everyone, including and especially those with special needs.”


Stephen Riley, the parent of a child with an intellectual disability, spoke in support of the legislation at a public hearing on the bill at Montgomery County Council Chambers in Rockville Tuesday afternoon.

“I think of individuals like my daughter who would understand what is happening but would not understand why she’s not being given enough time to answer to respond. Her slow pace of responding or reacting to a first responder could be misinterpreted as being uncooperative and lead to undesirable results,” Riley said. “More information ahead of time is always better than less information after the fact.”

Not every parent who spoke shared Riley’s sentiment. Joanna Silver, who said she is the parent and legal guardian of a 23-year-old with developmental disabilities, said she has overarching concerns about the police system and their interaction with disabled people.


“I have little confidence that information I give to the police about my son would be used to protect him from harm,” Silver said. “If I knew we had a system in place in which someone other than an armed police officer would be coming to my door I might feel differently.”

Marissa Ditkowsky, a member of the Silver Spring Justice Coalition who is also disabled, said she shares these concerns.

“As a disabled person, I fear police interactions myself and I also fear having my name on a government list of disabled people,” Ditkowsky said. “Additionally, having information about a person’s disability may actually increase the likelihood that an officer will inflict harm fueled by bias or discrimination, particularly without proper training or protocols.”


County resident Jake Didinsky said while he thinks the concerns about data collection need to be worked through, he believes the legislation could make a large positive impact. He shared a personal anecdote from a negative interaction he had with police in Virginia when he was teenager and police came by for a wellness check when he was struggling with his mental health.

“There were sirens blaring, they were banging down the door, and I cannot stress to you enough how horrifying it was,” Didinsky said. “I was a 16-year-old scared out of my mind, put in handcuffs in the back of a car for seven hours. That is the type of situation we are trying to avoid with this program. And I truly believe that if this program had existed, that would have been prevented.”

Luedtke has the support of co-sponsors Council President Evan Glass (D-At-large) and councilmembers Gabe Albornoz (D-At-large), Andrew Friedson (D-Dist. 1), Sidney Katz (D-Dist. 3) and Kate Stewart (D-Dist. 4).


A Public Safety Committee work session on the bill is scheduled for Sept. 18. It is not yet scheduled for a vote.