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ASU student with autism crowd-funds nearly $9,975 for his education

James Deibler set up a GoFundMe account which received thousands of dollars in contributions from anonymous donors and some politicians


James Deibler poses for a photo with Sparky the Sun Devil on ASU's Downtown Phoenix campus on Tuesday, October 18, 2016.

ASU public policy junior James Deibler, a 32-year-old with high-functioning autism, said for years he had been told that he would never graduate high school, let alone be a college student.

Now, he is wrapping up his first year at ASU and is currently scheduled to graduate in 2020.

After eight years of taking classes at Glendale Community College, Deibler graduated with an associate’s degree in general studies and a certificate for photography — but he said he is scared that his dream of attending and graduating from ASU is too far-fetched because of the cost of attendance. 

So Deibler created a GoFundMe account with a goal of $9,975, currently with only $910 to go.

Through the support of multiple anonymous donors, even Glendale Councilman Bart Turner and former Democratic Candidate for Legislative District 20 Chris Gilfillan, Deibler said he hopes to use his success to benefit the lives of those with disabilities. 

Deibler said he created the GoFundMe account because soon he will no longer be eligible for the Federal Pell Grant due to a change in eligibility that reduces the number of semesters that are covered.

“This makes it harder for people with disabilities trying to get a bachelor’s degree at different universities across the country,” he said.

Deibler said he also recently received a $4,000 scholarship, which will help on his journey to a degree. He also said working two jobs has helped him pay for college and books.

“I’m working hard,” he said. “I currently work at (the) GCC bookstore and University of Phoenix stadium.”

Deibler said he also receives aid from TRIO at ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus.

“I’m trying to stay on track,” he said. “TRIO helps students with low incomes and students with disabilities that can get tutor help.”

John Pendrick, a provider through the Division of Developmentally Disabled (DDD) program, has been a provider for Deibler for over four years. He said Deibler is very self-sufficient and independent when it comes to his schooling.

“I’ve learned a lot from his motivation and the stuff that he accomplishes,” he said.

Pendrick said he just provides a structured and stable environment for him.

“I think it’s amazing how large (the GoFundMe) has gotten,” he said. “It was a good idea. He has student loans just like anybody else. He stressed over it really hard as far as getting jobs and stuff in previous years.”

Pendrick said he thinks Deibler knew crowd-funding would be successful because of how large his support system is. 

“He has a lot of friends,” he said. “He has political friends. He attends city council meetings every week. He hangs out with city councilmen. He’s a really social guy out there. He’s got a lot of friends in really high places.”

Pendrick said Deibler is only the second person in the DDD program to get any type of college degree.

“He’s one-of-a-kind,” he said. “They boast about him in the system, how incredible his achievements are. He gets his mind made up, and he does it.”

Brendan Regan has known Deibler for around seven years because he runs the photography program at GCC where Deibler received his certificate.

“The thing that is amazing about James is his persistence and dedication once he makes his mind up on something,” he said. “My role is really just kind of fostering what was already there and guiding him through some of the logistics of it.”

Regan said at GCC, Deibler was helping students with photography as a lab assistant, and it really helped his self-confidence and self-awareness.

“Once he starts to get comfortable with a concept, he really looks to give back to people,” he said.

Reach the reporter at or follow @alexa_buechler on Twitter.

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