INDIANAPOLIS — A freshman city-county councilor is using her new platform to help people like her son who has autism.
Democratic councilor Ali Brown is behind the new citywide initiative called the Indy Autism Project, launched Monday afternoon during a news conference at Lucas Oil Stadium.
"What it all comes down to is I'm just a mom who has a soap box who desperately wants her child to succeed in life," Brown said.
Brown said it was inspired by her 4-year-old son Dylan, who's on the autism spectrum.
"When a child has this diagnosis, the feeling is so overwhelming because you know how mean and cruel the world is," she said, explaining the goal of the project is "to make Indianapolis for someone on the spectrum a safe place to live, work and play."
The program is similar to one in Mesa, Arizona which became the first autism-certified city in the country, with Indianapolis striving to become the second such city.
Indy's initiative focuses on five pillars: public safety, mass transit, workforce development, parks and recreation and tourism.
It involves training first responders, those in public transit and hospitality on how to best interact and communicate with someone on the spectrum.
IMPD Chief Randal Taylor said, when he heard about the initiative he knew, "we got to get on board for this. This is a win-win, not only for IMPD but the city."
Indy Parks also plans to train its employees on how to work with people on the spectrum and create "sensory play spaces."
Brown said the effort will also address "how our businesses interact, how they hire. People on the spectrum are often left behind when it comes to job hiring because they may not be the best job interview, but they're amazing at their job so we're going to work with HR departments."
Todd Root with the Autism Society of Indiana is thrilled with what Brown is doing and the potential for it to spread.
"We hope by Indianapolis being a model and getting everyone on board and compounding the effect, that other cities in Indiana will sign on and want to be a part of this," Root said.
Brown agrees, "whether it's the parent of a child or an adult on the spectrum, this should open a lot more doors. It's kind of the big hug lot people need to know they're not alone and we're here to support and accept them for who they are."
She stressed the project will be funded entirely through grants and donations.
Easter Seals Crossroads will work as the project's fiduciary partner, collecting and allocating money for the program. It also became the first donor, giving $10,000.