By Meg Evans, ASAN Southwest Ohio Chapter Director.
ASAN Central Ohio/Ohio State University protested an Autism Speaks walk on the OSU campus on Sunday, October 11th, along with other disability rights advocates objecting to Autism Speaks' lack of self-advocate representation, advertising campaigns that promote fear and stereotypes, and taking funds out of local communities for cure and prevention research while providing very few services. There is a YouTube video of the protest, and more details and photos can be found on the ASAN Central Ohio blog.
I came from the Dayton area to take part in the protest, which was a drive that took me a little more than an hour, and I found several ASAN members and supporters already on the site when I arrived. The protest site was located across the street from the entrance to the parking area for the walk participants, and our group was very visible to people arriving in cars for the event, many of whom looked surprised to see us. Some walkers who arrived on foot stopped to talk with our group about our concerns and to look at our flyers. After the walk began, several people approached us to ask why we were protesting. When I explained to one walker that almost all of the donations raised would be spent by the national Autism Speaks organization on advertising and research, with only four percent being returned to communities for family services, she started nodding and told me that she had been wondering where all the money went.
Image: Protesters hand out flyers at Autism Speaks walk
In light of the widespread lack of availability of services and supports for Autistic people and our families, not only in Ohio but also in other states and throughout the world, we were not expecting anyone to dispute the need for more funding for services. At the end of the walk, however, one Autism Speaks supporter approached our group and argued that it was all right for Autism Speaks to take money out of local communities because Autistic people and our families really didn't need the money anyway. In the tone of a modern-day Marie Antoinette declaring that peasants who had no bread could eat cake, he said that as a parent he had no problem with large amounts of money being spent on cure research because Social Security disability benefits and other programs were available and because "I have a good job." Evidently it had not occurred to him that others might not be as fortunate as his family.
The irony in such an argument struck me as quite glaring indeed, coming so soon after Autism Speaks' release of the widely denounced I Am Autism video, in which a scary voice purporting to represent autism says, "Your money will fall into my hands, and I will bankrupt you for my own self-gain."