When folks I like and whose brains I respect go after each other online, it's like coming home to find my favorite roommate smacking around the person I'm dating. So you can imagine how dismayed I was to to see Ari Ne'eman and Robert Rummel-Hudson at public loggerheads. Especially Robert and Ari. Why?
Two weeks ago, I was at the BlogHer conference in San Diego, speaking on a special needs miniconference panel alongside Robert. His talk was clear-eyed and inspiring -- he pushed everyone in the room to acknowledge that disability rights are civil rights:
I believe the fight for disability rights, particularly in the hearts and souls of our typical fellow citizens, will constitute the next great civil rights movement in this country. And I believe that, with all my heart.While I was ruminating on Robert's call to action, neurodiversity journalist and author Steve Silberman called to let me know that Ari Ne'eman's keynote speech at Syracuse University's Neurodiversity Symposium (an event about which I'd been whining, since I wanted to go but couldn't be in California and New York at the same time) was truly wonderful, needed to be shared more widely, and did I want a copy of his audio*? Oh yes, I did.
Ari's talk is indeed a must-listen; he spoke eloquently and forcefully about the neurodiversity/autistic self-advocacy movement, stating that:
"...it's essential that we recognize that neurodiversity is an outgrowth of disability rights, and that disability rights is an outgrowth of the civil rights movement."To be clear: Ari and Robert, on the same day, were both publicly championing disability rights as civil rights, were spreading the word that the "concerns" of the disability community are actually human rights, were demanding not just the attention but the respect of every last person who could hear and spread their messages.
These are men who are primed to be allies. These are men who need to talk to each other.
Because, honestly, there are enough jerks outside our community, holding their paintball guns of self-righteousness aloft, shaking them and yelling at us to shut up about disability rights, getting pissed off when we shame them for verbally disrespecting us or our children, complaining about "all the money" neurodiverse and disabled kids and adults suck from the system. Turning those people around, that should be our battle.
And yes, there are people from our community who should be fighting alongside us, who should be cheering Robert and Ari along, who really, really are not. And while that is a shame and I have no problem calling out people like Jenny McCarthy whose specific actions derail our efforts, my hope is that through firm, vocal, and positive role modeling, such people may come to see the error of their mindsets and stand alongside us.
But then there are -- again -- people like Robert and Ari who are already on parallel paths, with the same or similar goals. Oftentimes what separates them is not ill will or disrespect, it's lack of each other's contexts. As I said at the BlogHer miniconference about my perspective as a parent:
Most of us have not done this before; as parents, most of us came from outside the special needs community. We have to learn everything from scratch. And after eight years of blogging about Leo and his autism, I came to realize I have learned so much from all of you, from Leo, from the professionals, from the adults who have autism -- and I so wish I had known everything I know now at the time Leo was first diagnosed. How amazing would it have been to transplant my current brain into my body in 2003?We need to recognize the difference between genuine ignorance versus willful ignorance -- you can usually do something about the former, with enough patience and perseverance. When I started out writing about my Leo and his autism in 2003, I had very little context about people with autism; I was genuinely ignorant. I wasn't evil or malicious; I was underinformed -- I just hadn't had any exposure to Autistic self-advocates.
Thankfully the self-advocates I correspond with most frequently -- including Carol and Corina and Lindsey and Rachel and Landon and Val -- are mostly patient with me when I stumble in writing about or otherwise characterizing autism and disability issues. They usually treat me the same way I try to treat my kids -- they take a positive approach, and tell me what they want to see, or ask me if my omissions of perspective or content were intentional -- rather than lambasting me for what I may not yet know or have considered. And they mostly listen to my perspectives and advice, too. (As much as anyone does -- I am tangent-prone.)
I'm not saying everyone in our community has to agree all the time; that would be dull. But I am asking us to treat potential allies with respect, and have some patience with each other -- because we need each other if we're going to catapult Ari's and Robert's civil rights agendas into the mainstream where they belong. As Robert said at BlogHer:
"... for that to happen, all of our little communities of need will have to become a unified group. We must embrace the idea that the rising tide really can lift all our boats. More to the point, the retreating tide can and very probably will leave us all stranded in the mud."
*Excerpts from Ari's keynote will be posted on the Thinking Person's Guide to Autism tomorrow; you can view the webcast at neurodiversitysymposium.wordpress.com/210-2/. Thanks again to Mr. Silberman for his exuberant generosity.