AWN Demands That Colorado Respect Sharisa Kochmeister’s Rights to Self-Determination, to Live in the Community with Supports, and to Use Her Tools for Effective Communication.
AWN holds the position that everyone has the right to make their own life choices, the right to communicate using the tools and methods that work for them, and the right to live independently in the community with supports. Currently these rights have been withheld from Sharisa Joy Kochmeister and we demand that Jefferson County Health Services in Colorado uphold Sharisa’s rights.
Sharisa Kochmeister [link: http://sharisa-kochmeister.blogspot.com] is a non-speaking Autistic woman with
cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and dyspraxia, who has long served the community as a tireless and vibrant leader and advocate. She is a former president of the Autism National Committee, a representative to the Colorado Developmental Disabilities Council, the managing editor-in-chief of The Voices and Choices of Autism, active with the Autism Society of America, and one of the stars in the film, Loving Lampposts, a 2011 documentary about the struggles and joys of Autistic people. She holds degrees in sociology and psychology with honors and awards.
Sharisa types to communicate and requires a supportive setting in order to type. Her words are her own, but she requires the assistance of a trusted person in order to get her thoughts into words that can effectively communicate with others. She has been denied the support she requires and so Jefferson County Health Services has decided that she is incompetent and has been holding her since April 2015 in a “host home”, the location of which was undisclosed for many months, so that there was no opportunity for friends and family to get her the supports Sharisa needs — her lightwriter AAC device and a trusted assistant who understands her communication needs — in order to communicate. The presumption of incompetence is silencing the voice of one of our most fearless and powerful advocates at a time when she most needs to be able to self-advocate and her isolation has prevented others from helping by advocating for her.
That oppression must stop. Sharisa is perfectly capable of saying what she wants, so our role in advocating for her rests solely in demanding that she be accommodated in her communication needs so that her voice can be heard, respected, and complied with by those who have currently taken guardianship of her and taken away her control and power over her own life. At the same time, we want to clearly advocate for all people in Sharisa’s position. We demand that all disabled people be provided access to their best means of communication in order to have their wishes and needs met.
Sharisa was removed from her home in the first place because authorities were unwilling to take the time and provide the necessary supports to allow Sharisa to communicate her needs and wishes. Jefferson County Community Services of Colorado has taken over guardianship of Sharisa. We cannot speak for Sharisa; only she can say how and where she would prefer to live. But seeing how much she loved her schooling and her work, we can only guess that she must be miserable being locked away from the world with no way to interact with others or do her work which has benefited so many others.
We demand that Sharisa be given access to her communication support network and her preferred tools of communication, and we demand that her wishes for communication and independent living be respected and upheld. Autism Women’s Network is prepared, in co-operation with Sharisa’s chosen support people and other community organizations, both local and national, such as the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), to provide whatever outreach, consultation, and education are needed to help Sharisa’s voice be heard and her communicated needs and goals be met. We are also prepared to do the same on behalf of any and all other disabled people currently under guardianship without adequate supports in Jefferson County, Colorado.