Paul V. Sherlock Center on Disabilities Partners with RI State Police to Offer Disability Awareness Training to Troopers (RI UCEDD)

December 17, 2018

Corporal William Corson, RI State Police, pictured with Deborah Arenberg, Paul V. Sherlock Center on Disabilities at RI College.
Corporal William Corson, RI State Police, pictured with Deborah Arenberg, Paul V. Sherlock Center on Disabilities at RI College.

Paul V. Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College, in partnership with the RI State Police, is piloting a disability awareness training tailored to meet the needs of RI State Police Troopers. The intent of the training is to expand Trooper disability awareness and enhance their engagement with Rhode Islanders with disabilities.

Current research suggests that 12.6% of the population has an identified disability (Cornell, 2015) and that persons with disabilities are seven times more likely to interact with law enforcement (FBI, 2001). A 2008 research study, conducted by Modell & Mak, surveyed officers on their knowledge of disability. Although 50% of the officers surveyed rated themselves as competent when working with persons with disabilities, 80% of the officers were unable to distinguish between disabilities. For example, 56% could not distinguish between cognitive and physical limitations, and 86% incorrectly answered when asked to distinguish between cognitive and emotional disabilities. With an increased likelihood that law enforcement will interact with persons with disabilities, and data illustrating that officers have limited knowledge of disabilities, there is clearly a need for information.

In Rhode Island, 9.3% (9,854) of the population are persons with a disability under the age 65 years (U.S Census Bureau, 2017). The Rhode Island House of Representatives introduced a Bill in 2018 to ensure the training of officers on how to identify and respond effectively to this population. The Bill was not passed, but will be reintroduced in 2019. The RI State Police in the meantime decided to move forward on providing disability awareness training this fall for both their new recruits and existing sworn membership. The Sherlock Center assembled an interdisciplinary team of educators, family members, vision specialists, and mobility specialists to develop and implement this initial training series, which includes twelve two-hour sessions targeted for 230 Troopers. The training is delivered in small groups of 15-20, allowing ample opportunity for Troopers to ask questions and share their experiences with persons with disabilities. The Sherlock Center looks forward to building on its relationship with the law enforcement community. Plans are in place to provide a full-day training to the RI State Police 2019 class of recruits next spring.


"" Census Bureau QuickFacts, United States Census Bureau, 26 Nov. 2018,

Erickson, W., Lee, C., & von Schrader, S. (2018). 2016 Disability Status Report: United States. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Yang Tan Institute on Employment and Disability (YTI).

Modell, S. & Mak, S. (2008). A preliminary assessment of police officers' knowledge and perceptions of persons with disabilities. Intellectual and developmental disabilities. 46:3, 183-189.