Delco teen develops boards to help first responders communicate with people with disabilities

Beccah Hendrickson Image
Thursday, January 5, 2023
Teen develops tool to help communicate with people with disabilities
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Jessica Smith has worked with police departments across Delaware County to tailor communications boards to their needs. Now, the idea is really gaining steam.

UPPER CHICHESTER TWP., Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- A Delaware County teenager is hoping to change the way first responders interact with people with disabilities by providing them with a new tool.

Jessica Smith, 19, has spent the last few years designing police communication boards, which are laminated pieces of paper to help an officer and a person who may not understand them to get on the same page.

"They aren't trained well enough to deal with people with disabilities and I wanted to make these boards to start a change," said Jessica, who makes the boards with pictures and easy phrases like 'when is your birthday' or 'scared.' It's based on a board-making program the teen has used her entire life.

"I care because I personally have autism and I've had some instances with the police, none of them were too bad," said Jesscia.

Still, she thought the interactions could have gone better.

"Then there's 'too loud' and 'too bright' for people who may have sensory issues," she said explaining some of the pictures.

"She saw a need. She saw a need that was out there and she had an interest in helping people," said Carl Smith, Jessica's dad who is an EMS director at Boothwyn Ambulance.

She's worked with police departments across Delaware County to tailor communications boards to their needs. Now, the idea is really gaining steam.

"I sent boards to Richland County, South Carolina, and I've also sent boards to Nye County, Nevada," said Jessica.

As she teaches the boards to anyone who will listen, she's building a community where we can all be a little more understanding.

"Ever since I've started doing this, I've been getting better practice with social skills," she said.