Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Monday, August 13, 2007

Barack Obama Hears a Who

Finally, at last! From that speck on that clover
Their voices were heard! They rang out clear and clean.
And the elephant smiled. "Do you see what I mean?
They’ve proved they ARE persons, no matter how small.

Dr. Seuss, Horton Hears a Who

About four months ago, I wrote a post endorsing Barack Obama for president. At that point, his campaign hadn't made any statements about autism; I based my judgment on Senator Obama's overall appreciation of human diversity and his willingness to enter into dialogue with people from different cultures in general.

When I looked at the barackobama.com website again in July, I found that a brief discussion of autism had been added to the healthcare issues page, Creating a Healthcare System that Works. On that page, the Obama campaign advocated improving autism research, declared that we should increase funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and stated that "the government and our communities should work together to provide a helping hand..."

Although most people (myself included) would agree that these are good policy ideas, I also found, to my dismay, that the page contained some unfortunate language of the "epidemic" variety. After I talked it over with another pro-neurodiversity Obama supporter who was similarly concerned, we decided to contact the Obama campaign and ask that the language be edited to show more respect for autistic citizens.

We sent an e-mail to a state campaign leader describing our concerns and why we felt the language was offensive. In response, he sent us a personal reply promising, "I will reach out on your behalf about the offensive paragraph," and further describing Senator Obama's views on disability rights as follows: "You are right that in his heart and philosophy, he believes all people not only have the right to be engaged but we need them for democracy to flourish."

Shortly thereafter, we checked the campaign's healthcare issues page again, and we found that the word "epidemic" had been removed. In addition, "disorder" had been changed to "condition," a reference to "Americans affected by autism" had been revised to "Americans with autism," and several other changes that we requested had been made.

Is the Obama campaign's discussion of autism, as it now stands, an unequivocal endorsement of neurodiversity? No. The page gives a bit of a nod to the mercury crowd, in that the preceding paragraph is a promise to reduce mercury pollution in the environment. "As diagnostic criteria broaden and awareness increases, more cases of autism have been recognized across the country," the website states, reflecting the view that actual autism prevalence has not changed; however, it also characterizes autism as "a profound mystery" in need of more research into "root causes."

All in all, though, the page shows the careful choice of words that might be expected from a political campaign seeking to find the common ground on a controversial issue. And that in itself—the recognition by a major national political campaign that many different perspectives on autism exist—is a major step forward for the neurodiversity movement.

Now it's time for neurodiversity supporters to get more involved—to take this change of momentum and run with it! The Obama campaign has shown that it is willing to listen to the concerns of the autistic population; it's our job to keep those concerns in full view by getting large numbers of autistic volunteers actively working on the campaign in all parts of the country. Our first priority should be getting every autistic adult registered to vote (in some states, 17-year-olds who will be 18 by the date of the general election are allowed to vote in the primary election; we need to get these teens registered too).

As the old adage goes, "the squeaky wheel gets the grease." The curebies have been getting a disproportionate share of attention in the political arena just because they have made more noise. Let's get busy and outsqueak 'em!

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  • When it comes to this sort of thing, image speaks louder than money. Both speak louder than doing the right thing.

    No candidate wants to be labled with being against a cure for anything. They also don't want to be called bigots.

    Our challenge is winning the minds of as many people as possible. If we pick up a few politicians in the process, great. If we don't, we still go on. I'm not going to jump for joy or cry in my caldo either way.

    By Blogger bigwhitehat, at 3:02 PM  

  • Sounds like the Hillary Clinton campaign could heed some lessons from the Obama campaign.

    By Blogger Estee Klar-Wolfond, at 4:45 PM  

  • Great, good job. My check is in the mail for Obama 08'.

    By Blogger christschool, at 7:48 PM  

  • Wow...I'm impressed by all of you! I'll be looking closer at Obama!

    By Blogger r.b., at 7:59 PM  

  • Thank you for this. Definitely looking closer at that campaign now.

    Though, to be fair, even without the curebies, I think it is reasonable to want less mercury pollution in the world. It's just not a good thing.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:50 PM  

  • Big White Hat: Yes, image counts for quite a lot in politics, but until now (to the best of my knowledge) no US politicians at the national level even realized that they might be called bigots for using stereotyped descriptions of autism.

    Estee: She probably won't even notice.

    Christschool and Rose: Thanks!

    Anon: Wanting less pollution is indeed reasonable, and it's possible that the placement of the mercury paragraph could just be a coincidence, rather than an intentional bid for support from the mercury parents.

    By Blogger abfh, at 3:44 PM  

  • That's actually impressive. I would have expected more of a knee-jerk woo-the-parents response.

    By Blogger elmindreda, at 10:23 PM  

  • I impressed too. That's a really big accomplishment.

    I'm also wondering if the democratic ticket includes both Clinton and Obama,(which very well might happen) will Obama then feel the need to go along with her association with Autism Speaks?

    I agree that getting a presidential canadate to see this differently is a major accomplishment. I'm wondering that while he's still Clinton's opponant if he could could be persueded to make his veiws more widely known and different than hers, it might make him less likly to be able to back out of it once he and Clinton are running together.

    By Blogger Ed, at 6:01 AM  

  • elmindreda: Maybe the Obama campaign has noticed that not all of the parents are on the curebie side.

    Ed: Although there has been a lot of talk about a possible Clinton/Obama ticket, it may not happen. Hillary Clinton is more vulnerable than she looks: Even though she is ahead in the opinion polls, she has not been able to get above 50 percent. To win the nomination, a candidate needs a majority of the delegates. If Clinton goes into the convention with 40 to 45 percent of the delegates, and if Obama and Edwards can combine their delegates for more than 50 percent (maybe with a little help from a minor candidate or two), we could very well see an Obama/Edwards ticket or an Edwards/Obama ticket.

    By Blogger abfh, at 10:57 AM  

  • Glad to hear....the quickly responded and used correct terms to define autism.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:40 PM  

  • What about John Edwards? He has a plan for autism that sounds like he gave it even more thought than Barack:

    Check it out. It is no less than Barack.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:19 AM  

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