It was over before I knew it had happened. And it ended well.
Joe over at the Club 166 blog spotted a billboard that was, well, rather reminiscent of the “ Ransom Notes ” campaign billboards that caused a great stir in the autism communities. It appears that Joe spotted this billboard in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania:
As the father of a child on the autism spectrum, I am writing to express concern about the York, PA ASA chapter’s billboard campaign that associates autism with being kidnapped. I happened to notice one of your billboards while taking a vacation in Pennsylvania. This campaign is reminiscent of the 2007 Ransom Notes campaign that was undertaken (and subsequently removed) by the NYU Child Study Center in New York City.
Comparing people with autism to those who are kidnapped is not only factually wrong (my son hasn’t been kidnapped, he’s right here in front of me), but is demeaning and offensive to those who are autistic. Rather than “creating awareness”, I can only see the logical end result of such an ad campaign be one of creating fear, misunderstanding, and disrespect towards those who are autistic.
In Medieval folklore the image of a changeling was used to describe children with then misunderstood medical disorders or developmental disabilities. Fairies or trolls were thought to have kidnapped the “normal child” and left the changeling in its place. One would think that in the 21st century we could get past such folklore, and deal with reality.
Putting up ads that show such disrespect towards autistics will certainly not result in greater acceptance and integration in either the school environment or the community. As an organization that ostensibly has been set up to serve the needs of the autistic community, I urge you to immediately remove the ads. Furthermore, I strongly encourage you to consult with autistic self advocates before formulating future ad campaigns.
Thank you for your time, and I hope to hear from you soon.
Also, ASAN got involved. Here is Ari Ne’eman’s letter discussing what happened:
Only a few hours after our letter and thanks to the hard work of bloggers like Joe at Club 166, Abfh, Cracked Mirror in Shalott and others who wrote in and called about the billboard campaign, ASA -York has agreed to pull the billboards. This is a sign of the importance of working together as a community to address issues like this. A year and a half ago, it took the combined strength of 21 disability organizations from across the country to have our voices be heard on a billboard campaign not dissimilar to this one. Today, our community’s reputation for action and ethics has grown to the point where we can bring about change much more rapidly. This should serve as a reminder of the importance of a strong, united Autistic community with a clear moral vision of a better future for Autistic people. Small victories like this remind us of what we can accomplish by working as one community on issues of every kind and size. Thank you to everyone who took action and in particular to the members of the blogosphere who first rallied the community around this. I encourage people to write to ASA -York’s President Amy Wallace at Amy Wallace email@example.com to express your appreciation for their swift action to remove unethical advertising and to encourage them to work with the Autistic community in the future.
Regards, Ari Ne’eman President The Autistic Self Advocacy Network http://www.autisticadvocacy.org firstname.lastname@example.org 732.763.5530
I’m glad to see this advocacy effort pay off so amicably and so quickly.