29 April 2017

Ableist bullshit targets nonspeaking autistics/autistics of color. Also, the sky is blue.

In Portland, Oregon, a nonspeaking autistic high school student has just been nominated to attend a prestigious national program at the United Nations, after going through a competitive process in his state. Now, the national program staff have decided that he can't go because he is autistic and have refused to accept him.

His name is Niko Boskovic, and he uses a letterboard to communicate, by pointing at each letter to spell his words. The program is the Odd Fellows and Rebekahs U.N. Educational Pilgrimage for Youth, which brings youth from across the United States to the U.N. each year. (And they should be ashamed of themselves, and fix this, immediately.)

They are refusing to allow Niko to participate because he needs support to communicate. They are calling his mom, who has volunteered to pay out of pocket to travel to provide him communication support, a "chaperone" who is not allowed on the trip. That means that (a) they refuse to recognize her role as a human accommodation (like a reader, a notetaker, a transcriptionist, a personal attendant, or an interpreter serves as a human accommodation); and (b) they believe Niko is incompetent and less than his peers since a "chaperone" would only be there as someone to supervise him. Chaperones at middle school dances supervise the students in futile efforts to prevent "dirty dancing." Chaperones on school buses supervise the students in totally ineffectual efforts to prevent bullying, food throwing, and jumping off the bus (okay, maybe a bit more effectively at that last one). Chaperones of small children supervise the students to make sure they aren't accidentally wandering away from their field trips only to end up lost, hit by cars, or kidnapped. et cetera. That language makes it clear that they believe Niko is less competent and not on equal ground with his peers such that he is trying to bring a "chaperone" to participate.

Niko would be planning to bring his mother as a support person, meaning, to provide him with the tools he needs to communicate, participate, and take full advantage of the opportunity. This is horrifying and wrong, and not entirely dissimilar to when organizations like colleges and courts (as they do all the fucking time, for the record) deny d/Deaf and hard of hearing people the right to sign language interpretation (especially tactile for deafblind people) or CART captioning. (Yes, Niko not being able to participate in some educational program sponsored by a fraternal society is not in any universe the same thing as someone being denied interpretation at a hearing that could result in them being locked up indefinitely in jails/prisons that may literally kill them.) But it is, at its core, denying his right to communicate and to reasonable accommodation, and in so doing, demeaning his form of communication and presuming his inherent incompetence.

You know what this reminds me of? My study abroad experience when I was in college and older than Niko currently is.

Firstly, the staff member in the college's study abroad office insisted, in the most patronizing tone ever, that I should disclose to my professors immediately once abroad, not because of a specific cultural difference related to disability, but because I "just ... seem different" and that "it's obvious that you're different in any classroom." (Saying the word "different" in a tone of voice that sounded a lot like, "not normal and therefore maybe scary, unpredictable, or otherwise uncomfortable for other people to be around.")

Then, the external program's staff demanded to schedule a meeting with me on very short notice (right before Thanksgiving break), so they could question whether or not I would be "safe." They were worried I would not be "safe" because of details about my disabilities that I did not consent to be disclosed to them and that were not included in my file with the disability services office (meaning they only got those details by creepily looking me up online, again, without my consent).

Note also that at the time I was planning to study abroad, I had a cumulative GPA below the required 3.0 to receive approval from the university to do study abroad. I was also a declared major in a department that required its undergrad majors to study abroad in order to graduate. So I had one part of the university telling me I was not allowed to study abroad based solely on my grades (which were undoubtedly impacted by all sorts of ableism and insufficiently or not-at-all accommodated disability), and another part of the university telling me I had to study abroad or else I couldn't graduate.

And when I finally went and got separate special approval to go do it, I got hit with a double whammy super extra special dose of ableism, in the form of questioning whether or not it would be feasible or safe for me to participate in a program, and reminding me that unless I can pass for neurotypical to other people's standards (which apparently, despite all the hate mail I get deriding me for being "high functioning/mild/not really disabled" and thus unable to talk about disability, I don't), I "just seem different" (and meaning it with all the possible negative attitudes attached to the term).

Niko Boskovic deserves better. He went through the process to compete, and even knowing he is autistic and uses a letterboard, the Oregon chapter supported him and endorsed his nomination. The only reason the national program has denied his nomination and rejected him as a delegate is because of his disability. And that's ableist as fuck.

***

I also want to note that while I haven't been blogging a whole lot in the past few years, the other thing that's been nagging in my craw lately has been the recent news coverage of several autistic students in Florida -- one Filipinx, one Black, and one white -- subjected to appalling punishment and even arrest and police force as a means of control and compliance training, in response to their existing while autistic. Their names, respectively, are Seraph Isaac Jones (check that link for a fundraiser to help Seraph and family cover a neuropsych evaluation that could help him in fighting the awful fucking school), Ashton Gelfand, and John Benjamin Haygood.

That's the same state, by the way, where Arnaldo Eliud Rios-Soto, a Latinx autistic adult, was involuntarily committed and then confined indefinitely in a long-term residential institution operated by a for-profit corporation with a decades-long history of abuse and neglect of disabled residents in multiple states ... that being after nearly being killed and witnessing police (thankfully nonfatally) shoot Charles Kinsey, a Black man and a behavioral therapist working at Arnaldo's former group home.

The same state where Reginald Cornelius Latson (better known as Neli), a Black autistic adult, has also been confined, indefinitely, in the very same institution as Arnaldo ... after suffering solitary confinement and other abuse for years in Virginia prisons stemming from his arrest after police were called because he existed in public while Black and autistic waiting for a library to open. (That's after the governor's "conditional pardon" by the way.)

What strikes me about all of this ableist violence in/near schools and similar environments, is how ordinary it is. 

In the past several years, I've met and talked to hundreds, if not potentially thousands, of autistic and other disabled people. Almost every single one of us has survived at least one (and usually) multiple traumas, often beginning with family of origin or the school system, or both. Just from my friends and people I interact with regularly, I bear witness constantly to the devastating impact of ableist schools, ableist doctors, ableist police, ableist social workers, ableist bureaucrats, ableist families, ableist neighbors, ableist bosses ... on the literal physical and mental health of disabled people, especially those whose experiences lie at the intersections of disability, race, gender, class, and sexuality. 

Intersected disabled people are dying. Intersected disabled people need material help now. Intersected disabled people are surviving the violence of exclusion, rejection, and isolation every day.

I'm glad these stories are receiving attention in news media, but to those of us without the same privilege and power, it's not news. We've always already been living this violence, and it needs to stop.