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Daily CSR

Daily CSR
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CODE JOSHUA: How Cisco Supports Autism and Social Justice


Joshua’s parents were terrified when they had a frightening encounter with the police during a walk with their autistic son Joshua, who was 17, non-verbal, and African American. Joshua had a different way of interacting with his surroundings, which a neighbor misinterpreted as “suspicious behavior” and called the police. The situation could have easily turned dangerous, but luckily it did not.

This incident motivated Joshua’s parents to take action and create CODE JOSHUA, a special emergency call that informs police officers, firefighters, health care workers, and other personnel that they are dealing with an autistic person in crisis and that they need to approach and handle them with respect and care. CODE JOSHUA is part of Joshua’s Gift, a non-profit organization founded by Joshua’s mother Mizpah Brown-Rich and father Kerry Rich, which aims to build a society that welcomes, respects, and includes the autistic community.

According to Autismspectrumnews.org, 13% of autistic children used an emergency service in a two-month period, and 20% of them had encounters with law enforcement officers by the age of 21. CODE JOSHUA helps to protect the rights and safety of autistic people and prevent potential harm from misunderstandings.

Cisco’s Connected Black Professionals (CBP) Inclusive Community recognized the value and potential of CODE JOSHUA and its alignment with our social justice action committed to supporting organizations that promote social justice and racial equity. CBP nominated the program for Cisco’s Black Equity Grant program, which gives US $500,000 in cash grants each fiscal year to non-profit organizations that serve or are led by Black people and support social justice and racial equity.

“Joshua’s Gift is a wonderful example of the types of organizations we love to support. They align with our social justice  values and have the vision and the know how to institute change. They just needed support from Cisco to further their impact in more communities,” said Curshanda Cusseaux Woods, Black Equity Grant’s program administrator.

CODE JOSHUA became a strong registry database with the help of Cisco’s funding, support, and community partnership. The database contains profiles of autistic individuals created by their families, which provide important information and crisis behaviors to help 911 dispatchers send the right response.

The initiative also includes a training program and video resources to teach first responders how to approach with compassion and patience, how to calm down the situation by meeting the individuals’ sensory and communication needs, and how to respond without violence. CODE JOSHUA has been implemented in police departments in several counties in Northern California. Mizpah, Joshua’s mother, is witnessing real change. "Our CODE JOSHUA training courses are making a positive difference on the first responders we are training. The program is helping to reduce anxiety and prevent potential harm to our loved ones living with autism and IDD (Intellectual Developmental Disabilities).