July 29, 2013—As a White House Champion of Change, Lydia Brown (C’15) recently spoke at a White House event commemorating the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Brown, an Arabic major, is one of only eight young people recognized for “their advocacy efforts, their innovative projects, and their embodiment of the spirit of ADA,” according to the White House Office of Public Engagement. The U.S. National Council on Disability nominated Brown, whose work includes creating an online resource and advocacy website called the Autism Education Project and speaking at numerous disability conferences.
“I am humbled to receive this great honor,” Brown said, “and hope that my work in the future will continue to reflect the values of translational social justice and equity for all.”
Active in advocating for disability rights, Brown is member the board of directors of TASH New England, a disability rights organization; the National Council on Independent Living Youth Caucus; and the Georgetown University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities’ Consumer Advisory Council.
“Lydia has been an enthusiastic advocate for the inclusion of all students on our campus. Her dedication and vision have been inspiring,” said Todd Olson, vice president of student affairs at Georgetown. “Our Jesuit mission calls us to be women and men for others, and Lydia exemplifies this commitment on a daily basis.”
This summer, she is interning at the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia as part of the American Association of People with Disabilities summer internship program. She will return in the fall to the Washington, DC-based Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, where she has worked for a year and a half.
As the author of the blog, Autistic Hoya, Brown has been invited to speak at numerous conferences, including the Association on Higher Education and Disability annual conference, the Girl Scouts National Conference on Inclusion, and the Autism National Committee annual conference.
Brown’s advocacy work is wide-ranging. She lobbied members of the legislature in her native Massachusetts to propose a bill requiring that law enforcement officers learn about autism while she was still in high school.
“If a police officer were being sarcastic, I would not know,” she said. “And if the officer did not realize that I wasn’t picking up on the sarcasm, the officer would just think I was being defiant,” she continued.
She is still hoping the Massachusetts legislation will become law, though it died this year in committee. She plans to re-file the bill in the 2013–14 legislative session. “This training, if done right, will teach officers appropriate de-escalation techniques for developmentally disabled people,” Brown said.
According to Brown, officers who don’t receive such training have accidentally arrested, inappropriately restrained, or used Tasers on autistic people—exacerbating meltdowns and prompting lawsuits that end up hurting police departments financially.
“Being autistic gives me a different outlook on the world,” Brown said. “I think it gives me a stronger sense of justice.”
Read more about Brown’s work on her blog, Autistic Hoya.