Monday, June 30, 2014

#EducateSesame… An Open Letter to @SesameWorkshop from @GreggBeratan

This #EducateSesame
Flashblog is brought to you by the hard workers at #BoycottAutismSpeaks @Boycott_AS:

“The good people at Sesame Street Workshop have made a terrible mistake by partnering with Autism Speaks. Although we assume their intentions are positive, their association with Autism Speaks is downright dangerous for Autistic children, Autistic adults, those that love them, and all people wanting to learn about autism. Sesame Street Workshop educates children around the globe. If the information they use about autism comes from Autism Speaks, it could create detrimental repercussions for generations to come. 

Because Sesame Street has not done it’s due diligence in learning about autism and Autistic culture before entering this partnership with an organization which is currently under protest by the very people it claims to serve, we must take action to #EducateSesame ourselves.”  - Boycott Autism Speaks
The following is an open letter to Sesame Street from Dr. Gregg Beratan, Lead Consultant for Education, ADAPT Rights Group, Mumbai. He is a wealth of knowledge regarding disabilities and alongside writing and research, Gregg shares information daily from news sources in the U.S. and around the world. You can follow Gregg on Twitter @GreggBeratan and I highly recommend it. He’s a valuable resource in the community and I owe him a big thanks for offering to guest post for the Boycott Autism Speaks, Educate Sesame flashblog.
Thank you, Gregg! :)

Dear Sesame Street,
I’m 44 years old, part of the first generation that has never known life without Sesame Street. Whenever I heard the words “Sunny day, sweeping the clouds away…” a smile came across my face. For this reason I probably watched it much longer than was age appropriate. I don’t think I could possibly count the number of lessons I have learned from your show. My favorite teachers growing up were Mr. Hooper, Grover, Linda, Susan, Mr. Snuffleupagus, Kermit and Big Bird. They were effective teachers, and as someone who struggled to learn as a kid, I wasn’t easy to teach.

The lesson they taught more consistently than any other was…
On Sesame Street everyone was part of the community, every difference was valued. Difference wasn’t demonized on Sesame Street, it was cherished. For this reason I can’t begin to express how disappointed I was to learn that you had partnered with Autism Speaks.

For the longest time Sesame was the only place I remember seeing disabled people on TV. From Linda Bove teaching us about sign language, Dee Schur teaching about Braille, to disabled kids who have appeared in numerous segments over the years…

Sesame has, for much of its history, been the only place on television where disabled people had any visibility; and not only were they visible they were full, active members of the community.
Your lessons about the value of disabled lives extended well past the actors and kids on your show. I can remember seeing so many skits on disability over the years, from Rosita trying to understand why her father Ricardo has returned from military service using a wheelchair to the wonderful Princess in the low tower which elegantly teaches kids that built environment plays a much bigger role in people’s ability to be a part of the community than any impairment does. Sesame Street has been on the right side of disability issues for as long as I can remember, that is until now and your partnership with Autism Speaks.

I can only guess that you looked at Autism Speaks’s name, prominence and their nonprofit status, and assumed they were a good organization to partner with. If you looked a little more closely you would have seen that they are the antithesis of everything you have stood for over the last 45 years.

Autism Speaks is an organization whose primary message is that autism and Autistic people are to be feared and combated.
You wouldn’t have to look very far to see the contempt they hold for Autistic people. You could take note of the fact that they have no Autistic people serving on their board of directors, or you could listen to the way their founders speak about Autistic people, referring to them as burdens, lying to the world saying their families are not living but merely existing, they paint a portrait of Autistic children as family destroying monsters (and not the good Sesame Street kind of monster). If you looked at these things you would definitely not see an organization worthy of associating with Sesame Street.

As someone who sees himself as neurodivergent (although not Autistic) and as someone with many friends and loved ones who are autistic, I find it disturbing that a show I love, one with such a rich history of promoting acceptance would partner with an organization that has made the eradication of a whole group of people a central focus of its mission. Autism Speaks spends more on their salaries than they do in supporting Autistic children and their families. And if you read any of the information they offer, you might think there is no such thing as an Autistic adult. If you truly want to work with organizations that promote autism acceptance, organizations that can “See amazing in all children” I suggest that you look to the Autistic Self Advocacy Network or The Autism Women’s Network or The Golden Hat Foundation, these organizations understand the value autistic lives add to the world.
Since this partnership was announced Autistic people have written to you, tweeted to you, messaged you on Facebook, tried calling you and their concerns have been dismissed or ignored.
This is not the Sesame Street I grew up with. It is not the show that stood up for acceptance and equality and against fear and hate, the Sesame Street of Mr. Hooper, the one where every member of the community was accepted for who they are. I hope you will reconsider this partnership; Autism Speaks stands for everything Sesame Street has opposed. I still love Sesame Street and everything it has taught me over the years, but right now I am deeply disappointed in you.


Dr. Gregg D. Beratan

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