A View from the Podium
June 1, 2011 Prism Newsletter
By Ann Cameron Caldwell
I had the pleasure of being the appointed emcee for the first Autism NOW Regional Summit held in Beltsville, Maryland.
This role provided interesting opportunities. As the emcee, I helped to keep the summit together and on time by welcoming attendees; explaining the agenda; providing transitions from one session to the next; introducing and thanking speakers, and managing open question forums within their timeframes. More than this, being emcee allowed me to see the process information and knowledge transfer between attendees, speakers, volunteers, and session leaders first-hand.
What I Saw
So, what did I observe from the podium?
I saw people from diverse ages, ethnicities, and disabilities convene in one place for a day and a half. I watched connections being made on a personal level, one by one; table by table; session by session. I heard the energetic hum of conversations that did not want to be interrupted by anything I — or anyone else — had to say. I heard families engaging in conversations on topics new to them, topics such as self-determination, self-advocacy, hopes for a successful future, and a way through the jungle of everyday challenges. I saw attentive and selfless staff and volunteers giving their time to help others. I saw people with autism and other intellectual and developmental disabilities contribute to the event as key speakers, session leaders, and participants. I saw the need to do even better with providing accessible information to those with diverse levels of communication needs. Most importantly, I saw a space in time where people came together and belonged, were valued, learned new things, and were celebrated. From what I heard, people were changed by the experience of being there and being present.
We have four more Autism NOW Summits scheduled. If you can get there, go. It may just change your life.
Ann Cameron Caldwell is The Arc’s Chief Research and Innovations Officer.