Recently, I was asked to join the new City of Tampa’s Autism Friendly Advisory Committee, a council approved by Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. It was an incredible honor, and almost overwhelming in a way. While it may have something to do with self-confidence issues, I felt like I didn’t deserve it. All I am doing is indulging my passion for writing with this blog, and now I’m asked to represent the ASD community in the Tampa Bay area? While it’s still difficult for me to process, I decided wholeheartedly to accept the invitation. The meeting included representatives from several prominent institutions around the area, including MOSI, Glazer Children’s Museum and WEDU, and all were fully committed to the idea of an autism friendly Tampa Bay. For my own part, I put forward several ideas on how to improve the general relationship between individuals with autism and the city, such as promoting success stories and highlighting the positive aspects of inclusion in regards to ASD. If there’s any way for me to continue to provide a voice for our community here in Tampa, I’ll be proud to do so.
Perhaps the most important thing we discussed in the meeting was CARD’s crown jewel, the Autism Friendly Business Initiative that, with collaboration from the mayor’s office, has expanded into Autism Friendly Tampa (AFT). I’ve discussed it previously in past blogs, and you can read all about it on our website, but essentially AFT is a project aimed at training various businesses around the city, as well as the city employees & first responders. The training is provided by CARD-USF at no cost and seeks to improve an understanding of autism and best practices to engage and accommodate those on the spectrum and their families. Considering the significant number of us (there are estimated to be more than 25,000 people with autism in Tampa Bay), you can see how important this is to us. I fully support AFT’s efforts, and speaking from experience I can see the incredible potential. While I’ve never felt discriminated against in any way, I will say going out to certain places can be an anxiety-laden nightmare, where I feel like I’m being judged for my awkward posture, stuttering speech, inability to make eye contact, etc. Removing that layer of fear I know would be valuable not only to myself but others as well.
For its part, Tampa has been receptive to AFT, and we believe in it going forward. The positive feedback we’ve already received has been fantastic. One respondent went into detail about the importance of this project. They wrote, “cooperation with traffic and safety departments for a process to request caution road signs for motorist awareness could potentially save lives,” “The things some people may take for granted, such as dentists’ offices, recreational programs and therapy providers are critically important to our families,” and “With the right people and resources in place, I’m confident the Tampa initiative will have a profoundly positive impact on autistic individuals and their families.” This is a sentiment we hope to hear echoed over the coming years from families across the region affected by ASD.
** To view the official City of Tampa’s press release and the list of committee members click here.