Smith receives national award from Easter Seals for authoring laws to combat autism and for disabled vets…'LOOK AT ME'
“Congressman Smith’s dedication to children and adults with autism is second to none,” said Katy Neas, Senior Vice President of the Easter Seals Society, a disabilities service organization that lays claim as the nation’s largest provider of services to autistic children and adults, which Thursday night honored Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) for helping transform the landscape for people with disabilities and for leading the effort to continue the essential research and services work in 2012. Easter Seals said that thanks to the tenacity of Smith, his Combating Autism Act enacted in 2011 will support research and services through 2014.
“When we thought that the gridlock in Washington would end the essential programs created by the Combating Autism Act, he was able to break through the morass. As a result of his leadership, federal support of autism research and essential training to individuals who can effectively treat those with autism will continue,” Neas said.
In accepting the award, Smith told a story of a disabled woman who advocated for the disabled:
“Let me close my remarks this evening with this:
“In the early seventies, I put together a symposium on disability rights at my college that featured a remarkable young woman—Sondra Diamond of Philadelphia—a psychologist who was confined to a wheelchair with cerebral palsy.
“A tireless disability rights advocate, Sondra’s parents were told when she was born that the prognosis was so bleak, that it was highly unlikely that she would ever even talk.
“According to Sondra, some even said that she should never have been allowed to be born in the first place. With extraordinary persistence and resolve however, she did learn to talk and excel—talk about the work ethic.
“So Sondra began her speech by ordering us to: ‘Look at me!
‘Yes, I’m shaking—in your eyes convulsing—but look at me.
‘Stop looking away and averting your eyes. I’m just like you,’ she said, ‘filled with hopes and dreams and the need to love and be loved.
"‘Look at me,’ she said a third time.
“As I looked—and others did too, even stared—and you know what, I stopped seeing her disability and flailing arms and saw instead a remarkably courageous woman—incredibly smart, tenacious, successful.
“A beautiful woman, filled to overflowing with faith, love for God, and for people—and a mission to tangibly help disabled persons.
“‘Look at me.’ That’s what Easter Seals has done so well and for so many and for so long—for almost a century.
“Acknowledge the disability—treat it, mitigate its consequences, pursue a cure.
“But see the beauty, dignity, specialness, innate God- given sacredness of every human life.
“See the infinite value of the person wrapped inside the disability.
“And see as well the family and the care givers who at times, perhaps often, are crushed with challenges and pain—a pain those within the nondisabled community often fail to comprehend or appreciate.
“But of course, not you. This room is filled with women and men who get it and are determined to make a significant difference. Easter Seals is there always, for them. Always.”
Smith authored The Combating Autism Reauthorization Act (CARA)”— (now Public Law 112-32, signed into law in September 2011. CARA is providing $693 million over the next three years to continue the program. Smith’s law authorized for each of the next three fiscal years: $22 million for the Developmental Disabilities Surveillance and Research Program; $48 million for Autism Education, Early Detection, and Intervention, and; $161 million for hundreds of Research Grants at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and for the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee.
He also authored the provision in Title I of the Children’s Health Act (PL 106-310) which created the Centers of Excellence in Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disabilities Epidemiology that carries out autism studies. Smith’s landmark legislation enacted in 2000—the Autism Statistics, Surveillance, Research and Epidemiology Act (Title I, P.L. 106-310) created the first comprehensive federal program to combat autism.
Smith is also the prime author of a dozen veterans’ laws, including the Homeless Veterans Comprehensive Assistance Act (P.L. 107-95) , and the Veterans Health Programs Improvement Act of 2004 (PL 108-422)—which authorized regional polytrauma medical centers for disabled veterans.