Meet the Philadelphia Dad Moving Mountains to Help City Kids

Eric Williams is creating a haven for children of all abilities.

Dad hugging his disabled son.


Eric Williams is a man on a mission.  This compassionate dad has set his sights on making his city, Philadelphia, safer for kids like his son, Elijah, who lives with autism. He is doing this, CBS reports, by installing special street signs across the city that get drivers to slow down for the benefit of kids with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), as well as all kids in the community. 

Signposting motorists
Thanks to the efforts of Williams, local residents are likely to have spotted multiple yellow and black street signs that read “AUTISTIC PERSON AREA.” “We need to bring more awareness to motorists," Williams said. "We see a lot of hit-and-runs going on lately.”

Successfully advocating for the signs, and building a system to implement them took just over a year to do, Williams tells ABC Action News, and saw him meeting with the Streets Department, and the traffic division, among others. 

Significantly, these signs are there because a person with autism may cross the street with little warning. Learning road safety is more challenging for autistic children, as this guide from the National Autistic Society in the UK explains.

Project Elijah Empowering Autism (PEEA) is the name of the nonprofit Williams established in 2004.

Families who are interested in having a sign installed nearby, can fill out an online application, after which PEEA will then work with the Philadelphia Streets Department to install a sign.

Williams tells CBS News that he launched the form at the start of 2024, and by April, he revealed that close to 400 applications had already been received.  

Longer term, ABC Action News reports, PEEA plans on using the sign applications to aggregate data detailing where signs are placed in the city. The goal is that this information will go into a database made available to first responders so they will be aware of the presence of people with challenges, such as autism, when they respond to emergency calls.

A positive community response
One of these dedicated street signs went up outside the workplace of Jamila Tucker-Mulero, a local woman running a nonprofit offering after-school activities to 12 children with autism, her son included. 

She explains why the signs are crucial: “We have a little boy, when he gets picked up, he instantly runs out in the street. We have school buses that drop the kids off here. You get cars that fly by, don't stop,” Tucker-Mulero shares. She sees the street signs as providing another level of security for the kids that she serves.

Williams is motivated by the heartwarming feedback he has received from the local community, coming through on social media and via email. He plans to seek funding from the city council to enable further signs and fulfil his vision of seeing one on all four corners of every Philadelphia school. 

Beyond mapping the city for youngsters with autism
As ABC Action News reports, Williams has spent much of the last 25 years learning more about autism: “The whole process behind it was my advocacy and awareness mission to better the lives of individuals with autism and unique abilities," he reveals. Clarifying his perspective to FOX29, Williams explains: “I never say special needs or disabilities, I coin my own phrase as unique ability because of the uniqueness that they have, that we just have to tap into.”

Consequently, Williams’s nonprofit is about more than driving the provision of more street signs to help kids with autism. PEEA hosts free, year-round education, recreation and trauma programs for families living with autism. Events include a medley of  sports sessions, and travel training.

PEEA also organizes food, clothing, and other essential distributions, and provides helpful resources that the community can use to build confidence, independence, and raise awareness.

As the website reveals: “All PEEA programs offer diversity and inclusion experiences in a safe, nurturing and judgement free environment.”

It is a fitting tribute that Eric Williams was recently recognised for his leadership and advocacy in the autism community, when he was honored with the KYW Newsradio's GameChangers Award, as MSN reports.

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