Since time immemorial, people with disabilities, whether mental or physical, have been the subject of scorn, ridicule, fear, demonization, intolerance, ostracism, social and economic marginalization, and, all too often, outright indifference – These practices have been universal and no nation on earth is guilt free (Beverly & Alvarez, 2003).
The current campaign being run by Autism Speaks perpetuates these age old practices on every level and is a step back into the veritable dark ages of the experience of disability (bearing in mind disabled people have only just come into the light). In a turn out for the books even the USA, Autism Speaks’ own home country has recently signed The UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, which by the way the ‘I am Autism’ video directly contravenes.
See for example Article 7.3:
States Parties shall ensure that children with disabilities have the right to express their views freely on all matters affecting them, their views being given due weight in accordance with their age and maturity, on an equal basis with other children, and to be provided with disability and age-appropriate assistance to realize that right.
In ‘developed’ countries the disability rights movement has history spaning over 50 years, a movement that has fought for the rights of people with disabilities, having them enshrined in law, further, demanding social, cultural and economic changes that enable full participation in society. Implicit in the actions of this rights movement is the fundamental idea that people with disabilities are in fact equal as human beings not, lesser beings, animal- like, feeble, immoral, defective or subjects of demonic possession (some of the preferred terms of the 19th and early 20th centuries). Autism Speaks members seem to have been sleeping whilst the enlightenment occurred because they don’t seem to understand the fundamental rights of all people to live is a society free from discrimination and in particular hate speech. Replace the word autism in the video ‘I am Autism’ with any other characteristic or condition experienced by the human race and there would be outrage. Disabled people feel that often their experience is last frontier in terms of discrimination; if this is the case then autism remains a further frontier within the last frontier.