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Calls to Action

Pittsburgh Community Stresses Importance of Advocacy at Town Hall

March 06, 2015

Autism Speaks’ national series of Adult Services Town Halls on housing, residential supports and community living continued last night in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Individuals with autism, families, advocates and professionals in the area came out to discuss the many facets of adult life.

Located at the Children’s Museum and hosted in partnership with Pressley Ridge, the Town Hall opened with an adult services resource fair featuring several local service providers and agencies that offer programs and resources for adults with autism. During this time, families had the opportunity not only to connect with local resources, but with one another.

Brett Spitale, Executive Director of the Greater Pennsylvania Chapter of Autism Speaks, offered welcome remarks and provided context for the conversation to follow. Board Member Anthony Andreano then introduced the panelists, each of whom briefly described their background and work to support individuals with autism during the transition to adulthood and beyond. 

The panel included:

  • State Representative Dan Miller, 42nd District
  • Nancy Murray, ACHIEVA and the Arc of Greater Pittsburgh
  • Kelly Weimer, Pressley Ridge, Director of Autism Services
  • Paul W. O’Hanlon, Council Specializing in Disability Rights
  • Mark and Barbara Wallace, Parents and Advocates

With questions pitched from Mr. Spitale, who served as moderator throughout the evening, the conversation spanned from transition plans and direct services, to needs as they relate to housing, funding and planning, as well as how to increase awareness and facilitate change.

Barbara Wallace shared her personal story of developing a transition plan for her son that is designed to offer meaningful involvement in the community through volunteerism. The plan also created collaborative partnerships between the school and support agencies. Mark Wallace added that there’s a need for a variety of adult services and that more support for staff is essential.

Adding another perspective to this discussion, Kelly Weimer provided information about how Pressley Ridge works with young adults and their families to identify interests, build upon strengths and offer chances for program evaluation through transition age. If the plan is determined not to be the best fit, they will go back to see what can be done differently to be more supportive of the individual. Nancy Murray offered recommendations for what makes a strong transition plan: not only a focus on education, but also on health care and government benefits.

The panelists also touched upon different means of advocacy over the course of the discussion. Paul O’Hanlon talked about learning to navigate systems that weren’t designed for people with autism or disabilities and make them work for everyone. He later suggested that the accommodations needed to enable people with autism to thrive within the community are simultaneously beneficial for all. Rep. Dan Miller discussed how informed and engaged constituents can help to better educate their government on their issues and needs and reminded the audience that we must work together to make a difference.

After the panel discussion, audience members were invited to ask the experts questions, share their own experiences and voice their ideas. Though there will be challenges along the way, the panelists were optimistic that change can be made through awareness, collaboration and commitment. The audience was also left with a call to action: to get to know their State Representatives and Senators and to keep them informed and active in supporting the autism community.