Hey everybody, Ultimate Oddball here. Today I’m going to talk about the importance of autistic inclusion. While we have come a long way from the days of doctors recommending institutionalization at the point of diagnosis, there are still a number of major issues as far as inclusion goes. Two of the biggest are the lack of autistic inclusion in organizations which advocate for autistic people in a myriad of ways, and the other is segregated workspaces/subminimum wages for autistic people and disabled people in general.
There are many groups which claim to represent autistic people while simultaneously refusing to employ or consult actual autistic people. This is likely rooted at least in part in an expectation that we autistic people have nothing to contribute. Internalized ableism can affect anyone, even the people who wish to advocate for disabled and autistic individuals. Indeed, these individuals as well as disabled and autistic people must be extra wary of internalized ableism, as their position, experiences, and desire to advocate might interfere with their ability to be unbiased in examining their own actions and thoughts.
This lack of inclusion in advocacy is a huge issue for a variety of reasons, one of the biggest being that when you lack personal experience of something, it’s easy to make mistakes in representation. It’s easy to get things wrong. When you haven’t gone through something yourself, you have to be very careful when speaking about it. Autism is a fundamental difference in neurology, and no matter how many autistic children a person has, unless they themselves are autistic, they cannot speak to the experience of being autistic.
Non-autistic people should not be attempting to represent autistic people, especially when doing so drowns out autistic people’s point of view, whether intentionally or not. It’s hard enough to self advocate as an autistic person since many of us, including myself, dislike confrontation. However, some of us have enough spoons to advocate anyways, not just for ourselves but for all autistic people, so we fight through those feelings. Having a non-autistic person argue against views that a lot of autistic self advocates and organizations which include autistic self advocates are very much for is not only dismissive, it’s also disrespectful of our fundamental right to self representation.
Another major issue in inclusion is segregated workspaces and subminimum wage for disabled and autistic people. Many of the autistic people who work are kept in segregated workshops where they are paid below minimum wage due to companies being allowed to pay subminimum wage under Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act. This practice is inherently discriminatory and is often used to exploit disabled and autistic workers. A recent opinion issued by the Department of Labor found that a workplace in Ohio which paid its workers less than minimum wage would have to pay backpay to make up the difference as well as pay minimum wage from then on. Hopefully we will see changes to the law to end these antiquated practices.
When we talk about inclusion, it’s important to understand that this isn’t just an idea or a notion. Inclusion is a fundamental necessity in the movement towards equality for autistic people and disabled people in general. If you’re going to be an ally to autistic people, you have to recognize that you cannot simply place us into little boxes to make things easier or more convenient, whether that box is meant to make us invisible, or to exploit us for labor or objectification for the sake of generating inspiration.