Autism Speaks is anti-autistic. Autism Speaks spends too much money on cause and cure research rather than things that are actually helpful. Autism Speaks would like to ensure that future generations of autistic people are never born.
All of those things are true. But you know what else is true? Autism Speaks is not the only threat to autistic people’s well-being and autonomy right now. In fact, in the era of Donald Trump’s presidency, it is hard to make the case that Autism Speaks is even close to the biggest threat.
This is not a defense of Autism Speaks. Like most autistic people involved in the neurodiversity community, I am disgusted with Autism Speaks’ long history of ableism. However, I do question whether anti-Autism Speaks activism should be our number one priority as a community at this point.
When we focus all of our energies on Autism Speaks, it becomes easy to forget that Autism Speaks is not the sole perpetrator of anti-autistic ableism in our society. Ableism against autistic people existed before Autism Speaks was founded in 2005. If Autism Speaks were to disappear tomorrow, it would be a most welcome event, but there would still be plenty of anti-autistic discrimination to combat.
We should be outraged by Autism Speaks Canada partnering with a white supremacist organization. But we also need to be outraged because Black people with disabilities are regularly subjected to police brutality. We also need to seek justice for Stephon Watts and Steven Eugene Washington and so many others whose names are all but unknown in our community. Police departments nationwide have more autistic blood on their hands than Autism Speaks. It’s time we engaged seriously in the growing movement against police brutality.
We should be more outraged by laws that make it possible to pay disabled people less than the minimum wage. Right now, tens of thousands of disabled people are stuck in sheltered workshops that pay them pennies—and it is perfectly legal. We know that integrated employment works better for people with disabilities. Why don’t we get to work to ensure that everyone has this opportunity?
And of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the threats posed by Donald Trump. Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, doesn’t understand that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), is a federal law. Jeff Sessions, nominated for the Attorney General position, thinks that inclusive education is the biggest threat to the American educational system today. Sessions also has a well-documented history of racism in his roles as a public servant. If confirmed, Sessions would be responsible for enforcing the Americans with Disabilities Act and other civil rights laws we depend on.
Donald Trump represents a threat that cannot be underestimated. Under former President Barack Obama’s administration, the disability community quietly made strides. Obama and his team, including former Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, have done much to take on discrimination against people with disabilities in employment and education. With characters like DeVos and Sessions in charge, all of our gains threaten to be undone.
It’s all too clear: Autism Speaks is no longer the biggest threat to autistic people’s autonomy.
I’m not saying we should support Autism Speaks in any way. When given opportunities to do so, we should tell people why they shouldn’t support Autism Speaks. And the next time they do something awful, we will let them know that the autistic community is watching.
What I am suggesting is that we refocus our attention on more pressing issues. Let’s take our energy and pour it towards the movement against police brutality. Let’s work towards integrated education and employment. Let’s show Donald Trump that autistic people oppose him, and that we’re going to help vote him out of office in 2020.
The work we have in front of us is clear. Let’s take it on as a community.