Friday, October 2, 2009

Taking a Stand for Justice

Bob Williams, former Commissioner of the Administration on Developmental Disabilities, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has written an open letter condemning Autism Speaks' hateful video "I Am Autism" and urging Bruce Springsteen to end his support for Autism Speaks and to contact the Autistic Self Advocacy Network to learn more about how to be an ally to Autistic people. The letter as shown below has been excerpted from an original longer version.

An Open Letter to the Boss:

Dear Bruce:

I am writing to strongly urge you not to perform at the Autism Speaks benefit concert in November and that you withdraw your offer to do so in protest over its horrendous video, “I Am Autism.” Watching it left me and others physically ill and deeply outraged much as a hard core porn video or one filled with racial, homophobic or other bigoted images and tirades would do. Under the supposed guise of promotion a cure of all conditions along the Autism Spectrum, the video strips children and adults on the spectrum naked of their humanity – sowing the worse of stereotypes, fears and low expectations. The message it senselessly projects is one of complete dread and utter disdain – not just of the disability but of those with it as well.

CuarĂ³n and Mann may be masters of their craft, furthermore, they and Autism Speaks are certainly protected by the First Amendment in espousing whatever agenda they choose by whatever means they may choose. As you well know, free speech is a two way street, however. Others of us, therefore, have the same fundamental right and, yes, obligation to denounce the message that autistic people are devoid of the ability to connect – the trait that defines all of us as human.

Increasingly, we are learning just how much this theory once regarded as immutable fact is actually chockfull of holes and based in part or whole on faulty and the most discriminatory of assumptions (see, for example, “The Truth About Autism: Scientists Reconsider What They Think They Know”, Wired Magazine, 02.25.08). We are also just beginning to glimpse the scope and magnitude of the damage and injustices done over the past century or more because such flawed half “scientific” dogmas. So, the question must be asked: What possible good is done by perpetuating them?

Bruce, I have been a fan of yours since the days of Greetings from Asbury Park. As a high school student with significant cerebral palsy in the 70’s I felt alienated, castigated and incommunicado with the world much of the time. Your music became a major force in my life. In your lyrics and the sweet riffs of Clarence, I found my own voice loud, proud and strong. I recognized that far from being a weakness or the problem that my disability, my supposed speechlessness and otherness are among my greatest strengths – essential to what makes me and those like me uniquely and uncategorically human. This is something those so quick to dismiss and denigrate seem unwilling to accept. In your artistry and advocacy for human rights, one line above all others strikes me as central to your message – Walk Tall or Don’t Walk at All. Autistic people are urging you to Walk Tall with them. I urge you to do the same. Please contact Ari Ne'eman, the Founding President of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network to find out how you can join your voice in harmony with theirs to take a stand for justice. Ari can be emailed at

Thank you.

Bob Williams, former Commissioner
Administration on Developmental Disabilities,
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

1 comment:

Clay said...

I sure hope that email gets sent to Ari! It would be great if Springsteen bailed on them.