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On September 22, the New Jersey Council on Developmental Disabilities held their 2022 Community Building Awards, an event established to encourage individuals to “undertake activities that create inclusive communities while showing appreciation to those who demonstrate exceptional commitment to advocacy.”

Of the seven awards presented at the luncheon, the Lifetime Achievement Advocacy Award is the highest honor bestowed by the Council and is only given “after careful consideration and deliberation by the Awards Committee.” It “recognizes an individual for a lifetime commitment and contributions to inclusive communities.” They must “demonstrate exceptional effort, commitment and determination in their professional or personal lives.”

The 2022 Lifetime Achievement Advocacy Award was presented to Diana Autin, SPAN’s Executive Director, by SPAN colleagues Carolyn Hayer, Senior Director of National and Regional Projects, and Peg Kinsell, Institutional Policy Director. In her presentation remarks about Diana, Peg stated, “Under her direction and leadership, SPAN has provided countless families with the guidance and support they need to access supports and services to improve outcomes for infants, toddlers, children, youth, and young adults. Throughout her long and distinguished career, Diana has enriched the lives of so many others, particularly those who are most vulnerable.”

“She has been a champion of inclusive practices her entire career, teaching the benefits of inclusion to those with and without disabilities while helping others to understand the importance of differences.”

“Diana is an exemplary servant leader. Her focus has always been on the growth and wellbeing of the people and communities she serves. She is a tenacious advocate, someone who never gives up. When she sees a need, she fills it. But most importantly, she has supported, encouraged, and uplifted so many others to follow in her footsteps. She uses a collaborative approach and has challenged us all to be the change we want to see in the world.”

Congratulations Diana on this well-deserved honor!

Other event honorees were as follows:

Colleen Fraser Self-Advocate Award: Bill Burne
Ellizabeth Bogs Family-Member Advocate Award: Melanie Ayers
Distinguished DD Systems Change Award: Ava Loveland
Exceptional Policymaker Award: Senator Joseph F. Vitale
Multi-Media Award: Gene Myers
Fellowship Inclusive Education Award: Tracy Rand
The Daniel J. Keating Award: Diane D’Orazio


Diana Autin Remarks on Receiving the NJ Council on Developmental Disabilities’

Lifetime Achievement Advocacy Award


It seems like my life has come full circle. Before I worked at SPAN, I was the Managing Attorney at Advocates for Children of NYC. In 1992, I wrote a report, Segregated and Second-Rate: “Special” Education in NYC, and a year later, I received the NYS Advocate of the Year Award from the NY Disabilities Awareness Coalition, NYS’s Council on Developmental Disabilities. I came to SPAN in 1995, and a few years later as a member of the NJ Council on Developmental Disabilities’ Education Committee, was a contributor to The Road to Inclusion: Community Awareness and Access to Inclusion (1999), followed by Still Separate and Unequal: Special Education in New Jersey (2004).

I want to thank you so much for this incredible honor, and for all of the advocacy and funding from the Council that has enabled SPAN to empower families across education, health, and all the areas that impact their lives and the lives of their children. I also want to thank my mother, who taught me by word and by deed that we all have a responsibility to make the world a better place for everyone, especially those who face the greatest challenges and inequities; my father, who taught me the power of unconditional love; my husband, Keith Hefner, who has loved me for 48 years through sickness and health, good times and bad, since we were 19; my children, who taught me about patience and perseverance; the SPAN Board of directors – represented here today by Nancy Romanyshyn; to the SPAN staff, from whom I have learned so much and without whom I could accomplish little, and especially Mercedes Rosa, Carolyn Hayer, and Peg Kinsell, who are here with me today, and Debra Jennings, who co-directed SPAN with me for 20 years; our partners at state agencies and advocacy organizations; and the families whose passion, commitment, and love for their children inspires me every day. While I will be stepping down as ED of SPAN on January 1, I will never stop advocating for justice and equity. Thank you again.


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