“Canadian autism policy needs to move from a charity perspective to a rights perspective”: Autistic-led groups present before the Canadian Senate

In March 2022, A4A member Anne Borden King delivered a speech before the Canadian Senate on the need for a paradigm shift in federal autism policy. Vivian Ly of Autistics United Canada also presented. Both speeches were followed by discussion with Senators.

See/hear Anne’s speech here
Read the transcript of the full hearing here (starts about 3 pages in)

Anne says: “The Senators were so engaged, thoughtful and respectful of us both and the proceedings. I’m looking forward to seeing what may come of these hearings.”

Speech Text

Good afternoon, esteemed members of the Canadian Senate. It is an honour to be here with you.

I’m Anne Borden King. I’m here representing Autistics for Autistics. We’re a national autistic-led advocacy group. We formed in 2018 because we realized that, in Canada, it is mostly non-autistic people who have been leading the autism policy discussion—policy about us, without us.

For decades, the Government of Canada has granted hundreds of millions in sole-source contracts to autism agencies with no RFPs, no competition, no follow-up, no assessment. The cheques get cut and everyone attends the charity gala, or claps when they break ground on a new segregated “home” for autistic men… on the edge of town. Did you know that more than 90 percent of Canadian federal housing funding in this sector still goes to segregated group homes? Even though in the US, it’s been shown that a different model, supported independent living is better for everyone.

We’re hopeful, today, that this new framework will bring a policy shift that keeps up with the changes in the rest of the world. Our Government needs to pivot from a charity perspective to a rights perspective.

Autistic people, like other disabled people, have rights. In fact, our rights are enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People With Disabilities. In Chile, the Congress has just approved article 26 to its new Constitution which states and I quote “The State recognizes neurodiversity and neurodivergent people, their right to autonomy and self-determination.” end quote.

In the US, autistic-led groups are directly in dialogue with the Biden administration as part of its disability policy team. The Inter-Agency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) is a diverse and rigorous group, comprised of federal and public members including members of autistic-led groups.

Meanwhile in Canada, autistic people are not even included in federal disability rights legislation. Autism is in a policy silo. So far, Canadian policy hasn’t been about solving our problems…it’s been framing autistic people as if we are the problem.

In the current draft of the Framework, autism is called an “impairing disorder” with “challenges” to employment and housing. Our first request is that these euphemisms be dropped and the words disability and access barriers be the replacements. Schools, workplaces and housing have the responsibility to change the environment to meet the needs of disabled people, including autistic people.

Our Access to Information requests revealed that over the past decade, none of the projects overseen by P.H.A.C. were RFP’d. I’d give the example of the 10 million dollar website that was not put out to tender but rather given to an autism-related company that is now doing even more assessments because its traffic is so low. There are many other examples of this kind of inefficient use of funds.

So our second request is that the Framework require a competitive funding environment, assess the ROI for projects and require those RFPs.

Our third request is that you add to the Framework that the Government needs to independently collect data.

I’m glad to see a line item on data, item 2c, but it is dangerously vague. Current policy is based on biased and unreliable data provide by lobby groups. I would point to the interest group CASDA’s 2018 national quote “needs survey,” where only 2.4 percent of the survey participants were even autistic. 2.4 percent. With respect, this kind of data should not inform policy. Nor should industry white papers be considered an “evidence base” of “best practices”.  In contrast, consider the US government’s independent data collection via the IACC and the work of the UK standards council in independently evaluating the claims of the ABA industry, for example.

Like all disabled people, autistic Canadians should have a right to access–to communication such as AAC; to inclusive schools and workplaces; to health care; and housing in the community.

In conclusion, we would ask that the Framework include language that enshrines these rights. Think of the Chilean Constitution, acknowledging neurodiverse people’s rights. Think of our government’s approach to other disabilities and apply it to this document. We need rigorous policy that’s focused on quality of life. It’s time for a paradigm shift.

Thank you.

 

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