2017 Grassroots Leadership Award: Dustin Gibson

posted Jul 20, 2017, 8:13 AM by Jessica Benham   [ updated Jul 20, 2017, 8:15 AM ]

PCAA is excited to announce that Dustin Gibson will be the recipient of the Grassroots Leadership Award at our 2017 gala. This award is given to an individual who has demonstrated leadership and sustained commitment to bringing marginalized communities together in ways that align with PCAA's values. These values include advancing the equity of marginalized people through inclusive education, policy, and community, while working to empower leaders in our community using principals of the disability rights movement and intersectional feminism.

Dustin Gibson is a Black Disabled community builder that works to undo ableism and racism. He currently serves as the Director of Independent Living Services at the Center for Independent Living of South Central Pennsylvania. He also serves on the board of directors for the National Council on Independent Living, constructs curriculum through the Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living and works as a consultant with the National Center on Disability and Aging. Dustin is the co-founder of the disability-led organization, Disability Advocates for Rights and Transition and is also a member and co-founder of The Harriet Tubman Collective. Through the administering of workshops and project based efforts, Dustin works with several grassroots organizations to eliminate police brutality, support students with disabilities and disrupt the school to prison pipeline. 

Image description: Dustin is standing at a podium, leaning into the microphone. He wear a light blue shirt. 

2017 Autistic Advocacy Award: Michelle Middlemiss

posted Jul 7, 2017, 6:28 AM by Jessica Benham

We're thrilled to announce that Michelle Middlemiss will be the recipient of our 2017 Autistic Advocacy Award at our Gala. This award is given to an autistic person who has demonstrated commitment to the values and mission of the disability rights movement and intersectional feminism in Western Pennsylvania.
Michelle had no concrete idea that she was autistic until the age of 30. Up until then she was diagnosed with having an “unknown cognitive disorder.” After finally being diagnosed with Autism, ADHD and Dyslexia she was accepted into the Autism Waiver for PA, which literally saved her life. The Waiver set her up with a staff that works on strategies and coping skills that help with daily life challenges. Because of this involvement she became committed to helping otherson the autism spectrum. Michelle achieved her Associates Degree as a Teacher’s Assistant and hopes to work with autistic students in a classroom setting. She has volunteered at Spectrum and Sunrise Schools working with students on the spectrum and found that she can help them in ways “someone who doesn’t live it every day” can’t.

In 2013 she was asked to speak on a panel in Lancaster at the 6th Annual PA Autism Training Conference. Normally that would seem impossible for her to cope with because of the large group; but when she is speaking to anyone about autism, she becomes a different person and her advocacy takes over. At the PATC she spoke to the crowd with her heart pouring out to them; she became confident in what she wanted them to learn about autism. In 2015 she was invited to be a member of the ISAC Subcommittee which meets quarterly in Harrisburg. The board helps develop policies and feedback involvement for autism advocacy. Since then she has been an invited speaker at multiple autism functions, speaking to professionals and parents of those on the spectrum. Michelle loves writing for PITTVERSE magazine which is written totally by autistic writers!

One event she is most proud of came last year at election time with the primaries. When she went to vote they told her she was registered as an independent, which was incorrect and stopped her from voting. Michelle brought up both her voting and disability rights and was persistent in them contacting a lawyer who works with human rights and disabilities. The result was that a lawyer with these credentials obtained the paperwork needed and walked it up to the courthouse to get it signed by a judge. It was faxed back to the voting poll and after waiting 5 hours; Michelle signed the paperwork and put in her vote!
Thanks for all the work you do, Michelle - we're thrilled to honor you with this award.

Image 1 description: Michelle, from the side, wearing headphones and sunglasses. She wears a white t-shirt and looks off into the distance. She is outside, and there is grass and a fence in the background.

Image 2 description: Michelle stands in front of stairs. A grey cat sits behind her on the stairs. She is holding two stuffed animals and wearing sunglasses. Her hair is short and brown.

PCAA Gala!

posted Jun 5, 2017, 7:04 AM by Jessica Benham

Tickets available! Join us for a gala to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Pittsburgh Center for Autistic Advocacy. As an organization run entirely by self-advocates, PCAA accomplished much in this past year through the work of almost entirely unpaid volunteers. We did over 1000 hours of work to build Autistic community in Pittsburgh, including holding four social meet-ups, two film screenings, two open mics, a Disability Day of Mourning vigil, our second annual Celebration of Autistic Community resource fair, and an Autism Acceptance Silent Disco at the Warhol. Your support through this gala will allow us to continue to:

  • Advocate for Autistic people with our legislators in Harrisburg and D.C.

  • Advise on sensory-friendly events

  • Hold self-advocacy trainings for Autistic teens and adults

  • Train first responders to work with Autistic clients

  • Provide autism-competency trainings to organizations

  • Facilitate a transition-age youth support group

  • Produce educational videos for Autistic people

  • Develop an accessibility toolkit for local event organizers

  • Host adult meet-ups, documentary screenings, and other events

  • Provide information, referrals, and community support via email

We so appreciate the support of our steering committee members and all of our allies as we continue to build Autistic community in Pittsburgh. For questions or to pay by check, please contact jess@autisticpgh.org.

The Pittsburgh Center for Autistic Advocacy is a project of Side Project Inc., a 501(c)(3) public charity. The official registration and financial information of Side Project Inc. may be obtained from the Pennsylvania Department of State by calling toll-free, within Pennsylvania, 1-800-732-0999. Registration does not imply endorsement.

People with Disabilities Gather to Celebrate Disability Community

posted Apr 25, 2017, 10:00 AM by Jessica Benham   [ updated Apr 25, 2017, 10:01 AM ]

Matt Berwick, Program Director of the Disabilities Resource Center at UMPC, is proud to be part of the disability community, whose members he calls “the coolest people on the planet.” For Pittsburghers with disabilities, disability community is a way of connecting with others who have similar life experiences. Alisa Grishman, leader of Access Mob Pittsburgh, adds, “I’ve met a lot of my friends through disability community.”

 Saturday night found many people with disabilities gathered at Nordy’s for an open mic and networking night hosted by the Pittsburgh Center for Autistic Advocacy (PCAA) and Students for Disability Advocacy (SDA). Jess Benham, Director of Public Policy at PCAA, described her vision for the occasion as “celebratory.” People with disabilities are not often invited to share their thoughts or ideas, even when decisions are being made that directly impact their lives. This event was an opportunity for people with disabilities to reclaim the microphone and celebrate their lived experiences.

The evening featured speakers with disabilities, including Dr. Bethany Ziss of the Children’s Institute who quipped, “I’m a disabled person and a doctor, and I believe the two are not mutually exclusive.” FISA Foundation sponsored ASL interpretation for the event. Between speakers, attendees mingled over chips and soda.

People with disabilities have many of the same goals and desires in life as everyone else and often rate their quality of life highly. They have friends and romantic partners, careers and hobbies. Brandon Daveler, President of SDA, believes communication and interaction are important “whether you have a disability or not.”

Yet for many of the attendees, this event was something quite special. “Tonight,” remarked Cori Frazer, PCAA’s executive director, “disabled voices were not only heard, but embraced.”

Autism Acceptance Month 2017

posted Apr 7, 2017, 3:17 PM by Cori Frazer   [ updated Apr 7, 2017, 3:27 PM ]

A person wearing a Pittsburgh Center for Autistic Advocacy hoodie happy stims.
Welcome to Autism Acceptance Month! We have been having a great time celebrating neurodiversity and Autistic culture. We're hosting and helping out with a handful of events this month, and we hope you will join us.

Autism Acceptance Silent Disco
April 20, 6 PM - 10 PM - Andy Warhol Museum
All Ages 6PM-8PM, 18+ with cash bar after 8 PM
We're excited to collaborate with the Andy Warhol Museum for Autism Acceptance Month! Join us at the museum for a silent disco for people autism and those sensory sensitivities. Join us at the museum for a silent disco for people autism and those sensory sensitivities. DJ Naeem will spin a live set of dance classics. Rather than playing loud music through speakers, wireless headphones allow attendees to opt in or out of the soundtrack and control their own volume levels.

The museum’s underground studio The Factory is transformed into an enclosed sensory room for the evening, and quiet areas are provided. Guests are encouraged to wear comfortable, festive attire and to take portraits in the museum’s photobooth. The event will feature a screening of the documentary Vectors of Autism [trailer]. Light refreshments are provided, and a cash bar is available after 8PM.

For more information and to buy your ticket, check out the Warhol's website.

Disability Community Open Mic Night
April 22, 7 PM - 10 PM - Nordy's Place, William Pitt Union (3959 Fifth Ave)
Join us for an open mic night celebrating our lives as people with disabilities. Take the stage and share your stories, poems, songs, stand-up routines, or similar. Let’s celebrate the diversity of our bodies, minds, and experiences together as a community! Networking to follow performances.

Contact jess@autisticpgh.org to sign up to speak or sign up at the door. If possible, please bring a copy of what you plan to say for the interpreters. ASL interpretation will be provided. The space is wheelchair accessible.

Celebrate Autistic Communty
Celebration of Autistic Community
April 29, 1 PM - 4 PM, the Children's Institute (1405 Shady Ave)
Join Autistic people and our families as we celebrate neurodiversity and embrace our culture and community. Check out a resource fair of supports and services, advocacy efforts, books, and fidget toys. Enjoy a sensory gym, tell us about your special interest and favorite stims, and learn about Autistic history and activism.

We are still accepting exhibitor applications for this event. Interested organizations can apply here.

Printable flyers

Day of Mourning 2017

posted Apr 7, 2017, 2:56 PM by Cori Frazer   [ updated Apr 7, 2017, 2:56 PM ]

Brenda, a woman in a wheelchair, speaks before the crowd at Disability Day of Mourning. An ASL interpreter stands behind her.
For the third year, we came together with disability activists and the community in Pittsburgh to mourn the lives of disabled people lost to murder by their parents and caregivers. We heard fantastic and heart wrenching remarks by Brenda Dare and Dr. Bethany Ziss, as well as a history of the phenomenon from our director, Cori. The event was organized and MC'd by our Director of Public Policy, Jess Benham. We were honored to come together with our community to resist the narrative that disabled life is tragic.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette covered the story. For more information on the Disability Day of Mourning, check out the Autistic Self Advocacy Network's Anti Filicide Toolkit and the Ruderman Family Foundation's White Paper.

Disability Day of Mourning

posted Feb 7, 2017, 12:26 PM by Cori Frazer   [ updated Feb 7, 2017, 12:26 PM ]

A tri-fold poster with a collage the photos of many disabled people who have been killed by their caregivers. The top reads, "Mourn for the dead and fight like hell for the living."
Please join us on Wednesday, March 1 from 7PM-9PM to mourn the disabled victims of filicide. At the William Pitt Union (3959 Fifth Ave) room 548, we will host speakers who will reflect on this horrific problem, read the names of the deceased, and come together to mourn together and process our community's trauma.

In the year since our last vigil, our community has lost 100 more people to filicide. These are just the cases that we are aware of – since we began monitoring this issue, we learn about more murders every week. We read the victims’ names, see their photographs, and gather what information we can about their lives. The criminal justice system has continued to give lighter sentences to parents and caregivers who murder disabled children. And we have seen both news and entertainment media continue to portray these murders in a sympathetic light.

We hold the Day of Mourning vigils to draw attention to these injustices, to commemorate the lives of victims, and demand justice and equal protection under the law for all people with disabilities. 

The space is accessible to mobility device users and ASL interpretation will be provided. For additional accessibility needs, please email cori@autisticpgh.org.

#100Days of US

posted Jan 11, 2017, 7:49 AM by PCAA Admin   [ updated Jan 11, 2017, 7:49 AM ]

We're excited to be part of the Sprout Fund's #100Days of US funding opportunity. We've listened to our community and put together an awesome pitch. Now, we just need your help to make sure we can share our skills with the autistic community so that every autistic person in Pittsburgh can have the opportunity to learn grassroots and legislative advocacy skills. Want to help? We just need you to click here and hit the "like" button in the upper right corner to vote for our project. Check out our video pitch below!

Disability Mentoring Day

posted Oct 6, 2016, 5:27 PM by Cori Frazer   [ updated Oct 6, 2016, 5:29 PM ]

The camera looks out from the audience toward a panel table where three people sit.
On Wednesday, October 5, The City of Pittsburgh hosted a half-day training for city employees hosting high school students with disabilities for Disability Mentoring Day, a national effort by the American Association for People with Disabilities to support career development and hands-on career development for students with disabilities. At the training, Cori Frazer presented on a panel of disabled adults to answer questions and help City employees prepare to host a student in their workplaces. In attendance were City employees in a variety of vocations, from administrative assistants to forensic specialists. After the panel, the training split up into small groups where people with disabilities and professionals who work with people with disabilities discussed expectations and ideas for the event with city employees. You can find out more about Pittsburgh's involvement in Disability Mentoring Day at the video below.

Citizen Autistic Inspires Reflection, Discussion

posted Sep 27, 2016, 4:03 PM by Jessica Benham

The Pittsburgh Center for Autistic Advocacy, in coalition with Students for Disability Advocacy at the University of Pittsburgh, held a screening of the Citizen Autistic documentary this past Sunday. The film, which overviews the autistic civil rights movement, inspired reflection and discussion from attendees about our history and goals for the future. Delaine Swearman, a member of PCAA's steering committee, called Citizen Autistic, "eye-opening," and continued, "
It's sad to see how many parents are working so hard to raise money that they think will help their children, yet really they are just giving it away to an enormous entity that doesn't do much of anything to actually help their children." The Pittsburgh Center firmly believes in keeping money for Autism supports, services, and advocacy in our local community.

Dr. Bethany Ziss of the Children's Institute commented, "I thought Citizen Autistic did well contrasting the tragedy and medical model portrayal of autism with the aims of the neurodiversity rights movement to place it within the greater disability rights and civil rights perspective."  The Autistic rights movement exists within a long history of disability and civil rights movements across the United States and internationally. Medical models of disability place impairment entirely in the individual person, as a problem to be cured. The neurodiversity perspective, by contrast, emphasizes that social structures and physical obstacles may prove the most disabling factors of all. 

Discussion after the film focused on different ways to self-advocate, spanning from individuals standing up for themselves to mass protests. Dir. Jess Benham of PCAA quipped that the discussion had created an "advocacy spectrum." Dr. Ziss further noted, "Advocacy really is the story of specific people doing specific things, and the movie highlighted so many people across the 'advocacy spectrum.'"

Image description: A photo of the first few rows of the audience for the documentary screening with people sitting in the rows. The screen shows the sign for the Judge Rotenberg Center, an institution which the documentary critiques for its use of aversives in attempts to stop certain behaviors. 

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