New Law Helps Police Find Missing People With Disabilities

By Steph Whiteside
An Amber Alert notifies the public about a missing person

An Illinois law will make it easier for police to help find missing persons with intellectual disabilities.

The law, which went into effect the first of this year, requires the state to maintain a database and use a special alert system for missing people with an intellectual or developmental disability.

Margaret Nygren, executive director of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, said that while many individuals with disabilities do well in supportive communities, they may struggle where that support is not available — like when they get lost in an area they don’t know.

“Their level of functioning may not be the same as what a typically developing individual’s level of function may be,” Nygren said. “And they may not know how to approach the police to ask for help or how to alert someone they’re in danger.”

The law was sparked by a case involving a disabled man in Matteson, Il. who got lost during an outing with his group home and was missing for 21 hours. The man’s caretakers had wanted to use the Amber Alert system, which is designed to make communities aware of missing children, but could not do so, because the man was not a minor.

Now, police will be able to use a similar alert system to notify communities to be on the lookout for missing adults who are considered “high risk.”

The state’s database of missing persons with disabilities will also be helpful, according to Nygren, because current data collection does not always track whether missing people have a disability.

That data, she said, could help officials identify trends in the state, like if specific care providers are involved or if certain traits could put someone at higher risk for going missing.

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