Each year, Autism Speaks hosts a Hill Day and Congressional Briefing to increase understanding and acceptance of autism and raise awareness of autism policy solutions amongst members of Congress.
This year on Wednesday, April 25th, over seventy advocates from all over the country gathered in Washington D.C. for Autism Speaks' Congressional Hill Day. To start the day, CEO and President of Autism Speaks Angela Geiger reflected with advocates on the value of advocacy in our efforts to increase understanding and acceptance of autism and pursue policy solutions for individuals across the spectrum and throughout the life span. Advocates were then briefed on federal policy issues, including the Autism CARES Act, the EMPOWER Care Act, and education bills, before taking to Capitol Hill.
Advocates visited all 535 congressional offices dropping off information about Autism Speaks' advocacy priorities and sharing how to 'Light It Up Blue'. Many advocates even scheduled legislative sit-down meetings with Members of Congress and/or their staff to further discuss current proposed legislation that benefits the autism community.
To celebrate their day of advocacy, advocates and legislators joined for the Autism Speaks Congressional Champions Luncheon at which specific members of Congress were recognized as legislative champions for individuals with autism and their families.
Representative Rosa DeLauro (CT-03) was awarded the 2017 Autism Speaks Congressional Champions Award for her help in securing increased funding for the National Institutes of Health through the FY18 omnibus appropriations bill. Representative DeLauro encouraged advocates to continue raising awareness saying, “your efforts are making the difference!”.
Senator Chuck Grassley (IA) was awarded the 2017 Autism Speaks Congressional Champions Award for introducing Kevin and Avonte’s Law in the Senate and advocating for its passage through the FY18 omnibus appropriations bill.
Senator Amy Klobuchar (MI) was awarded the 2017 Autism Speaks Congressional Champions Award for her leadership in the passage of Kevin and Avonte’s Law. She could not attend the luncheon so her staff accepted the award on her behalf.
Representative Chris Smith (NJ-04) received the Autism Speaks Congressional Leadership Award for his stewardship as a co-chair of the Congressional Autism Caucus for policies to support individuals with autism. He thanked advocates for their support saying, “we could not do that without you… thank you for your extended work”.
Senator Chuck Schumer (NY) received the Autism Speaks Congressional Leadership Award for his leadership in co-sponsoring Kevin and Avonte’s Law. He expressed his relief that many children will be protected through the initiatives under Kevin and Avonte’s Law and reiterated the continued need to promote autism research.
Senator Thom Tillis (NC) received the Autism Speaks Congressional Leadership Award for his continued representation of individuals with autism from his previous role in the North Carolina State Legislature to his current position in the United States Senate. In accepting the award, Tillis said, “the policy I like working most on is where the head and the heart meet.” Legislation that benefits individuals with autism and their loved ones “is just good policy, it’s caring policy,” according to Senator Tillis.