Autism Is a Disability
I was a little taken aback by some of the responses to this story about a family with an autistic child who were harassed for using a disabled parking place. There is tremendous resistance to the idea that autism is actually a disability that requires real accommodations, even in our own community.
People wanted to blame the family so much that they made up things that they might have done wrong.
Maybe they didn't have the permit (They did.)
Maybe it wasn't visible (No suggestion of that in the story, not what the officer asked them about.)
Well, anyway, those parking spaces are REALLY for people with REAL disabilities.
Autism is a real disability, folks. And we need to learn to support each other better, because few others are going to. We want so badly to identify with the majority, to pretend our differences don't limit us, that we attack autistic people for needing or getting support.
In order for most autistic people to fully participate in life, we need some accommodations. Those of us who need fewer of them should never sit in judgment of those who need more. And the parents of those who need a lot of support should never assume that the less obvious needs of other autistic people are not real, or that acknowledging them endangers their children.
These are difficult ideas. Brenda Rothman is explaining many of them very clearly in a series of posts about a failure of accommodation when her family visited Walt Disney World. Most recently, she posted her letter to the resort:
It should be of little comfort to you to place the blame on me. Whether I used the "right" language, whether I should have complained, whether I should have requested a supervisor doesn't matter in the end. Partly because we actually did receive the correct disability pass at WDW City Hall, but mostly because denial or ill treatment could happen to anyone, including an autistic. The accommodation request system should be set up with access to the disabled. It should contain system fail-safes to ensure that a disabled person is not denied accommodation because of their very disability - social, language, and communication differences n autism particularly.
Receiving a disabled pass at Disney is of less concern to me than how my son and his fellow autistics are perceived and treated. If Disney, the company that sets the bar for how disabled persons are treated, prioritizes physical disabilities and treats non-apparent disabilities with distrust, then imagine how worse other places will treat them. If a member of the general population at Disney shouts at an autistic child for going through the disabled entrance at an amusement park, where everyone will ride as many rides as they want all day long in a pleasant, stress-free environment, imagine how they will treat an autistic when they feel threatened by a perceived loss of income, job position, taxes, or services...
My concern is not so much individual, but for autistics as a group. WDW should provide accommodations to all autistic persons, not some. WDW should recognize the physical part of autism. WDW should have accommodations and systems already in place for autistics. Autistic persons should not have to prove their needs in a public and dehumanizing way. Autistic persons should not be treated as not really disabled, not as disabled as those with physical disabilities. Autistic persons should not b refused accommodation because they don't appear to have mobility, hearing, or visual disabilities.