Monday, October 26, 2009

Autistic Self Advocacy Network to protest Autism Speaks walk Oct. 31 in D.C.

From Paula C. Durbin-Westby, Board of Directors, The Autistic Self Advocacy Network:

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network and allies will protest Autism Speaks at their “Walk for Autism” on Saturday, October 31 at the National Mall in Washington DC.

Autism Speaks’ recent choice to use fear, stigma, misinformation and prejudice against autistic people as a fundraising tool does real damage to people with disabilities and to the cause of disability rights.

We protest the agenda of Autism Speaks and the organizations that have merged into it, including Cure Autism Now and the National Alliance for Autism Research. Comments by co-founder Suzanne Wright include a call to “eradicate autism for the sake of future generations,” ignoring autistics who are here now and our families and communities. Although Autism Speaks is capable of addressing the very real needs of autistic children and adults, and our families and communities, it chooses not to.

An analysis of Autism Speaks 2008 financial report reveals that only 4% of Autism Speaks’ total funding is spent on family services. 65% is spent on research in areas that focus on “curing” autism. Another 28% is spent on “awareness” and fundraising. The “awareness” component does almost nothing to educate people about autism itself and is mostly geared toward raising funds for “curing” autism. Pages on Autism Speaks’ website support James Watson, who was dismissed from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory after making grossly racist remarks, and Autism Speaks has funded Dr. Joseph Buxbaum, who asserted that a prenatal test would soon be available, indicating what sort of “cure” might be expected.

The literature in the “Participant Guide” that is used specifically for fundraising for the Autism Speaks “Walk for Autism” walks includes such language as “shocking,” “terrifying,” and the coupling of cancer and AIDS statistics with autism statistics. This rhetoric is offensive and misleading, adding to the stigma autistics and other people with disabilities must face from society.

Autism Speaks' recent PSA, titled “I Am Autism,” presents autistic individuals as kidnap victims, burdens, and inhuman. In the video, autism is presented as a soul-stealing entity that ruins marriages, causes bankruptcy, triggers embarrassment, and erodes morality.

This latest example of using fear, pity and stigma to raise money is in line with Autism Speaks past fundraising videos, which have presented being autistic as akin to being in a fatal car accident, being struck by lightning and other situations resulting in death. The walks are held in order to fund a mega-million operation (over $22 million this year raised from “Autism Walks” alone), which includes annual salaries that go as high as $600,000 a year for top executives. All the efforts in Washington DC have raised almost enough to pay the salary of one top-level executive in the organization: $461,918.

Autism Speaks does not give any consideration to the damage its alarmist rhetoric causes to autistic people and our families and friends. Although claiming to “speak” for autistics, autistic self-advocates are not represented at any level in the organization.

Autism Speaks is one of an increasingly few number of major disability advocacy organizations that refuse to include any individual with the disability they purport to serve on their board of directors or at any point in their leadership and decision-making processes. In large part due to Autism Speaks’ public relations strategy of presenting Autistic people as silent burdens on society rather than human beings with thoughts, feelings and opinions, Autism Speaks’ governance policies are deeply unrepresentative and out of step with the mainstream of the disability non-profit community.

We will carry out our protest at the Old Folklife Festival Site, between Constitution Avenue and Madison Drive, in between 14th and 15th Streets. We will assemble there between 8 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. The closest Metro stations to the protest site are Smithsonian and Federal Triangle.