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Apr. 30th, 2016

My prior Blogging Against Disablism Day posts are (2006), (2007) (2008) , (2009), (2010), (2011), (2012), (2013), (2014) and (2015)

The local branch of the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network threw a party this afternoon. It was officially billed as a Celebration of Autistic Community. Autistic children, adults, families, professionals and other allies were invited. We displayed books by autistic authors and others that are autistic-respectful. We had a wide array of fidget items, sensory and stim toys, some of which were our own dollar-store variety and some of which were specialty items on kind loan. We had some information on local and national resources, although it was not a typical "resource fair." Hunks of the afternoon were spent with children and adults alike hanging around together stimming.

We ended up getting space for the event where I work, a place that provides a variety of professional services for autistic children, from educational to therapeutic to medical. This was going to be something different, though. When I asked to reserve the space, I was asked the entirely sensible question of how many people were expected. I had no idea. 5? 50? The final count was around 30.

But all in the plan and the lead up, we had no idea. Would parents want to bring their children to a space run by autistic adults, where being autism was ok? Could professionals even conceptualize a space where autistic people were in charge? Where no one mentioned cause or cure or treatment? Where the point was to have fun being autistic, in typically autistic ways, together?

What if you threw a party and no one came?

A few months earlier, some of the same advocates, and others in the local disability community, planned a vigil to honor the lives of people with disabilities who had been killed by their caregivers. This International Disability Day of Mourning started with a single vigil in 2012, hosted by an autistic women who kept reading articles expressing pity for the person who had murdered her autistic child living nearby. The vigil in my area the year before had been attended by about 6 people. Someone bought 100 candles and still has 94 candles on a shelf somewhere. This year, with more networking and preparation, we got about 30. We couldn't get the press to come, which may have been just as well. The last time the local press covered the murder of a person with a disability, they sympathized with the murder as well, as the murdered person had been "suffering."

What if you held a vigil and no one came?

One thing that strikes me again and again are the ableist things I encountered from the medical field. It's not that people think ableist things and say ableist things. It's that so many people think ableist things that no one notices. It is OK to sort people in studies under "good" or "poor" outcomes. It's OK to describe people with certain conditions as having poor quality of life without ever asking them. It’s OK to do studies where typically developing children are rewarded for rewarding autistic children for playing with them, and describing your success as improving social interactions. It’s OK to say that children with certain disabilities don’t really “play” because they don’t use toys in typical ways.

No one notices these things as problems. They report them in their own research. They quote them in rounds. They listen to people say them in classes and lectures.

And it’s the same in media articles written about disability. Typically the author has an ableist slant. Often, people with disabilities show up in the comments to complain. And they are shouted down by other ableist people telling them they couldn’t possibly understand.

That’s really the problem. Not that people have these ableist ideas. The fact that the ideas continue to gather such a big audience. The fact that people don’t criticize them. They don’t walk out on them. They don’t refuse to publish them. They keep showing up to hear them again and again.

What if someone proposed something ableist and no one came?

What if the people saying and doing ableist things had to worry as much about getting others to listen as the advocates do now?

What if?
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