Monday, June 30, 2014

From Morénike to @SesameWorkshop

 A child of the '80's, I grew up watching Sesame Street. It was one of few shows that not only strived to make learning fun, but intentionally featured a diverse cast. It was refreshing to see brown faces like my own on Sesame Street. In addition, there were Deaf guests, guests of various ethnic and racial backgrounds, a variety of ages, and different ability levels.

Sesame Street covered multilingualism, multiculturalism, adoption, disability, and more in a tasteful, age-appropriate manner. And the commitment to inclusion and diversity was not limited to the American broadcast of the show; Kami, an adorable HIV+ Sesame Street monster, was introduced several years ago on South Africa's Takalani Sesame.

For these and other reasons, it's easy to see why decades later, as an adult and a parent, I still feel a great deal of nostalgia for Sesame Street.  Which makes it even more painful for me to see that Sesame Street has partnered with Autism Speaks.

Like many others, I applaud Sesame Street's foray into promoting more awareness and acceptance of autism. However, although Autism Speaks is certainly the biggest and most well-known autism "charity" around, it is far from the most representative and most inclusive.

Autism Speaks maintains and spreads an inaccurate, deficits-based view of autism. It hurts autistics, young and old, and it hurts their families and loved ones.  By portraying autism as an "epidemic," using harmful, alarmist rhetoric, and supporting questionable genetic research, Autism Speaks skews the public's understanding of autism and  creates insurmountable barriers for individuals and families in need of substantive, tangible resources to improve their lives.  Furthermore, Autism Speaks' massive wealth is squandered on flashy marketing and padded executive salaries as opposed to investing in vocational training, respite, technology, and many, many other areas where it could be better used.

As an adult autistic, a parent of autistic children, and a concerned taxpayer, I implore you to rethink this disturbing partnership.  By becoming linked to Autism Speaks, you are inadvertently endorsing them as a source for credible and respectful autism information. They already dominate much of the discussion around autism, and through this partnership, you are contributing to their ableist monopoly on autism issues - and thus becoming an accomplice to the silencing of autistic voices and supportive autism families. I urge you to reconsider.


Morénike Onaiwu

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