Friday, June 20, 2008

Autism community says Jail4Bail fundraising campaign stigmatizes autistic people

In South Africa, Gerhard Pieterse, the father of an autistic 11-year-old, has locked himself inside a mock prison cell in Bayside Mall in Capetown since June 16, saying he won't leave until he raises at least R1-million (about $125,000) for autism support services, The Independent Online reports.

Pieterse, who is also the executive director of Autism Western Cape, which will receive much of the money he raises, says, "This is serious business. I'm totally committed, and I fully believe we will raise the million.", a resources Web site for people with autism or Asperger's, published an article by a South African with Asperger's in which he says he supports fundraising campaigns for autism support services, but not when they perpetuate negative images.

One of the posters depicts a girl "imprisoned" by autism. (See above.)

"I do support fundraising campaigns for autism if their purpose is to better the life of autistic people and if they ensure that the lasting image of autism left in its participants’ minds furthers the acceptance and inclusion of autistic people in society. Unfortunately, Jail4Bail does not meet this criteria and actually feeds a negative stigma in the media that hurts autistic people and their families," he writes.

His article, which comes from an support blog for people on the autism spectrum in South Africa called the Wallpapering Society, quotes an important statement from Autism Vox, which gets at the core of why media and disability topics are so significant: "How we talk about autism—how we talk about autistic persons—directly impacts on how the public, how people, think about autism, and how they perceive and act towards autistic persons.”