Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Autistic People Are Not Going to Take This Lying Down (Updated)

Over the last couple of weeks, a bunch of people in the autistic blogging community have participated in a flashblog event called "Autistic people are". The idea was to call attention to the fact that Google's autocomplete suggestions for "autistic people are" and "autistic people should" generate hate speech. I wasn't in on the planning or execution of the blogging event myself, although I wish I had been able to participate. It was a good cause, and the autocomplete suggestions really are terrible. They included "autistic people are retarded/stupid/damaged/impossible to deal with" and "autistic people should die/be exterminated/be killed/be in jail". Those were just the ones that came up when I searched. I'm sure that time and location might have given some people different results, but from what I've been told, everything I saw was pretty par for the course.

The event unfolded in two waves. In the first one, the bloggers took on "autistic people should", and it was really well-executed. Autistic bloggers took to the web to tell one another what they thought we should be doing, or what we should have access to, and the allies we have in the parenting community were respectful, listening to the discussion without pushing their ideas about what we should do or be on us. The next week (this past weekend), the group took on "autistic people are", and in that second round, the parents, friends, and other allies were invited to join in so that there could be as many voices as possible sending out positive messages about who and what we are, what we are doing, and what the public image of autistics should be.

Google noticed, and promised to remove the offending suggestions. So did a reporter for the Star-Ledger in New Jersey, who contacted a few autistic bloggers to get background on the story and the flash blog event. The group that sponsored this worked with the reporter to help her understand the background on the event, and everything seemed to be going great.

Then, Autism Speaks decided to announce the good news. Except that they did not think it was necessary to point out that autistic bloggers actually spoke despite that being, you know, the supposed point of their group. In fact, their two-sentence blurb not only erased the fact that autistic bloggers did this, they threw the phrase "hate speech" into scare quotes like I just did, which manages to make it look like they didn't really think that the offending results were hate speech. Then they tagged the post with tags about the Newtown shooting.

One of the organizing bloggers for the flashblog called attention to this in a post, and Autism Speaks sent in one of their spokespuppies to try to smooth things over, but all he did was play stupid. So, ze did what any activist worth zir salt would do, and brought it back to the community, who took the fight to Autism Speaks' Facebook page. Ze also wrote more extensively on zir feelings about the fact that Autism Speaks is too busy speaking to bother listening to autistic voices.

The gods of irony apparently hadn't had enough fun by giving us a group called "Autism Speaks" that dedicates itself to erasing and silencing us, speaking for us, and talking at us about what our goals should be. They had to time Autism Speaks' attempts to erase us from our own activism to coincide with the Disability Day of Mourning remembering all of the people who were murdered by caregivers. On the weekend that marked our community's remembrance of our own vulnerability at the hands of the people who claim to be advocating for us, they chose to do this.

This is not acceptable. It's also not surprising. What Autism Speaks did was intentional, hurtful, and totally in line with their usual attitude toward actual autistic persons. They have been confronted with the problem, and they have refused to apologize or to amend their post on their site. Sadly, it's what we've come to expect from them. They're like those "pro-life" activists who never give money to orphanages, don't foster, and don't adopt. They only care about autism in the abstract.

Autism doesn't speak. Autistic people do. Sometimes we only speak through fingers on keys, but we are out here, and we are having a conversation, and we won't be silenced.

Let them know on Facebook.
Let them know on Twitter.
Let them know over email, and this email, and if necessary this one, too. Make sure you let them know that you won't be giving them any money, especially if you used to do so. If you have some extra time, you can even let them know over the phone. At each office location, if you want. They list a bunch of numbers you could tie up.

Just whatever you do, don't stop.


Autism Speaks has changed the wording of their post. It's better, but it's not perfect. It shows that they're listening, but we need to keep pushing. The new language refers to the "self-advocacy community", which gives credit to autistic people at least, but does not adequately represent the activism here. If you're still messaging them, let them know that "self-advocacy" is what we do in a medical setting, but activism is what we do to stand up for our rights.

Also, remind them that they can't just memory-hole the original post. They need to apologize, and to widely share the update if they're going to make amends. Otherwise, they are just covering themselves so that they can keep pretending they never screwed up.

Narcissistic children pretend they never made mistakes. Adults make amends. Also, remind them that we are autistic activists, not autism activists. We're standing up for our own rights and demanding to be given the respect and dignity other citizens enjoy. We're not raising money for a "for the cure" event or to dump into medical research. Remind them there's a difference.