The Autistic Self Advocacy Network’s 5-Year Anniversary Celebration was a wonderful event for all who attended, including those who made the evening possible.
Great thanks to ASAN President, Ari Ne’eman, and Mrs. Claudia Alderman, both of whom worked together with our stupendous host committee, volunteers and partners to prepare a great evening packed with amazing food and engaging speakers and guests.
Mr. James Weisman, Senior Vice President and General Counsel of the United Spinal Assocation, opened with witty remarks and incredible charm. As the Master of Ceremonies, Mr. Weisman was warm and welcoming, delighting young and old throughout the evening.
After introducing ASAN President Ari Ne’eman, Mr. Weisman helped the crowd to some laughter before setting the stage for the evening’s other speakers, Dr. Alexa Posny, Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services for the U.S. Department of Education, and Ms. Sharon Lewis, Commissioner of the Administration on Developmental Disabilities.
Assistant Secretary of Education Alexa Posny gave a wonderful speech on the need for transition services for students aging out of the public education system. Praising the role of ASAN and the self-advocacy movement as a whole, Dr. Posny stressed the importance of self-advocacy and self-direction skills for young people with disabilities.
Dr. Posny recounted the story of an Autistic young man graduating as salutatorian of his high school, noting that he is one among many others on the autism spectrum finding success despite the challenges facing students with disabilities in our school system. As recognition of the autism spectrum continues to grow, Dr. Posny expressed the commitment of the US Department of Education to working for successful outcomes for all students.
Last but certainly not least, Commissioner Sharon Lewis of the Administration on Developmental Disabilities addressed the attendees prior to the awards ceremony. Ms. Lewis gave great thanks ASAN for its work in Washington, DC and for “providing real depth to the self-advocacy movement.”
Commissioner Lewis also shared some personal remarks, noting that ASAN President Ari Ne’eman used to work for her when she worked at the House Committee on Education and Labor. With real emotion and passion in her voice, she thanked ASAN and all self-advocates for paving the path for her daughter and the rest of today’s youth with disabilities.
Ms. Nancy Thaler, Executive Director of the National Association of State Directors of Developmental Disability Services, accepted ASAN’s Outstanding Ally Award. In her thank you remarks, Ms. Thaler retold her reaction to being told she’d be honored with this award, feeling that the Autistic community selecting non-Autistic allies to recognize represented a shift in power towards the self-advocate community.
To her, and many others, this was a leap forward from the normal interactions between service providers and disabled adults. Ms. Thaler focused her remarks on the importance of the self-advocacy movement and the need to ensure the centrality of self-advocate voices in national, state and local conversations on disability.
Ms. Corina Becker and Ms. Kathryn Bjornstad, creators of Autistics Speaking Day, accepted awards for showing exceptional service to the Autistic community.
Both women gave great thanks to the Autistic community who had made the day into a reality. Kathryn Bjornstad recalled how that day changed her life and how empowered, much like the rest of the Autistic community, she felt.
Many thanks to our sponsors and supporters!
Update: Our anniversary celebration received local news coverage. For more details and photos, visit the Washington Times.