December 10, 2021. Autistics for Autistics and other disability advocacy groups and individuals were shocked to see that 11Alive, a news station in Atlanta, broadcast intimate footage of disabled children at their most vulnerable and emotional–crying and in agony–without their consent.
11 Alive’s broadcasting of these moments (meltdown videos) goes against established journalistic ethics. Other news stations, as well as YouTube, have committed to stopping “meltdown videos” based on minors’ privacy concerns and the dehumanizing nature of the videos. Yet 11 Alive did not respond when advocates reached out to the station on social media—nor to a petition, which garnered hundreds of signatures within hours.
“For some reason, 11Alive has not responded to the concerns of disabled viewers,” says Anne Borden King, a co-founder of Autistics for Autistics. “Instead of learning from a marginalized community, they have ignored the community. It is shocking.”
It is not too late for 11Alive to do the right thing. 11Alive News Director Jennifer Rigby (on Twitter @jorigby) has the power to take the footage down right now—and to reach out to the autistic community to learn about why it was wrong to broadcast it. Reporter Rebecca Lindstrom (on Twitter @LindstromNews) has a responsibility to the community to respond to our concerns as well.
Below is a letter to Ms. Lindstrom from Ira Eidle. Ira is a Georgia-based archivist and founder of Autistic Archive. Ira participated in ASAN’s Autism Campus Inclusion program in 2020 and formed a neurodiversity student organization before launching the Autistic Archive.
To: Rebecca Lindstrom, RLindstrom@11alive.com
I am writing to you as an autistic person who lives in Metro Atlanta. I watched the story about autism insurance laws, particularly Ava’s Law, and have some concerns. I am concerned by the portrayal of autistic people as emotionally disturbed people in need of fixing with Applied Behavior Analysis, which is a method many autistic people are opposed to for its focus on compliance and fixing outward behaviors when autism is not a behavioral issue.
My main concern, however, is the decision to include footage of autistic people having meltdowns as a way of justifying insurance mandates for ABA. Publicly broadcasting autistic people in some of their most vulnerable moments is not only dehumanizing, but is a violation of our privacy. I ask that you do whatever you can to remove the footage from the report. Hundreds of people are asking you to do so [Link to the petition here].
I understand that you were doing your job and perhaps were not expecting this kind of reaction. However, that is what happens when you fail to meaningfully include autistic people in the development of stories about autistic people. We are asking you to do better. You are journalists for a reputable news station for the city of Atlanta, and with that comes the responsibility of journalistic integrity. When you fail to uphold what you are tasked with, you should expect to be held accountable for it.
Even though I am being critical of you and your station for a story you produced, I am also willing to collaborate on a new story that is more accurate and one that involves the input of autistic people about appropriate services that receive less funding from insurance than ABA. I hope you enjoy your holidays and am willing to discuss this further.