Otto Lana

Autobiography or Otto-biography as I like to say. I was born and raised in sunny San Diego, California. At sixteen years of age and a junior at Fusion Academy in San Diego I seem like any other student. So why would anyone want to hear my story so far? Some would say it is because I was diagnosed with Autism and Apraxia. But I disagree, there are a multitude of us. I believe I have a good story, a cautionary tale if you will. I am charismatic, good looking, well spoken, and just happen to have the good fortune to be autistic too. Autism and Apraxia prevent me from speaking words with my mouth. This inability to verbalize my thoughts obviously does not indicate that I do not possess verbal skills. It simply means I do not have expressive language in the traditional sense. Before I found my voice through typing I was diagnosed with an intellectual disability as well. This was the trifecta that landed me in a prison of perpetual preschool. I am so grateful to have found Darlene Hanson SLP and typing. I did not have access to typing until I was nine years old. Prior to typing my communication was limited to things I wanted or needed to do. For example, a laminated card with the picture of a toilet indicated

my need to use the bathroom. A laminated card with a pretzel or piece of candy indicated my desire for a savory or sweet snack. My language and my ability to communicate were impacted by those who created the cards and their assumptions not only about my wants and needs, but my intellect as well. My QWERTY keyboard has no pre-programmed words, no preconceived notions about my intellect, and best of all no prejudice. I am free to share all my thoughts and dreams with anyone who has the patience to listen. Now my future is bright and full of endless possibilities. I plan to attend college after graduating from high school with a high school diploma. Those two things were not even remote possibilities prior to typing. I am an accomplished poet and a math wiz. In between cracking people up with my sense of humor, I enjoy swimming in the open ocean, hiking mountains with my family, and visiting with my friends. This is why I am passionate about disability justice. My current trajectory is pure happenstance. I happened to be in the right place at the right time. This should not be the case. Communication is a basic human right. Without access to communication I was at a dead end. I want to emphasize the word dead. My hopes and dreams were being suffocated by the weight of my silence. I think it is easy to ignore an individual with a

communication disability. This award, the Heumann-Armstrong Award, gives me some street cred. If these powerhitters think my story is worthy of an award, then others will surely take notice. 

My career as a leader and self-advocate happened quite accidentally. Back in 2017, I was invited to tell my story as part of a branding campaign for my neurologist. That experience made me realize the impact sharing my story with others can have. I had no idea at the time that people even cared. Being a non-speaking autistic person was being like a non-person. My thoughts and opinions didn’t matter because no one ever knew what my thoughts and opinions were until I could type. If I ever tried to exert a difference of opinion with the therapists or teachers I worked with, I was told I was being noncompliant or uncooperative and was instructed to stop protesting. Other opportunities came my way after the film crew edited my story and the Cortica website was online. Since 2017 I have presented my story to audiences more than a dozen times. I have been a self-advocate and guest speaker for local non-profits, conferences, and a couple of college classes on disability rights have invited me to share my story as well. In the summer of 2020, when the world seemed bleak with staying at home and a

worldwide pandemic, I met Julie Causton and Kristie Pretti-Frontczak and presented at their conference on inclusion. This dynamic duo sparked my current moonshot and now I have a website where I sell the waterproof letterboards I designed, I publish a blog, and I sell merchandise and apparel with my messages of hope and inclusion. I have clients all across the United States, Canada, and Europe as well. I am a social media mogul (check out my Instagram @otto_types and @typeical_friends) and an apparel entrepreneur. I use the profits from my enterprise to support organizations that promote alternative forms of communication. I guess that makes me a philanthropist as well. 

My vision for the future is bright. I want to continue to share my experiences and motivate people to try in the face of adversity. I want my story to resonate with individuals from all walks of life. My community is the whole world at this point. Typing has allowed me to share my thoughts and the technology of Zoom and a worldwide pandemic has made my mode of communication commonplace for everyone. While the future seemed bleak to the rest of the world, my future and my world was expanding. When this pandemic is over and everyone goes back to their real lives this experience of disconnection and communication through technology

like Zoom will still exist. I am forever grateful to the individuals who believe in me and support my mode of communication. My hope is everyone will have their opportunity to find their voice just as I have.

 Headshot of Otto smiling at the camera.

ID: Otto is a young Latin man with a ridiculously large toothy grin. I am sporting a So. Cal. tan with a smattering of sun kissed freckles on my face. He has no facial hair worth mentioning. His short brunette hair is stylishly gelled back. He has dreamy blue eyes and in the background are the cliffs of Torrey Pines State Beach here in San Diego. He is wearing a gray t the piano by ear.