Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Adi the Caped Crusader

Today's featured autistic superhero (just in time for the new Batman movie) is a woman known as Adi, who fights for truth and justice and accurate representation of autistic people in South Africa's Western Cape region.

She recently blogged about a controversial fundraising event held by a charitable organization, Autism Western Cape (AWC), which runs a small school for autistic children and two group homes for autistic adults. The fundraiser was a Jail4Bail event in which AWC executive director Gerhard Pieterse sought donations by occupying a mock jail cell in a shopping center until the "bail" amount was raised. Although the event had the well-intentioned goal of funding services for autistic people, the advertising created negative and misleading images of autism. A photo of a young child behind bars was originally used in promotional materials, thereby suggesting that autism was like a prison for children. After complaints from Adi and others, a picture of Gerhard Pieterse was substituted.

As Adi points out, although the photo was changed and the event is over, the underlying problem of lack of meaningful involvement of autistic self-advocates in making decisions that affect the lives of autistic people in the Western Cape still remains. When autistics (and people with disabilities generally) are not consulted and do not have any authority in the process of making significant decisions, the inevitable result is misinformation and inadequate understanding, no matter how well-intentioned charitable groups and others may be.

Consequently, Adi seeks to organize self-advocates to speak out on issues of concern to the autistic community and to ensure that their views will be heard in the future. A properly conducted fundraising campaign, she says, should be designed to "better the life of autistic people and… ensure that the lasting image of autism left in its participants' minds furthers the acceptance and inclusion of autistic people in society."

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