May 16-17, 2019 Forum

Renee Grassi, Recognized Library Leader & Disabilities Advocate Shares How the Olmstead Plan has Made Minnesota a Model for Inclusion

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renee grassi TA forum 2019

Renee Grassi, for years has been a recognized leader in inclusive library services.  Former Illinois native and Youth Services Librarian, Renee is passionate about advocating for people of all abilities.  As a librarian in several Illinois public libraries, she has won awards for her groundbreaking work in developing more accessible libraries and disability friendly programs.

Renee, who is currently the Youth Services Manager in the Dakota County Library in Minnesota, is a great fit for the “Bread & Butter” state, where inclusion is a top priority.  In 2015, Minnesota passed the Olmstead Plan, whose mission is ensure that the states’   residents with disabilities are living, learning, working and enjoying life in the most inclusive, integrated setting.  The plan addresses employment, housing, transportation, supports and services, lifelong learning and education, healthcare and healthy living, and community engagement.

With Renee’s experience and strategic vision, the Dakota County Library was the first library in Minnesota to receive a two-year $100,000 Minnesota Department of Human Services Innovations Grant to fund events, including an American Sign Language celebration, and a series of programs for summer 2019, including musical offerings and a sensory zoo.  In addition, grants were also used for the following:

  • Accessibility kits – Tools, adapted school supplies, and small equipment to support in-library use
  • Calming spaces – room designated for those on the spectrum and/or individuals with sensory sensitivities to self-regulate; includes sensory tools for hyper- and hypo-sensitivity
  • Staff training
  • Consulting services & assessment
  • Programs and marketing

For more information, the complete set of presentation slides is available here:

renee grassi ta 2019 Targeting Autism Presentation

Autistic Activist, Archivist & Blogger, Steph Diorio, Inspires the Forum to Move Beyond Autism Awareness

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Steph Diorio, the local history librarian/archivist at the Hoboken Public Library was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome in 2009 and has been a tireless autism advocate ever since.  She speaks at conferences and blogs about the issues autistic people face including: (1) accessibility; (2) being infantilized/talked down to; (3) being taken seriously; and (4) being talked over by parents and “experts.”

Steph has been blogging and talking to all who would listen since 2010 in an attempt to support other autistic people and amplify their voices.   As both a passionate autism advocate and gamer, Steph started the Autistic Gaming Initiative , a group that provides a social outlet for autistic gamers, as well as, a vehicle to raise money for autism charities run by and for autistic people.

In answer to the question, “If I’m not autistic, how can I help autistic people I know,” Steph stresses the importance of listening to them.  If an autistic person tells you that a type of therapy, an organization or a societal expectation is harmful to autistic people, believe them!  She also urges us to reject the medical model that describes autism as a condition to be treated.  As Steph says, “We don’t “have” autism, we “are” autism.

Steph Diorio’s presentation slides can be viewed at the link below:

Steph Diorio Self-Advocacy In Your Community_ An Autistic’s Guide To Speaking Up And Speaking Out

Gyasi Burks-Abbott Shares His Personal & Professional Journey as Disabilities Self-Advocate

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Gyasi TA19 2Gyasi Burks-Abbott is a librarian, writer, public speaker, autism self-advocate and a fellow with Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disorders (LEND), a nationwide training program including 52 locations across the nation, designed to improve the health of infants, children and adolescents with disabilities.

In his talk on Autism and Civil Rights, Gyasi shares a timeline depicting the slow paradigm shift from a medical model of disability to a social model, and from institutionalization to community inclusion.

The beginning of this shift is evidenced in the 1970s, in the following timeline, as disability begins to be treated as a protected class in anti-discrimination legislation:

  • 1973 – Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in programs receiving federal funds.
  • 1975 – Education for All Handicapped Children Act (later renamed IDEA) mandates a free and appropriate public education for all disabled children.
  • 1990 – Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, public accommodations, and public services.
  • 1999 – US Supreme Court Olmstead Decision rules that unjustified segregation of people with disabilities constitutes discrimination in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • 2014 – Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services Final Rule mandates that federal funds used for Home and Community Based Services must be in the most integrated setting.

Lei Wiley-Mydske Shares the True Meaning of Autism Acceptance and the Importance of Neurodiversity Libraries

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Of Lei Wiley-Mydske’s many endeavors, this autistic adult, disability activist and proud wife and mother in a neurodivergent family spearheaded a movement to create neurodiversity libraries throughout the world.  She started her own neurodiversity library, the Ed Wiley Autism Acceptance Library as a needed response to: (1) the abundance of mainstream messages about autism that focus on fear, stigma and pity; (2) the lack of inclusion in school and community; (3) the dominance of parent-centered “support” resources; (4) the strong focus on  the pathology paradigm/medical model; (5) the lack of attention paid to diverse autistic voices; and (6) the widespread misunderstanding of the meaning of acceptance.

The need to counter the negative messages and the suppression of autistic voices is inherent in the mission of autism acceptance and neurodiversity libraries.  Neurodiversity libraries serve to:  (1) curate and provide access to a collection of information, materials and resources on autism acceptance & neurodiversity; (2) amplify autistic voices; (3) reflect the goals of the neurodiversity movement and paradigm, as well as, the larger disability rights and disability justice movements; (4) fight stigma, ableism, oppression & inaccessibility; (5) celebrate autistic culture & autistic pride; and (6) promote inclusive schools & communities.

Lei provided the following example of a few books and films  that would be a good start to an autism acceptance collection in any library:


The Real Experts edited by Michelle Sutton

The ABC’s of Autism Acceptance by Sparrow Rose Jones

Typed Words, Loud Voices edited by Amy Sequenzia and Elizabeth Grace

Ask & Tell: Self Advocacy & Disclosure For People On the Autism Spectrum edited by Stephen Shore

All The Weight of Our Dreams: On Living Racialized Autism edited by Lydia X.Z. Brown, Morénike Giwa Onaiwu, and E. Ashkenazy

What Every Autistic Girl Wishes Her Parents Knew edited by Emily Paige Ballou, Kristina Thomas & Sharon da Vanport

Loud Hands: Autistic People, Speaking edited by Julia Bascom

The Obsessive Joy of Autism by Julia Bascom

Knowing Why: Adult-Diagnosed Autistic People on Life and Autism edited by Elizabeth Bartmess

I Think I Might Be Autistic: A Guide to Autism Spectrum Disorder Diagnosis and Self-Discovery for Adults by Cynthia Kim

Why Johnny Doesn’t Flap: NT is OK!  by Clay Morton and Gail Morton




Loving Lampposts: Living Autistic

Wretches & Jabberers

Spectrum: A Story of the Mind


Citizen Autistic


To view Lei Wiley-Mydske’s full powerpoint presentation, click on the following link:

lei TA 2019





Dilshad D. Ali Discusses Making Libraries More Welcoming to Muslims with Autism & Other Disabilities

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At the Targeting Forum, Dilshad D. Ali, autism mom, activist and 2015 White House “Champion of Change,” shared some classic misconceptions that people may have about Muslims, including the following:

  1. Mainly immigrant communities (rather than a vast range of first- and second- generation Muslim Americans)
  2. Muslims are mainly from the Middle East
  3. Muslims are identified by their headscarves, clothing or perhaps beards on men (not true!  All types of Muslims!)
  4. Language barriers

Issues facing the intersection of Muslims and Muslims with Autism in Public Spaces include the following:

Autism-related challenges

  1. Behavior challenges in social settings
  2. Sensory issues, where one must be quiet in certain situations or be able to navigate situations with people or crowds
  3. Reading social cues
  4. Challenges with waiting, engaging and interacting with others
  5. How behaviors are perceived in a public setting

Fear/pride of asking for help across cultures (Arab, Desi, Black Muslims)

Challenges Muslims face

  1. Suspicions (whether legitimate or perceived) due to visibility (Hijab or beard, other clothing)
  2. Micro-aggressions and other forms of minor or major Islamophobic actions
  3. Snap judgement (perpetuated by media stereotypes), whether legitimate or perceived
  4. Fear of asking questions/ asking for help
  5. Fear of law enforcement and figures of authority (can include librarians)

The Many Ways Libraries Can Be More Welcoming and Inclusive to Muslims with Autism and Their Families:

  • Like anyone living w/ autism, Muslim autism families are overwhelmed and may not know of the services libraries have to offer.   
  • Put up fliers or offer to put together an autism discussion at local mosques – a great way to reach the population. 
  • Reach out to Muslim autism families and individuals via social media with targeted messaging during key times – like Ramadan! (Ramadan greetings)
  • Have a dedicated section with information about Muslim-disability organizations as well as autism organizations and resources in general. 
  • Partner with schools to encourage library usage, using targeted messaging that welcomes folks from all religions and cultures.


Muslim Organizations and Networks Working on Disability Issues

Disability organizations primarily focused on American Muslim communities

  • MUHSEN (Muslims United for Handicap and Special Education Needs,, a non-profit striving to promote awareness, acceptance, and inclusion in Muslim communities and mosques (building model mosque disability inclusion programs)
  • EnabledMuslim (, a project of American Muslim Health Professionals (, is an online network providing spiritual and practical support for Muslims impacted by disabilities, both intellectual and physical
  • Global Deaf Muslim (, a non-profit that advocates for the rights and needs of deaf Muslims worldwide and particularly strives to improve accessible Islamic education and programming

Disability organizations founded and led by Muslims, serving the needs of people of all faiths:

  • EquallyAble Foundation (, a non-profit seeking to empower and include people with disabilities worldwide, by helping provide education, employment, medical equipment, innovative technology, outreach to promote inclusion, and religious community supports
  • ETI – Empowerment Through Integration (, a non-profit that propels disadvantaged blind youths to explore and achieve their career goals, with programs in the U.S., Lebanon, and more

Organizations serving the mental health needs of American Muslim communities:

  • Muslim Wellness Foundation (, an organization working to reduce stigma associated with mental illness, addiction and trauma in the American Muslim community
  • Naseeha Muslim Helpline (, 1-866-NASEEHA, a confidential youth helpline for young Muslims to receive immediate, anonymous, and confidential support over the phone
  • Stones to Bridges (, dedicated to empowering and supporting the needs of Muslim and other youth in North America, as a means to promote their emotional, social, and mental well-being
  • The Family & Youth Institute (, a non-profit research and education institute helping young people and their families realize their fullest potential through the development of the mind, body, and spirit

Muslim disability organizations and networks in Canada and the United Kingdom:

  • SMILE (, dedicated to supporting children living with disabilities and their families in Canada
  • Canadian Association for Muslims with Disabilities (, focused on community-based approaches to meet the needs of Canadians with disabilities and their families
  • Disabled Muslims Network, UK (, working to support and assist Muslims who have a disability and Muslim parents of children with disabilities


Dilshad’s presentation slides are available at the link below and under the Resources tab of this blog:

Islam, Disability & Library Systems

Hurry – Register Now for the 2019 Targeting Autism Forum!!!

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There are some remaining seats for the 5th Annual Targeting Autism Forum, May 16 & 17, at Dominican University, River Forest IL.  Join us for an opportunity to network and learn about neurodiversity, civil rights and libraries from many nationally known experts and self-advocates.

Registration has been extended through April 19.  Email Suzanne Schriar for more information or to register.

Below are just a few of our speakers: