I have spent a good part of my life concerned about autistic adults who are survivors of catastrophic encounters with our criminal justice system. People like Arnaldo Rios Soto, Neli Latson, and Darius McCollum. Neli Latson is finally free but paid a bitter cost for the crime of sitting in front of his local library. Deaf and disabled folks trapped within systems they should not have been part of in the first place have few options and precious little help unless their stories become part of our news cycle.

I wanted to be part of any effort to help them. So a few months ago, I joined the board of HEARD, a Black-led and disabled-led, cross-disability abolitionist organization. With practically no funding, HEARD has been doing vital work that no one else does.

  • HEARD advocates directly for incarcerated Deaf and disabled people and is often the only source of culturally and linguistically relevant services for Deaf people in prisons at all.
  • They also educate much larger, better-funded organizations and
  • Facilitate communication between them and Deaf-disabled incarcerated people, which has led to a number of important and successful class-action lawsuits that never would have been brought otherwise.
  • They also fight hard against wrongful convictions and
  • Use whatever tools they can to bring folks homeand
  • Then to support them and their families once they do come home.
  • One of the exciting new programs HEARD is developing is a comprehensive healing justice reentry program for deaf/disabled people. It is a program that is trauma-informed and culturally/linguistically appropriate.  It includes training mental health providers on how to work effectively with formerly incarcerated people, providing social support, lending out tech and providing access to the internet, and helping people become peer educators, community interpreters, and facilitators.

Moreover, HEARD is addressing the reality that most political education resources are not accessible for people who are Deaf or who carry intellectual or developmental disability labels. HEARD has been changing that, developing resources about prison abolition by and for deaf/disabled people.

As you plan your end-of-year giving, I hope that you will give as generously as you can to HEARD. I don’t think HEARD has gotten anywhere near enough recognition or funding for its work, and it’s incredible how much it has done nonetheless–I have no doubt with more resources it will have even more of an impact. With our help, it could reach so many more deaf and disabled people in prison or returning home. I have a personal goal of raising at least $5,000 for HEARD by the end of the year and plan to give $1000 myself. Whether or not you can give, I hope you will also follow HEARD on social media and signal-boost their work.

Thank you, stay safe and healthy throughout this holiday season!

The HEARD logo, with aqua-colored hands signing the letters "HEARD" against a white background. Superimposed on the hands are black block letters spelling "HEARD". A white scale symbolizing justice is superimposed on the "A" in the center.
The HEARD logo.