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Ari Ne’eman at the 2014 ASAN Gala

Ari Ne’eman at the 2014 ASAN Gala

It gives me great pleasure to introduce the founder- cofounder, I guess, of ASAN, and
its director, Ari Ne’eman. [Applause] Ari Ne’eman: Thanks, Jim. Like you said, we do see our work as part and parcel of the cross-disability rights movement, and we know that if not for the work you did losing cases about whether or not people with physical disabilities were more or less distracting
than women in bathing suits 25 years ago, we would still have a much longer way to go. So it’s my sincere pleasure to welcome all
of you to the Fourth Annual ASAN Gala. As always�
[Applause] it’s wonderful. We have a tradition here at the ASAN gala and the autistic community’s events, we borrowed it from the deaf communities, instead of clapping, we flap. It’s something we do for a number of different reasons. Flapping is something that we as autistic people like to do. But it also makes the room a lot more accessible for people with sensory sensitivities. Let’s try it out. [Applause]
Wow, round of applause. [Applause] As always, it’s wonderful to see so many familiar faces and new ones in the audience tonight. I’d like to begin by thanking our generous sponsors, particularly the Special Hope Foundation, WellPoint, Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation, LifeShare, Centene, and all of our other sponsors. Your support makes our work possible. Eight years ago, we founded ASAN to fight a reality in which autism was constantly discussed, but the voices of autistic people were always left out. We sought to create an organization that could challenge those who believed that just autism awareness was enough, even though awareness
too often came without understanding, acceptance, or respect. With all of you, we’ve advanced an agenda about more than awareness of we’ve fought for our rights, our dignity, and sometimes our very lives, because our society can be aware of virtually anything, but it doesn’t actually mean we understand very well. For example, not so long ago, the media picked up on a heartwarming story about an autistic hiker who set off for a long trip and got
lost in the Arizona desert for almost a month,
and had just been found, thank God, saved after
an extensive search. The guy was actually a fairly experienced hiker. He bit off more than he could chew. After three weeks in the desert, they found him next to the river, thank God alive. This was a good story, and glad the guy was OK, so on and such forth. But something caught my eye in the news coverage of this story. One of the sheriff’s deputies who had found the man said it was very fortunate that he, the deputy, had attended an autism awareness training for
law enforcement, because there he had learned
that autistic people were drawn towards water. [Laughter]
And without that crucial piece of knowledge, they would have had no idea to
look for this guy who, let’s remember, had been
lost in the desert for three weeks. [Laughter] By the river. The only body of water in the area. [Laughter]
Having read this story, I have a very important question to direct
to all the nonautistic people in the audience tonight. Maybe you can take a moment and educate me about your kind. [Laughter] What do you all look for when you’re lost
in the desert? [Laughter]
Beer? Fresca? Socially appropriate activities? [Laughter] Eyes to make contact with? [Laughter] Social reciprocity. Social reciprocity. That’s my neurotypical voice. I hope none of you were too offended. In all seriousness, we’ve done a lot to move the conversation beyond just awareness, and this year has been a big year for our movement. I’d like to share highlights of what we’ve accomplished and
what we’re doing to keep moving forward. January started off with an intensive advocacy gain to secure the inclusion of people with disabilities in the President’s new 1010 hour Executive Order. Thanks to many of the people in this room, inside and outside of the administration, that effort was successful. Now, this week, ASAN joined over 20 disability rights organizations in presenting Secretary of Labor Tom Perez with new recommendations for further executive action against subminimum wage for people with disabilities. We are not going to let up till equal rights for all disabled workers are respected. [Applause] Also, in January the Centers for Medicaid
and Medicare Services issued a new regulation
that we and others have been calling or them to issue for years. For the first time, we have a federal definition of what it means to be supported in the community, and just as importantly what it means to not be. We can begin to hold states accountable. Not only for getting people with disabilities out of large staterun institutions, but also out
of group homes, sheltered workshops and gated communities that replicate the institutional environment. Community living is about having the same rights and choices as everyone else. Over the last several months, ASAN has worked to produce and distribute a new toolkit on using this setting regulation to drive advocacy in the states. We’re working with our partners, again many of whom are in this very room, to push out that information to advocates across the country. And this summer, after years of trying, ASAN and our true allies succeeded in burying the Combatting Autism
Act. [Applause]
The new legislation is replacement. The Autism Cares Act is imperfect but a meaningful beginning towards bringing federal autism policy to a place where it works for autistic people, not against us. Earlier this month, our allies in Congress wrote to the administration and urged steps to secure real involvement of selfadvocates in the implementation of this new law, and we are going to, together with the people in this room, secure real and lasting change. We’ve come a very long way, but we still have very far to go. Most of you know that, unlike the story I told earlier, many stories about law enforcement and autistic people aren’t funny at all. Like many other communities, we are frequently victims of misunderstandings with law enforcement, and at times outright brutality. These issues are compounded for those members of our community who are also people of color who face violence on that basis as well. Recent data from the Department of Education shows that children with disabilities and children of color are both disproportionately likely to face suspension, restraint and seclusion in schools. The growing presence of school resource officers has increasingly put law enforcement in the position of responding to school discipline issues instead of educators, pushing people with disabilities, people of color and those who fall into both categories further into the school-to-prison pipeline. These issues are connected, and as a community we need to explore alliances to advance our shared priorities. Now, our voices are stronger together, and there are few greater proofs of that than the anniversary we celebrated just last week, the fifth anniversary of the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which expanded the federal hate crimes statute for the first time to include disability, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity. That law was passed by a coalition of the whole civil rights community pushing together, and we need it to be used multiple times over the course of the last year. We have seen horrific incidents where autistic children were murdered by those they should have been able to trust most, their parents. And when these acts of murder occur, all too often the media and some in the autism world seek to present not our deaths as the tragedy, but our lives. Just last week, London McCabe, 6-year-old boy, was thrown
off a bridge in Oregon by his mother. When that story broke, the news covered it initially
for the horror that it was, the horror that all infanticide is. Until it came to life that London was not just any 6yearold boy. London was autistic. Then we saw the justifications begin. The expressions of sympathy for his killer, the idea that the murder of a child could in any way be viewed as understandable. With a single revelation London McCabe went from being a murder victim to a burden in
the eyes of the media. Now, this is not an unfamiliar story. Again and again in the last several years, we have seen the press and certain voices in the autism world speak out against real prosecutions of parents and caregivers who murder autistic children. To combat this, ASAN has been working to promote robust prosecutions and meaningful sentences against relatives who murder or attempt to murder children on the basis of their disability. There are those who call such efforts extremist, because we refuse to promote the idea that children with disabilities are intolerable burdens on their families, or the parent murdering their child can be attributed to lack of service provision. If it’s extremism to refuse to justify those who kill our youth, if it’s extremism to speak out against our murders and demand the same justice from our legal system that would be delivered to the nondisabled, then we’re glad to be called extremists. But I do not think this is so extreme. We subscribe to the shockingly ambitious proposition that disabled people are equal and should be recognized
as such in our society. Not as burdens, not as inspirations, not as angels or demons or empty flesh, not as symbols or objects, but as people! People who are, in the words of the founding documents of our nation, “endowed
by our creator with certain inalienable rights.” Now, surely, life, liberty and the pursuit
of happiness for disabled people, surely recognizing that requires we put a stop to those who justify our murders. This is not who we are. Those who promote this ideology of better dead than disabled don’t represent autistic people or our parents and families. They do not represent disabled people or our parents and families. We reject their actions, and we reject their philosophy. And in doing so, we form a bond with each other. There’s a feeling I sometimes get when meeting other disabled people and family members and allies involved in our shared struggle for equality, whether they’re my elders who have been leading the struggle since before I was born, or people who are in their first years of their time
in the movement. I don’t know exactly how to describe it. In the immortal words of Gonzo the Great, “There’s not a word yet for old friends who’ve just met.” But we’re connected. We felt the same call. The same need to rip apart the world and put it back together again in a way that recognizes us as people. To be very honest with you, I relate most to those who, in a better world, probably would be
doing something else, but the thought of not taking action is unthinkable. We pick up the burdens of advocacy, of community building, because
we know that in the absence of our efforts people will die and suffer and be segregated and
be told that they are the ones who should be blamed for the injustices committed against them. We believe that people with disabilities have the right to be treated as equals in
this world, not just in the next one. We believe that inclusion and selfdetermination, not
just as buzzwords but as moral imperatives. And we believe that this is important enough to face down countless horrors every day, because
not to do so would be to abandon our obligations to each other, to our community and to ourselves. We’re building something together, these old new friends of mine, all of you. We’re building a world that doesn’t have to wait till after any revolution to get better. We’re creating, building a world that takes
as a given disabled people are people, always,
and without exception. We’re not just advocates. We’re explorers, seeking out a place where
none of us have ever been, a place where we are respected, included as a matter of right,
not charity, and are able to live a life where
we never for a moment have to doubt that we have
a place in this world. I’ve never been to that place. Few, if any, disabled people have yet. It’s still so far away. But we’re going to get there together. Thank you. Have a wonderful evening. Subtitles by the community

4 thoughts on “Ari Ne’eman at the 2014 ASAN Gala”

  1. Great work, thanx; also, please: Sample: Tell your Senators to Uphold Disability Rights by Opposing the Nomination of Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court
    August 21, 2018
    The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) opposes the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court based on his previous rulings as a DC Circuit Court Judge that have devalued the lives and liberty of people with disabilities. Judge Kavanaugh’s rulings and statements on health care, self-determination, employment, and education threaten the rights of all Americans with disabilities. Read our full statement here.

    The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law outlines 10 Reasons People with Disabilities Should Oppose Judge Kavanaugh’s Nomination:

    He is a threat to your health care.
    He would allow the President to wield dangerous power.
    He is dismissive of the fundamental rights of people with disabilities.
    He won’t protect the rights of workers with disabilities.
    He would narrow the protections of civil rights laws.
    He promotes school voucher programs that leave students with disabilities without key protections.
    He discounts the role of the administrative agencies that enforce your rights.
    He would allow states to impose restrictive voter ID laws.
    He imposes barriers for people seeking justice in courts.
    He will not fairly protect the rights of all people, including people with disabilities.
    The Bazelon Center also released a thorough review of Judge Kavanaugh’s record and its implications for the disability community.

    Educate yourself and others about Judge Kavanaugh’s record. Contact your Senators to express your opposition and underscore the importance of health care and self-determination for all Americans with disabilities.

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