Star Ford

An autistic quaker engineer who is fixated on policy, transit, and education.

In which autistic people build something

on 2014 April 5

There’s a work camp happening soon, and I want to say a thing about inclusion and separation in relation to that.

This is a radical idea – an autistic workspace. I explained it to someone thus: Have you ever been to a women’s retreat or something similar and felt that bubble where everyone is included magically and no one has to fight to be accepted? (Yes) Have you ever seen elementary school kids with similar disabilities play together and create that unique space that you’re not invited into, but you can see that they are communicating their way even if it isn’t the normal way? (Yes) Well this is like both of those things together; it’s a place for us to invite everyone, inclusively, while not being oppressed ourselves.

I talked to someone on line who has a tendency to attack a lot and occupy email lists, and she characterized the type of employment that we’re doing as the “hospitality sector,” which she says is a bad sector to consider for autistic people, because hospitality is not our strong point; and also that the whole thing reeks of sheltered employment. She was implying that we were going to take autistic people and make them do menial hospitality jobs where they could be melting down constantly because of customer interaction, paid a pittance, someone else would be making money off this, etc. I think those are very easy conclusions to come to if you are seeing it from an outside perspective.

It is sometimes hard to explain the difference between retreating and separating; or between inclusion and peer modeling; or between representation and tokenism; or between housing and institutionalization. All of these pairs may look really similar if you’re watching from the outside but the difference is whether you are doing it or it is being done to you. It’s all about the dimension of control. It’s been pointed out that “institutions” are not necessarily big; a single house can be an institution if it operates in the oppressive model, even if it’s a nice looking place. Sometimes we even use the same words to confusingly mean almost opposite things: “peer” is either someone like me (that is, another autistic person that I’m more likely to communicate with), or it could mean someone who’s unlike me (it implies I have defects and they don’t and they will model correct behavior). A place for autistic people to work could be really bad (sheltered employment, someone else profiting from the work of underpaid people who are conditioned to remain at the bottom tier forever) or really good (a place run by disabled people that offers a growth path because it’s built around our strengths).

So obviously Ocate Cliffs is about the self-directed version of all these things.

Outside the dimension of control, there’s also the distinction between the “separatist” ideology (isolating ourselves in like-minded communities) and retreating. The latter is for strengthening so that we can live with everyone inclusively the rest of the time.

Possibly, the idea that we would choose an autistic workspace or living community is threatening because people are scared of us having equal power, and then they justify that fear by glomping together ideas and seeing only the bad version of the idea instead of the good version of it.

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One response to “In which autistic people build something

  1. Anonymous says:

    What you discuss in your last paragraph is why Ocate Cliffs is so important. An example of what a workplace environment can be.

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