I’m rubbish at left and right. Any journey that employs me in the role of navigator is highly likely to involve U-turns and muffled expletives. Of course, minor miscommunications can have more long lasting consequences – just ask the Derry girls – but for most of us day to day communication isn’t something we think too much about. Want to phone your dentist or ask a shop assistant where to find the pepperoni or tell a friend about your day? No problem, you just get on and do it.
Communication: What’s the problem?
But for many people communication is a daily challenge. This could be for a variety of reasons, for example a physical disability that makes speech difficult, a mental disability that causes a person to have limited language skills, illnesses such as dementia that affect memory and processing, and Autistic Spectrum Disorders that increase the likelihood of speech being misinterpreted. In addition, many people have social anxiety that makes it hard for them to communicate effectively, particularly in stressful situations. Such problems can be immensely frustrating for anyone who is trying and failing to be understood but they can also have a severe impact on their life and even put them in danger. Just imagine they need an emergency ambulance and can’t find the right words to explain the problem. Or they get into a fight because they didn’t recognise the warning signs. Or a meltdown is misinterpreted as aggression. There are also systemic problems, for example a recent report on neurodiversity in the Criminal Justice System found that fair treatment, outcomes and equal access are “manifestly not being achieved for all neurodivergent people.”
Is the Surrey Police Pegasus scheme the answer?
Recognising this problem, Surrey Police have signed up to the Pegasus card scheme to try and help people with communication problems in emergency or difficult situations. Nothing to do with the winged horse or the Turkish airline, the scheme allows people with disabilities and differences to communicate better with the police and emergency services.
Pegasus card users can provide details of their disability, how this affects their day to day life, how they can best communicate and any extra support they need. They also provide their own and emergency contact details. These are securely stored and logged against a PIN number so that, if that person comes into contact with the emergency services, they simply need to say ‘Pegasus’ and their PIN or show their Pegasus ID card. Their details will be pulled up and they can be given the extra support they need without the challenge of explaining themselves all over again.
Is the Surrey Police Pegasus scheme enough?
Sadly, it’s all too easy to find stories of vulnerable people being mistreated because of their disabilities and communication problems, whether this takes the form of overt abuse or something as basic being placed in a high-sensory environment that triggers their anxiety. In my opinion schemes like Pegasus, and Autism Alert in Hampshire are a vital building block in providing equity for people who find it hard to communicate, but they are not enough on their own.
Whether or not Pegasus will help depends on whether those being invited to use it have confidence that their personal information will be used to support them and not stereotype them. It depends on emergency personnel having training to understand neurodivergent conditions and a culture that values those who need extra support. It depends on systemic changes being put in place, for example having low-sensory rooms available for autistic people and having more people trained in sign language.
Be part of the solution
Miscommunication is a hazard of daily life not just of emergency situations. We all have a responsibility to be aware of the challenges others face in communicating, listen to their experiences and make what changes we can to support them. If we’re not willing to be part of the solution then we can all too easily remain part of the problem.
- pegasus: Surrey Police