College Autism Summit 2021

Keynote Speakers


College Autism Summit Logo: The Power of Connection

Keynote Speakers

Lydia X. Z. Brown

Lydia X. Z. Brown

Photo: Black and white image of a young East Asian person with glasses smiling and laughing, looking slightly away from the camera. Photo by Colin Pieters for I Identify As Me.

About Lydia X. Z. Brown

Advocate, Educator, & Attorney

Lydia X. Z. Brown is an advocate, educator, and attorney addressing state and interpersonal violence targeting disabled people living at the intersections of race, class, gender, sexuality, faith, language, and nation. Lydia is Policy Counsel for Privacy & Data at the Center for Democracy & Technology, focused on algorithmic discrimination and disability, as well as Director of Policy, Advocacy, & External Affairs at the Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network. They are founding director of the Fund for Community Reparations for Autistic People of Color’s Interdependence, Survival, & Empowerment. Lydia is adjunct lecturer/core faculty in Georgetown University’s Disability Studies Program, and adjunct professorial lecturer in American Studies at American University’s Department of Critical Race, Gender, & Culture Studies. They serve as a commissioner on the American Bar Association’s Commission on Disability Rights, chairperson of the ABA Civil Rights & Social Justice Section’s Disability Rights Committee, board co-chair of the Disability Rights Bar Association, and representative for the Disability Justice Committee to the National Lawyers Guild’s National Executive Committee. Lydia is currently creating their own tarot deck, Disability Justice Wisdom Tarot.  Often, their most important work has no title, job description, or funding, and probably never will. 

About the Keynote Address

Neurodiversity, Disability Justice, & Radical Access in Higher Education

October 26, 2021, 6 p.m. ET

Neurodivergent, crip, mad, and disabled people are already present in colleges and universities. Yet pervasive ableism, reinforced and intersecting with other forms of systemic injustice and structural oppression, relegates us to the margins, keeps us outside the gates, and forces too many of us out. Disabled students, scholars, and community members are working constantly to challenge the narrative that we do not belong in the academy, and to demand recognition and respect for disabled people’s ways of knowing, being, learning, and relating. Disability Justice goes beyond limiting frameworks of equity, inclusion, and diversity, and challenges us to incorporate multimodality, flexibility, fluidity, and interdependence into our pedagogies, technologies, classrooms, and communities. 

David James (DJ) Savarese

David James (DJ) Savarese

Photo:  D.J. Savarese, a male with brown hair and dark glasses. Photo credit to Pamela Harvey Photography.


About David James (DJ) Savarese

Artful Activist, Public Scholar, & Poet

David James “DJ” Savarese ( is an artful activist, public scholar, and practicing optimist. He is the co-producer, narrative commentator, subject, and poet of the Peabody award-winning documentary Deej: Inclusion Shouldn’t Be a Lottery and founded Listen2Us: Writing Our Own Futures as an Open Society Foundation Human Rights Initiative Youth Fellow. As Co-Chair of the Alliance for Citizen Directed Support, he is designing and fundraising for the Lives in Progress project, an online map and database that documents dis/Abled self-advocates’ experiences, and offers the tools, resources, community and mentorship necessary to pursue meaningful, self-directed lives. His publications include a chapbook, A Doorknob for the Eye; a “Notable” Best American Essay, “Passive Plants;” an insight piece, “Coming to My Senses;” and numerous poems in various literary journals. Forthcoming publications in 2021-22 include an auto-ethnographic study, “Unearthing the Tools (and Concepts) That Bury Us;” a co-authored essay on life-writing across genres, “Enmeshing Selves, Words and Media, or Two Life Writers in One Family Talk about Art and Disability,” and a multiply-authored chapbook, Studies in Brotherly Love (PromptPress). He also teaches and presents nationally on a range of topics. Before moving to Iowa City, he graduated from Oberlin College ’17 with a double major in Anthropology and Creative Writing.

About the Keynote Address

Rhizing & Thriving: My Self-Determined Journey Through College & Beyond

October 29, 2021, 12 p.m. ET

The number of alternative and augmentative communication (AAC) users attending higher education has never been greater. In the Peabody Award-winning film Deej: Inclusion Shouldn’t Be a Lottery, we watch co-producer, narrative commentator, poet, star, and AAC-user, DJ Savarese move out of state and begin his first semester at a highly selective, residential, liberal arts college ( This keynote presentation will take us behind the scenes and on a deep dive into the specific academic, social, emotional, and financial supports, strategies & tools that DJ, his professors, his assistants and his classmates create to enhance their collective learning and living experiences in the classroom, on campus, and beyond.


The Autism Friendly Campus

This featured panel will discuss the implementation of Autism Friendly Campuses and possible certification processes. The discussion will focus on implementation of a certification program in Ireland and recent discussion and implementation of best practices in the United States.

Confirmed Panelists:
  • Reid Caplan – Accessible Policy Fellow- Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN)
  • Patrick Dwyer – President, Aggie Neurodiversity Community, University of California- Davis
  • Fiona Earley – Autism Friendly University Coordinator, Dublin City University, Ireland
  • Adam Harris – Founder and Chief Executive Officer, AsIAm, Ireland’s National Autism Charity
Moderated by:
  • John Caldora M.Ed. – Disability Accommodations Consultant, University of Kentucky

Students and their Campus Experiences

In this perennial favorite, autistic students will discuss their experiences regarding mental health and mental health supports in college with an additional focus on returning to in-person classes post COVID.

Moderated by:
  • John Sheehan, M.S. – Behavior Consultant, Xcepted Corp.

Employers and Employment in a Neurodiverse World

In this year’s edition of the employment panel, an employer, a campus administrator, an employment consultant/coach, and a vocational rehab specialist will discuss emerging trends in neurodiverse employment.

Confirmed Panelists:
  • Marcelle Ciampi, M.Ed. – Ambassador and Senior Manager Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, Ultranauts Inc
  • Jack Hewitt, M.A. – District Administrator, Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation
  • David Caudel, Ph.D. – Associate Director, Frist Center for Autism and Innovation, Vanderbilt University
  • Anthony Pacilio – Vice President, Autism2Work, CAI
Moderated by:
  • Bradley McGarry, M.A. – Director, Autism Initiative at Mercyhurst University
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