Written by: Helen Gu
On Sunday, September 25th, the City of Fremont Human Relations Commission along with
FCSN and Mission Valley SELPA (Special Education Local Planning Area) hosted its Disability Resource Festival, that connects the disability community with necessary
resources. In memory of Feda and Muh Almaliti, the goal of the festival is for the disability community and the police and fire departments to build a positive relationship with each other as well as for the
special needs community to learn about necessary safety protocols. Anna Wang, the co-founder of Friends of Children with Special Needs, says the event would be a powerful experience to allow people with special needs to “connect to first responders”. “Many people with special needs, in an emergency, are fearful of interacting with first responders or to call the police,” Wang says in an interview.
Two years ago, on September 26, 2020, Feda Almaliti died in a house fire trying to save her son, Muhammed. A passionate activist and loving mother, she consistently advocated for families of children with severe autism. Teresa Keng, Vice Mayor of Fremont and a lifetime member of FCSN, spoke at Feda’s memorial. “She helped change California law to require insurance companies to cover treatment on autism,” Keng told in her poignant speech. “After fighting for her son and winning the lawsuit against her medical insurer, Feta worked with other parents and advocates in California to help pass the first autism insurance reform bill.” The bill that Almaliti helped pass benefited “thousands upon thousands of families” and their children to access more medical insurance than ever. “I did not know that when my son started receiving ABA services at age three, that we owe it to Feda’s advocacy work,” Keng continued. “She fought for her son until the very end.”
Teresa Keng and Feda Almaliti “were in the same social bubble” during the pandemic, and Almaliti became the godmother of one of Keng’s sons. “My kids are still asking when they can visit Auntie Feda,” she said in her memorial speech. In a later interview, she confessed that she has not broken the news to them yet. “They were suffering from anxiety because of the pandemic,” she said. “They don’t know she died from a house fire, but I think they’re beginning to suspect.” Keng hopes that Feda’s legacy will bring awareness to the special needs community: “They’re more susceptible to emergencies, and we need to give them the resources they need.”
Feda and Muhammed’s deaths led to the September 26 project, which the Resource Festival aimed to propagate. The Fremont Police and Fire Departments were present, introducing special needs individuals to their jobs and their uniforms, as well as teaching them how to interact with first responders. “I’m very excited for this opportunity,” Amy Gee, the Public Affairs Manager in the Fremont Police Department said about being able to work with special needs people at a bigger-scale event. Gee hopes to “work with community members regardless of cultural background and special needs”. The Fremont Police Department also has a language line app, providing ASL interpreting services to reach as wide of a community as possible. Curtis Jacobson, fire chief of the Fremont Fire Department, added on to this: “I want them to know that firefighters are friends. I want them to not be afraid of firefighters.” Together, the police and the fire departments spoke about natural disaster safety to the audience before demonstrating their search drones and police dogs.
Aside from being a festival for natural disaster awareness and protocols, the Disability Resource Festival aimed to be a haven and a source of hope for special needs individuals, allowing them space to connect, quiet areas, and entertainment. Throughout the event, audiences were able to see intermittent performances by Dream Achievers, a band consisting of musicians with autism. The band was a major source of entertainment and inspiration for the individuals as clusters of audiences gathered on the field before the stage. Understanding the needs of special needs individuals, there were times throughout the festival to relax and bond. “For me, [volunteering at FCSN] is the first time seeing a lot of people with special needs gathered together,” says Tina, an FCSN volunteer and helper. “Before, I had rarely seen them.” She adds that her job as a volunteer and caretaker is “pretty rewarding”.
As a heartwarming commemoration of Feda and Muhammad Almaliti, the Disability Resource Festival aimed to provide entertainment and awareness to special needs families on September 25.
FCSN had the opportunity to be a sponsor as well as an information booth in the festival, and volunteers and families were excited to be part of the community. Yan Luo, an FCSN staff of twelve years, spoke about the ways it benefitted its many unique members. The nonprofit organization has a plethora of programs and classes, including independent and supported living services, adult day programs, supported employment program, after school programs, enrichment classes, summer camps, outreach programs and family support services. “We have so many programs,” Luo said, concluding everything FCSN offered. “We just cover everything.” The booth was teeming with families searching for information and support.