Can-Do-Ability: Answers and Solutions from my personal experiences of living with a disability

Cop Confuses Cerebral Palsy With Drunkenness

8 Apr 2011A disabled Englishman, who'd been visiting Australia during a working holiday, was wrongly accused of being drunk and disorderly, and forced to spend hours in a prison cell.

After a night out in Melbourne, 25-year-old David Fitzmaurice, who was born with Cerebral Palsy, was attempting to hail a cab on Lonsdale Street at around 3:45am, when a police officer grabbed him and pushed him backwards into a bin, breaking his phone in the process, telling the young man that he'd told him to get back three times. Even though David said, he'd only heard the officer once he was grabbed and forced backwards.

David was then arrested by the officer for being drunk and disorderly in public. He admitted to having three glasses of wine throughout the night, but assured the officer that he was not drunk, he was merely disabled, showing the officer his concession card from England. This did nothing to sway the officer's belief that David was drunk.

Due to David's Cerebral Palsy, he walks with a prominent limp and has some paralysis on the left side of his body, which could give the appearance that he is drunk, when he in fact isn't.

Forced to wait out the rest of his night in a cold prison cell, wearing only trousers and a singlet top, David has now lodged a complaint against the police officer and the way in which the matter was handled, with the Office of Police Integrity. His complaint highlights the issues in which he was discriminated against because of his disability, he was refused a blanket to stop him from being cold (David also has Marfans Syndrome, which affects his circulation. If not kept warm, he can go into shock), and that his phone was damaged during his arrest.

In an article in the Herald Sun, the Office of Police Integrity did not wish to make any public statements. You can view the original story here: http

David is concerned that this could happen to others if the police and general public aren't educated enough to be aware of the difference between a drunk, and someone with a motor skills disability.

I'm sure there are many incident's of people with severe disabilities being accused of being drunk. I remember a report on American television, where they experimented to see if any passer by's would stop to attend to a person who supposedly suffered a diabetic seizure, and was collapsed on the ground. Many people later admitted that they thought the person was drunk and didn't want to go near them, and very few people stopped to check if the person was still alive.

This is just another reminder that just because you see something, you can't always assume the worst. There are numerous disabilities that affect balance and neurological control of a person's body, so next time you see someone wobbling down the street, have another thought before you make the judgement that they are an alcoholic.

Have you ever had your disability mistaken for drunkenness? Or accused someone of being drunk and later found out they were disabled? What did you do? What did they do? I'd be keen to hear any stories related to this topic.

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Previous Comments

R Wheels from Brighton posted on 16 Dec 2015
Yes read your comments ,and yes I often get accused of being drunk disabled as yourself ,sometimes bus driver;s just drive off ,and I am stopped from going in some stores and clubs,, I am getting a bit fed up of being wrongly accused , I have a disabled bus pass ,but not a card to carry which would be a great asset !

Dean from Sydney posted on 4 May 2011
Happens to me all the time, at a music festival on saturday just gone after only 2 mouthfuls of a mid strength beer i was accused of being to drunk, though in this case as in most after explaining my situation i was left alone, though asd usual watched very carefully had gotten the slightest bit drunk i would have been thrown straight out...

Toni from Wollongong posted on 10 Apr 2011
I understand how David feels, not with the police part, but being accused of being drunk when it is in fact your disability that is the cause.I sometimes go without my wheelchair because in my area not every bus is wheelchair accessible so I am forced to walk. While I walk my husband has to keep me up and stop me from falling with every step because my condition has destroyed my balance completely, and I have never gone out since one girl said " Look at that poor man trying to keep that drunk on her feet"I was in tears after that and I have refused to go out ever since because I am always presumed to be drunk.I think everyone ( includ. Police) need education on disabilities and how close they can to resemble someone that is drunk.

Lauren from Sydney posted on 9 Apr 2011
My husband works for nightclubs, he is in the security industry and although he is trained to identify if someone is drunk or disabled, unfortunatly it is a common bullshit excuse that a lot of abled bodied people use when they are drunk. This can make it harder for security and police to do their job, they are not doctors, and they do have a difficult decision to make. Perhaps the general public should be better educated of what happens for the disabled when the average person goes out drinking and then falsely claim that they are disabled just because they want to continue drinking and not leave a venue after being told to. In the long run the disabled suffer because it seems it's a "typical excuse" sad but true.

Prabhu from India posted on 9 Apr 2011
I am Sad too Read this..Anywhere in the world, the policemen were same in behaviour. The govt should educate the police men to find out the drunken persons from others....

Peyton from Sydney AU posted on 8 Apr 2011
I have been accused for drunkeness, but also have been denied access to certain shops, venues, colleges for worshops and also for jobs. I think most people in society assume that we in general can not do anything no matter the disadvantage or even our advantages. They look at it as more a negatiive. I have had people turn away, call out names and insisting we should all be dead. I have even had a fall in public and needed assistance and they do not even respond. It's a disgrace what society has become, not accepting people who are disabled. I also think that because of this most of the suicides that occur are most likely disabled in some way because of suffering expiriences like this.

bint alshamsa from Baton Rouge Louisiana USA posted on 8 Apr 2011
This is hard for me to read. I have a great uncle who did die from a diabetic coma while in the hands of the police who just assumed that he was drunk and wouldn't get him medical treatment. My great aunt was never the same, afterward. Actually, our whole family was never the same. I was young, but it marked the first time that I realized that the police are not my friend nor are they the friends of any person of color and/or person with disabilities.

Earth from Central Queensland posted on 8 Apr 2011
Yes, at times I slur my words when I talk and also my gait is wrong at times too. This has led to people thinking that I am drunk.I remember 4 years or so, I was walking through the CBD of Rockhampton and I ended up talking to someone(can't remember who nor if I knew them) at about 8am. They asked if I had been drunk and was drunk, only to disbelieve me when I said no.This person, as I've experience on other occasions, even leaned in to sniff my breath. Despite not smelling any alcohol, refused to believe that I was not drunk.When this first started to happen, I never knew that I was starting to slur my words and so, never understood what these people were on about. Now, I just say that I sometimes slur my words while talking. If they ask why, I just say that it's a neurological problem.

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