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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Youngest Autistic Nominee on National Council on Disability

Not too long ago I posted the Press Release from the White House announcing that Ari Ne'eman of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network has been nominated by President Obama to the National Council on Disability.

As a part of the NCD, Ari will be representing the neurodiversity perspective in advising the President, Congress and executive branch agencies
"to promote policies, programs, practices, and procedures that guarantee equal opportunity for all individuals with disabilities, regardless of the nature or severity of the disability and to empower individuals with disabilities to achieve economic self-sufficiency, independent living, and inclusion and integration into all aspects of society." (National Council on Disability website, main page)

If you haven't gathered from all the ruckus that's being made across the Internet, this is a big deal, for two reasons:

The first is that he is the first openly autistic appointee, breaking the unsaid barriers keeping autistic people from being a part of the decision process regarding, well, everything about our lives. This marks a major step in the inclusion of autistic people as a part of society, not just in terms of social inclusion, but also on the political and governmental level, and recognizes us as citizens of the countries we live in, with the rights, freedoms and responsibilities that being a citizen includes.

The second is that Ari is also the youngest appointee in the history of the United States, as being 22 years old, Ari is younger than the previous holder, Mike Lopez at the age of 24. However, while his critics are citing that his age makes him ineligible for his nomination, I would argue that age is not an indication of ability in this case.

Just looking at the UMBC, Newsweek Magazine and New York Magazine articles, Ari Ne'eman has been working in the cross-disability civil rights field for quite some time, and while he's not actively involved and outspoken about every issue (or at least, the media hasn't picked up on it), Ari still spearheads and pushes forward on many campaigns. In the very brief mini-bio that the White House produced:
"Ari Ne’eman is the Founding President of the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, where he initiates and directs efforts to increase the representation of autistic individuals in public policy discussions. He is a leading advocate in the neurodiversity movement, frequently briefing policymakers and speaking publicly on disability and autism policy issues. Mr. Ne’eman also serves as Vice Chair of the New Jersey Adults with Autism Task Force, where he represents autistic adults in reviewing the state’s autism services. He also previously served on the New Jersey’s Special Education Review Commission, where he authored a minority report on the topic of aversives, restraint and seclusion. Mr. Ne’eman previously served as the Policy Workgroup Leader for the Youth Advisory Council to the National Council on Disability. He is a board member of TASH and the Autism National Committee. In 2008, he received the HSC Foundation “Advocates in Disability” Award. Mr. Ne’eman is currently an undergraduate at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County where he studies political science and expects to graduate in May 2010. In 2000, Mr. Ne’eman was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder."
(Press Release, Office of the Press Secretary, 16 December 2009)

I'm going to forgive the White House for the slight slip with the "neurodiversity movement", since we're not an organized movement, per say, but we are a thought movement. We agree, more or less, with the same flow of thought that we seek to advocate in our daily actions and lives. However, I have to point it out that we are not an organization, because somewhere out there, some one is thinking that this is a part of some grand evil plot towards world domination, or something. Right, because we renounce autism as a tragedy to be avoided and cured, and want all autistic people to have equal civil rights and access to accommodations and supports, is part of a conspiracy...

Anyways, ending tangent there and moving right along.

The point is, we have a very experienced young man (younger than me, too) being nominated into a position that allows him (as well as other disability rights advocates) the ability to give advice and input directly to the President, Congress and other executive branches, a young man who is dedicated to promoting the human rights of all autistic people across the spectrum and works continually for this cause.

Yet, because he doesn't see autism and disabilities as an automatically negative element, but instead as a person's difference that can result in unique challenges and difficulties in a setting that is ill-suited to accommodate and support individuals, there are groups out there who would rather Ari not be a member of the NCD. Actually, that's a bit of an understatement; they are venomously against Ari and the neurodiversity movement of thought.

But of course, for returning readers of this blog, this really should not be a surprise. And of course, these people are exercising their right of free speech and protestation to encourage people to write to their Senators, stating that they are against Ari.

Now, this is up to each of you, but I would people who support Ari, even marginally, to contact their Senators and give them a balanced view on this, in that there are members of the autistic and cross-disability community who support Ari. Being that I'm Canadian, I don't really have a Senator to contact, but Nicocoer has provided me with some excellent resources to get in touch with Congress here , the various U.S. Senators here, and even President Obama at the White House.

And since the form on the White House site allows for people outside of the US to submit messages, here is mine:

Dear Mr. President,

I would like to let you know how much I am very pleased and delighted in your nomination of Ari Ne'eman to the National Council on Disability.

As an autistic self-advocate myself, I have always admired Ari for his dedication to promote the causes of the Cross-disability community and the best interests of all autistic people in the United States.

It heartens me to see the United States take such a progressive step towards including and accepting autistic people as citizens involved with the nations, and I hope that the rest of the world takes notice and learns.

On behalf of myself and other like-minded autistic individuals, I would like to thank you for including our voice in issues that concern us.

Yours truly,


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