NJ county launches registry to inform first responders when someone has special needs

The Atlantic County Special Needs Registry seeks to ensure first responders can prepare to care appropriately for a person with special needs


By Laura French

ATLANTIC COUNTY, N.J. — A New Jersey county launched a program last month to inform first responders when they are responding to assist someone with special needs.

The Atlantic County Special Needs Registry created by the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office privately stores information about the specific needs of residents with disabilities, such as Down syndrome or autism, which first responders can access when responding to a call, according to the prosecutor's office. The registry also stores the residents' contact information, and registration is free and voluntary. 

The Atlantic County Prosector's Office has launched a Special Needs Registry that provides first responders with information about the specific needs of disabled residents.
The Atlantic County Prosector's Office has launched a Special Needs Registry that provides first responders with information about the specific needs of disabled residents. (Photo/Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office)

Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon G. Tyner told The Press of Atlantic City that the goal of the registry is to make first responders, such as police officers, firefighters and EMS providers, aware of behavioral differences they may see when responding to a call so they can prepare to provide appropriate care and support. Tyner specifically referred to instances when situations may escalate if police officers aren't aware that an individual has a disability. 

Barbara Cummings, whose daughter Chelsea has Down syndrome, told The Press of Atlantic City that she believes the registry will be helpful for first responders to understand why a person may be acting out or behaving a certain way, and that it could prevent them from assuming a person is on drugs. She said it could be helpful for assisting people with special needs who may wander away and need help getting back home, as her daughter has in the past. 

Jill Patro, who is the president of Down syndrome awareness organization 21 Down and whose son Brett has Down syndrome, added that the registry will be helpful in identifying the specific needs of an individual, as one person may have different needs than someone else with the same disability. 

The registry also provides registrants with decals that can be displayed at their residence or on a vehicle, which Tyner said isn't a "scarlet letter" but a way to spread awareness about people with special needs in the community, according to The Press of Atlantic City. 

Kayla Preito-Hodge, an assistant professor of criminal justice at Rutgers-Camden, told The Press that the registry can only be effective if first responders receive the proper training to work with disabled people. 

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