A group of leading disability organizations is calling on Autism Speaks’ benefactors to end their support for the organization. The move comes in response to a video distributed by Autism Speaks which critics say depicts people with autism as less than human and burdens on society.
The video, which aired at Autism Speaks’ World Focus on Autism event earlier this week in New York, features two parts.
The first part shows young people with autism as a voice-over declares, “I am autism.” The man’s voice continues by describing autism as a disorder that works “faster than pediatric AIDS, cancer and diabetes combined,” will ensure that your marriage fails, will bankrupt you, cause you not to sleep and make it “virtually impossible” to go out in public without experiencing embarrassment or pain.
The second portion of the video features more hopeful images. The voice-overs declare that through love for their children, parents and others will work tirelessly to overcome the challenges autism presents.
In response, disability advocates are now coming together to condemn the video, which they say is part of a pattern of behavior by the nation’s largest autism advocacy organization.
In a letter being prepared for open circulation next week, the group of advocates say the video is a “fund-raising tool” that relies on “fear, stigma, misinformation and prejudice against autistic people.” The letter will be sent to Autism Speaks donors, sponsors and supporters and it will be posted publicly, organizers say.
Already the American Association of People with Disabilities, ADAPT and TASH are among the organizations that have signed on to the letter organized by the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network. Other organizations are now reviewing the document.
The letter cites a public service announcement and another film from 2005 called “Autism Everyday” as other examples of fear-based tactics used by Autism Speaks.
The group of advocates go on to ask the public to no longer support Autism Speaks and instead find new ways to support people with autism and other disabilities.
“Autism Speaks believes that its bottom line will be helped by portraying autistic people as less than human,” says Ari Ne’eman, president of the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network. “This is really damaging if you’re trying to get your child included in school or if you’re an autistic person trying to find a job or get included in society more broadly.”
When asked about the video, Autism Speaks representatives tried to distance the organization from the short film, which appears on the group’s Web site and includes home videos solicited through the organization.
Representatives said the film was created by Academy Award-nominated director Alfonso Cuarón and Grammy-nominated songwriter and producer Billy Mann, both of whom have children with autism. The film is set to a poem written by Mann.
“It is an intensely personal expression by these two fathers and their hope is that the piece inspires other voices and artists in the autism community,” according to a statement from Autism Speaks. “No one perspective can ever be the definitive voice of autism. We encourage everyone in the autism community to acknowledge the myriad voices and have tolerance for the spectrum of opinions.”