PA DHS Announces Expansion of Peer-Support Program for Individuals on the Autism Spectrum (June 3, 2021)

The PA Department of Human Services (DHS) today highlighted the expansion of the Community Autism Peer Specialist (CAPS) Program, a first-of-its-kind program in Philadelphia that connects an individual with autism to support from certified peer specialists. These peer specialists help foster individual connections and mentoring relationships for individuals on the autism spectrum to self-advocate and encourage greater wellness and independence in their community.   

“We all know that life can be made a little easier when we can turn to a peer who has gone through what we’re going through and can speak to our experiences. But as we worked with self-advocates and caregivers, we realized that there was a gap in their system of supports that did not include peer connections. With CAPS, we are the first state in the country to work on closing that gap,” said Acting DHS Secretary Meg Snead. “I am incredibly excited that the CAPS Program provides this to people with autism and look forward to learning how we can continue to build out these supports.”

The CAPS Program was started by DHS five years ago as a collaboration between DHS’ offices of Developmental Programs (ODP) and Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (OMHSAS) and Community Behavioral Health (CBH) and Mental Health Partnerships (MHP) in Philadelphia. The collaboration has since grown to include the Philadelphia Autism Project, the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services, the Autism Services Education Resources and Training (ASERT) Collaborative, and the Temple University Collaborative on Community Inclusion.

The program was adapted from certified peer specialist programs that exist in the behavioral health field to support people on the autism spectrum. The CAPS program’s peer specialists provide individualized support to enhance participants’ quality of life, improve their self-advocacy skills, and further their community participation. These supports can include job training and help with interpersonal relationships to everyday skills, like teaching someone how to use public transportation.

To earn the peer specialist distinction, peer specialists take a 75-hour training course adapted for individuals with lived experience on the autism spectrum that addresses how to support youth, young adults, and adults on the spectrum.

“With this level of collaboration at the state and local level, Pennsylvania can be a world leader in supporting people on the autism spectrum,” said Acting Secretary Snead. “I hope that this program will be able to support even more people in the future and can become a model that we can replicate statewide and beyond.” 

Only Philadelphia County residents are currently eligible to receive CAPS services; opportunities for expansion beyond Philadelphia are being explored. Individuals must be at least 14 years of age, have an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis, and be eligible for Medicaid – the program has been approved by DHS as a Medicaid reimbursable service – or CBH insurance. Referrals for the CAPS Program are currently being accepted and interested participants can enroll here.

More information about the CAPS Program and becoming a certified peer specialist can be found here.

Sec. Ortega Recognizes CTE Presidential Scholar During School Visit (June 3, 2021)

Pennsylvania Department of Education Acting Secretary Noe Ortega joined Upper Bucks County Technical School (UBCTS) Executive Director Jeff Sweda, local superintendents, and State Representative Craig Staats for a school tour led by Raymond Slifer, Pennsylvania’s first-ever career and technical education (CTE) student to be awarded the U.S. Presidential Scholar Award.

“I was delighted for the opportunity to tour the Upper Bucks County Technical School with Raymond and see where his passion for STEM was cultivated,” said Acting Secretary of Education Noe Ortega. “As Pennsylvania’s first CTE student to receive one of the nation’s highest academic honors, Raymond has paved a path that reflects hard work, leadership, and community service. I look forward to recognizing future students across Pennsylvania who will follow in his footsteps.”

The White House Commission on Presidential Scholars selects students annually based on their academic success, artistic and technical excellence, essays, school evaluations and transcripts, as well as evidence of community service, leadership, and demonstrated commitment to high ideals. Slifer was one of 20 students nationwide to receive this honor for CTE.

To read more, click here.

State Library of PA Announces New Resource for Pennsylvanians with Disabilities (June 2, 2021)

In collaboration with Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and the Free Library of Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Office of Commonwealth Libraries (OCL) today announced the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped has changed its name to the Library of Accessible Media for Pennsylvanians (LAMP) and launched a new, centralized website available to all Pennsylvanians:

“For the growing number of Pennsylvanians who cannot use traditional printed materials, it is essential to make these state-supported library services easier to find and use,” said Acting Deputy Secretary for the Office of Commonwealth Libraries Susan Banks. “Updating the name to LAMP allows a central focus on the services offered. The new website becomes a universal location for persons with print disabilities to access and borrow an array of audio, braille, and large print books and magazines, events, and information.”

Though the name has changed, LAMP’s commitment to serving its clients remains the same. It will continue to implement the Library of Congress’ National Library Service program throughout Pennsylvania to patrons with disabilities, including those who cannot access standard print due to blindness, visual, physical, cognitive, or reading disabilities and to those who are unable to hold a book or turn its pages.

The goal of this change is to make services for Pennsylvania’s growing print-disabled population more discoverable, accessible, and inclusive. LAMP removes disability from the name and focuses entirely on the service. The new website will provide a singular service point for Pennsylvanians with print disabilities. Additionally, these libraries will explore ways to provide resources beyond the traditional – such as assistive technologies and accessible programs for all underserved populations.

This rebrand was developed over the past two years as a combined effort of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, the Free Library of Philadelphia and OCL, along with guidance from consultant Wall-to-Wall studios.

“LAMP helps print disabled Pennsylvanians read for life,” said Mark Lee, Administrator of LAMP services at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. “We are excited to have a new name that reflects the many services offered for free to Pennsylvanians of all ages who have difficulty accessing standard print. People with reading disabilities, age related visual disabilities or blindness, are able to enjoy a host of library services and have access to hundreds of thousands of accessible titles.”  

“The outdated name for these libraries did not reflect the patrons we served or the wealth of services and resources we provide. Our new name and website are better identifiers of the services we provide to anyone who wants to utilize our extensive physical and digital collections,” said Keri E. Wilkins, Administrator of LAMP services in Philadelphia. “LAMP, through state funding, has a long history of pioneering innovative services to the print disabled throughout the commonwealth. The Free Library of Philadelphia and Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh were chosen by the Library of Congress as two of the original 19 national locations in 1933 to distribute books for the blind, and we continue to honor that mission today.”

PDE’s Office of Commonwealth Libraries supports, develops, and provides library services for learning and advancement. For more information on the Pennsylvania State Library, follow them on Twitter. To view the press release, click here.

OCR Disseminates Dear Educator Letter on AAPI Harassment (May 27, 2021)

Sent on May 27, 2021, a new Dear Educator Letter from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) reminds schools of their obligation to investigate and address all forms of harassment in educational environments, including harassment directed toward Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students. This responsibility carries through the academic year and in summer school-sponsored activities. The new letter also provides resources to support schools in fulfilling this responsibility.  

Recipients are asked to review the letter and share with colleagues. You will find this letter in OCR’s News Room.  

Earlier this month, OCR, jointly with the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, issued Confronting COVID-19-Related Harassment in Schools, a resource for students and families, in English and multiple Asian/Pacific Islander languages. The May 27, 2021 Dear Educator Letter builds on efforts across the government, including President Biden’s memorandum, Condemning and Combating Racism, Xenophobia, and Intolerance Against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States, to recognize and address the recent increase in harassment and violence directed at AAPI individuals.  

To view the letter, click here.

The letter can also be accessed in OCR’s News Room

DHS Acting Secretary, Attorney General Encourage Pennsylvanians to Utilize Available Mental Health Resources (May 27, 2021)

PA Department of Human Services (DHS) Acting Secretary Meg Snead today joined Attorney General Josh Shapiro to raise awareness and understanding of mental health and wellness, mental illness, and substance use disorders and encourage people who are experiencing these to seek help. The COVID-19 pandemic and economic crises have created anxiety and grief that are affecting all of us in different ways, but resources are available across Pennsylvania, so no one has to go through this alone.

Pennsylvanians struggling with anxiety and other challenging emotions due to COVID-19 and the accompanying economic insecurity can contact the Persevere PA Support & Referral Helpline toll-free, 24/7 at 1-855-284-2494. For TTY, dial 724-631-5600. The helpline is staffed by skilled and compassionate caseworkers who will be available to counsel struggling Pennsylvanians and refer them to resources in their community that can further help to meet individual needs. Since its launch in April 2020, the helpline has received more than 22,900 calls.  

The Attorney General’s Safe2Say program is available to Pennsylvania children and teenagers to anonymously and safely seek assistance and report threats of violence, harassment, and bullying, is also still operating and can be reached 24/7 at 1-844-723-2729 or at

Many other resources also remain available to Pennsylvanians in need of support, including:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Línea Nacional de Prevención del Suicidio: 1-888-628-9454
  • Crisis Text Line: Text “PA” to 741-741
  • Veteran Crisis Line: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990
  • Get Help Now Hotline (for substance use disorders): 1-800-662-4357
  • Pennsylvania Sexual Assault Helpline: 1-888-772-7227 or
  • National Domestic Violence Helpline: 1-800-799-7233 or

Available online resources include:

The pandemic has created economic uncertainties for many Pennsylvanians, making it difficult for some to access essential needs or feel secure about the future. Resources are available in your community to help address these feelings of stress and anxiety. The United Way of Pennsylvania can help connect you to resources that are available in your community to help you meet these needs. Text your zip code to 898-211 to be connected to programs and resources in your community or visit People in need of assistance can also visit to learn more and apply for assistance programs that can help with health care, food, rental and utility bills, and other needs.  More information on mental health resources can be found here.