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New project brings voices of people with autism into everyday lives

A U.S. project aimed at making the voices of those with autism heard loud and clear on public transportation is creating inclusion and communities.
New project brings voices of people with autism into everyday lives
Posted at 6:50 PM, May 13, 2023

In the hustle and bustle of taking the train, you just might miss it, but if you listen carefully, it will be hard not to smile.

7-year-old Immanuel Stephens knows a thing or two about trains.

"What I like about trains is that it goes fast. It goes under the tunnels and go through the city. We get to see the city, the conductor drives the train. And I think that's it," said Stephens.

Immanuel has autism, and for many kids like him, trains and other very complex engineering systems are much more than mundane.

They’re a playground for learning and interacting.

And now, Immanuel is even more excited about his favorite spot because he and other kids and young adults with autism recorded announcements for passengers.

"Hi, my name is Immanuel.  Please help us to keep MARTA clean. Please don't litter. Hope you'll enjoy your ride!" Immanuel says in his announcement.

These announcements are part of a nationwide effort called The Autism Transit Project, they’re playing on MARTA in Atlanta, in the subways of New York, and in trains in San Francisco, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C. 

All to make sure the voices of those with autism are heard and included.

"Oftentimes, kids with autism, no matter what level on the spectrum they're on, are excluded and misunderstood, including Immanuel," said Immanuel’s mom, Lisa Stephens. "But this project has afforded a number of individuals throughout the country an opportunity to show ‘I am unique. I'm special. I'm versatile. I'm capable.’"

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The project was started by Jonathan Trichter, who says it’s just one step toward a larger goal.

"To incorporate neurodiverse individuals into civic society and allow them to experience and participate in the human experience at a fuller level it's important because just 10 or 15 years ago, we were warehousing a lot of these children as opposed to educating them," said Trichter.

Trichter hopes more awareness will create more opportunities and jobs for those with autism, and it already has for Travail Sinclair, who is now interning with MARTA.

"You know, you could work here too," Sinclair said to Immanuel.

Travail had his own announcement for the project too. 

"I love it. The people here are absolutely wonderful. They have supported me very well in teaching me how the system works. And above all, it's just really good for someone like me with autism that needs a lot more of that guidance," said Sinclair.

Guidance isn’t given automatically by society, but to those living with autism, it’s what makes both families and kids feel part of the community. 

"To have my son do announcements here is just … and the wonderful other children and young adults that are on the announcement. It just warms my heart," said Lisa.

Immanuel is proving the project works; he’s feeling and seeing acceptance all around him. 

"It just feels like it's a party. It feels like…it's like everybody ... everybody from all around the world is coming to MARTA to party," said Immanuel.

And we can all join in on Immanuel’s party by making time to notice the little things that aren’t so little at all.

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