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Statement: Ontario’s Sheltered Workshop Should Remain Closed

The Government of Ontario has wisely decided to close all “sheltered workshops,” effective January 2019. This decision reflects 21st century thinking about disability, human rights and workplace dignity. Unfortunately, this legislation is now under attack by regressive forces in our province.

Under the sheltered workshop model, workers with intellectual or other disabilities were placed in factories and other workplaces to do jobs for pennies on the dollar. To add insult to injury, the low wages were often accompanied by the myth that it was “training” for future employment at a living wage. But, as it turned out, sheltered workers weren’t being trained. They were trapped.

We understand that some corporations or parents may not agree with the statement that sheltered workshops were unfair to workers. But the Government of Ontario does. As Ministry of Community and Social Services spokesman Daniel Schultz writes:

“There is simply no justification in the 21st century to segregate any group of people and pay them less than minimum wage for the work they have done.”

Following the Ministry of Community and Social Services’ decision to close sheltered workshops, Ontario Bill 148 guaranteed that the term training cannot be used by companies as an excuse for unpaid labour. Provincial policymakers heard the personal stories of workers – stories we are also familiar with. They knew that when someone is working without wages for months or years on end, they’re not “training”: they’re being exploited. So the Province took action.

Today, both the sheltered workshop ban and Bill 148 are being protested by corporations and parent groups who oppose equity and fairness in the workplace. To them we say unequivocally: sheltered workshops should remain shut down. We will not go back in our province. Parents, we urge you to find your way forward instead.

We also encourage the Government of Ontario to stand strong. Know that disability rights activists and self-advocates stand with you. Continue to reach out to us as you shape the policies that affect our lives. Don’t waver in your commitment to fairness in the workplace. And be wary of people who claim to be their child’s voice. Remember that everyone has a voice.

Nothing about us without us.

Signed by:
Organizations
Autistics for Autistics Ontario
Canadian Autistics United
Community Living Ontario
London Autistics Standing Together (L.A.S.T.)

Individual activists
Dawn Arrowsmith
Dayna Baszczynski
Anne Borden
Jeff Chislett
Liam DeLais
Kyle Echakowitz
Jacky Ellis
Marni Goldstein
Talia C. Johnson
Kristin C. Jones
Mandy Klein
Alex Kronstein
Sandra Marcroft
Sarah McFadyen
Raya Shields
Christine Hughes-Wiklund
Cathy Wright
Jigme Datse Yli-Rasku

If you would like to add your name to this statement, please email us: a4aontario@gmail.com

 

Employment for Autistics in Ontario: The Need for Private and Public Sector Collaboration

by Anne Borden

A4A recently had an info table at Toronto’s annual SpectrumWorks job fair. The job fair brings hundreds of autistics together with companies to interview for jobs such as banking, service, IT, admin and others. Neil and Xavier, the organizers, are committed to creating a better environment for autistics to find, enjoy and retain work in our province. It was really cool of them to reach out to #actuallyautistics such as our organization!

We met lots of autistics and talked about the job search process, workplace rights and other issues. We also did some education to the broader community. We were glad that the event organizers asked us for input to make next year’s interview processes and event space more autistic-friendly. It feels like we are on the cusp of an important breakthrough on the issue of unemployment in our community. The fact we were invited is a big step in self-representation and it is encouraging to see the private sector recognizing the strengths of autistic workers and actively recruiting.

But….

Efforts to train, educate and recruit employees in Ontario seem to be coming almost entirely from the private sector. Where is the Ontario government? Our rights in the workplace are protected by Ontario law (under the umbrella of disability), but how can we even exercise these rights if we’re not able to find employment? The Province is shutting down all sheltered workshops by 2019 –an essential step in human rights–but where are the proactive programs for autistic and/or disabled who are seeking employment?

There is great work being done by the private sector and some not-for-profits, but that’s not enough. Our provincial government needs to partner up on these initiatives, identify the scope of the challenges and come up with solutions. Most importantly, it needs to shelve its terribly misguided Ontario Autism Program.

Over the next few months, we will be doing an employment study of autistics in Ontario, both to assess needs and to get feedback and ideas from autistics across the province. This has never been done before and it is needed.

We will also be looking into sharing resources on autistic mentorship and networking activities around employment and workplace issues.

If you would like to be involved in this project, please Contact us. We will be updating our social media and blog as the project develops further.

Autism Awareness Flag Raising 2018, by Talia C. Johnson

We are sharing blogs from our members throughout the month. Here is an insightful piece about A4A’s April 3rd Raise Our Own Flag rally–and the Autism Ontario flag-raising that we were responding to–by A4A collective member Talia C. Johnson. It can also be read on Talia’s blog.

Autism Awareness Flag Raising 2018

Yet another day and month with a focus on a marginalized people. March 31st was Transgender Day of Visibility. April is a month that focuses on autism and April 2nd was Autism Awareness day. Notice anything about the differences between these names? One is about being visible, noticed, affirmed, included, and providing education. The other calls for awareness, a word that does not imply visibility, that still seems to push people into not being visible with their autism and identity as an autistic person. In Toronto to mark Autism Awareness there was a flag raising for Autism Ontario at Nathan Phillips Square. This was not an event that was organized or run by actually autistic people. In response to this, Autistics for Autistics Ontario (A4A) planned a counter-rally to ensure that diverse autistic people were not only present, but visible. The counter-rally was not against Autism Ontario, but for showing diversity and ensuring inclusion of autistic people in discussions. I attended the counter-rally as part of A4A and stayed for the flag raising by Autism Ontario and the unveiling of the A4A created flag.

A4A members and supporters gathered where the flag raising was taking place. Autism Ontario had booked and planned the event on the upper level of Nathan Phillips Square. As people gathered for the flag raising there were a number of discussions and people took flyers that A4A had prepared. Some of us had discussions with people from Autism Ontario that were cordial and it appeared that they were willing to at least hear us out. As part of the counter-rally four people spoke about autism from their own perspectives, research, and experiences. People who had arrived for the flag raising were interested and paid attention to what was said.

The Autism Ontario event was rather disappointing. They had a number of speakers before the flag was raised. Mayor John Tory spoke as did provincial cabinet minister Michael Coteau who was responsible for the Ontario Autism program. Other speakers included the Ontario Ombudsman, a representative of BMO (corporate sponsor), and the Executive Director of Autism Ontario, Margaret Spoelstra. There were also two autistic people who spoke about their perspectives. Both autistic people appeared to be male. The only woman who spoke was Margaret Spoelstra. Congratulations, they had an almost all-male list of speakers. This is part of why the A4A presence was necessary.

Autistic people are not all males. Autistic people are cis, trans, non-binary, binary, genderfluid, and everything in between. The lack of diversity in speakers was noticeable. It showed that awareness is not about visibility, but about the opportunity for publicity for Autism Ontario and not the wider autistic community.

The speeches were not easy to hear unless one was in the thick of the people sitting in chairs or standing. This is a problem for those of us who are not comfortable in tighter, more crowded spaces. Because I was not up to being in the midst of the crowd, and the poor quality of amplification I did not hear everything each speaker said. The content of the speeches seemed to be mostly boilerplate type materials that repeated a lot of the points we hear all the time. The BMO person sounded like a stereotypical corporate manager who was doing a lot of patting themselves on the back because they have a practice of hiring a few autistic people. We do not know what working conditions are actually like for autistics working at BMO, nor if they are paid adequately.

For those of us who were part of the counter-rally, Minister Coteau’s presence was particularly problematic. The Ontario Autism Program is not a program we can support. It limits what resources are funded and allowed in schools, there was no autistic representation in schools, and it promotes ABA (A4A Position Statement). ABA is practice that has been shown to increase the prevalence of PTSD in autistic children and youth. Further, it is based on and was developed with the same principles as reparative/conversion therapy for those who are LGBT. Reparative therapy is a practice that is illegal to practice on children in Ontario.

What stood out most for me was that all of the speakers used person-first language when talking about autistic people. At this point identity first language is what the majority of autistic activists and self-advocates are using, and want to see used. The post “Identity First Language” by Lydia Brown is a good discussion as to why we prefer identity-first language. I like to use an analogy comparing it to how we use identity first language among trans people. We do not say “someone with transgender”. Those who do use it, usually referring to transgenderism or transsexualism, are the ones who would deny our existence as trans and put as many barriers in our way as possible. To constantly hear the person-first language coming out of the mouths of the speakers was tiring, exhausting, and was a message to autistic people that our voices are not being listened to. We can be tokens for publicity sake, but when we raise actual concerns we will not be listened to, a topic I explored in my post, “A Cat Named Autism”.

After the speeches and flag raising there was a reception in the area outside the City Hall Wedding Chapel. This was a confined space that was crowded and loud. What a great way to send a message of inclusion to autistic people! We just love being in spaces that cause sensory overload within about thirty seconds of being in the space! The idea that spaces can be overstimulating for autistic people is not a new one. Listen to us when we say this is a problem. We’ve only been saying it for decades. Or, maybe we need a white, neurotypical/allistic, straight, upper-middle class professional man to say it in order to be listened to.

A question I have for organizations that are promoting autism awareness this week and this month: What are you doing to be truly supportive of autistic people?

Call to Action
We can and must do more as a society. Some concrete steps include, but are not limited to:

  • Do not claim ABA is the end-all and be-all for working with autistic people.
  • Ensure that #ActuallyAutistic people are not only present, but given a voice and listened to.
  • Stop using person-first language when talking about autistic people.
  • When having public events, include a diversity of autistic speakers.
  • Do not dismiss autistic people who speak for themselves.
  • Avoid use of labels that focus on how “functional” a person is.
  • When hosting events, ensure that they are not sensory nightmares and ensure there is a quiet space where people dealing with overload can go for respite.

 

 

 

 

Autistic April Survival Guide, by Rishav Banerjee

Throughout the month we will be re-printing some of our members’ blogs about April, autism “awareness” and autistic pride. This post is by Rishav Banerjee from his blog, Autistinquisitor:

Autistic April Survival Guide

This is a message directed to all members of the Autistic Community. Note how I use the term “Autistic”, and not “Autism”. When I refer to the Autistic Community, there is a simple criterion one must fit to be a part of it: you must be Autistic.

This is meant to be a survival guide, a call to action, a sandbox of ideas, and more. It is meant to bring comfort, but also amusement and joy, in a month where we are often overwhelmed with stress, negativity, and fear.

Another year, another April. I think we’re all used to it by now, but we really shouldn’t be. At first glance, you may think the puzzle pieces and blue lights that signify “awareness” are somehow great. As the Autistic community continues to push toward acceptance and the neurodiversity paradigm, those who oppose it adjust their tactics accordingly, sometimes attempting to hide their true colours. They mask their ableism, and their desire for a world where we no longer exist.

Yet past the headlines and clickbait, what we really see is a horror show. This horror is not Autism, but peoples’ reactions to it. Tragedy. Epidemic. Disaster. Crisis. Before April 2018 even started, articles are already pouring, of people referring to their Autistic children as burdens, and alarmist rhetoric about how the number of us are supposedly increasing. The past 12 months have been filled with ableism and anti-autistic sentiment, from “To Siri With Love” to “Autism Uncensored”.

There is much more that can be said about the rhetoric in April, but other blogs have covered that adequately. My question is: how do we deal with it?

It’s heartbreaking that in a month where we are theoretically supposed to be accepted and loved, we are instead feared and further ostracized. It is appalling and deplorable that Autistics are sometimes so traumatized or afraid,  we dread the thought of leaving our homes, with some of us going into hiding, even online.

“Awareness” turns into “beware-ness”: we exist, and that is scary and tragic. People are aware of Autism, but that doesn’t mean they understand it. Often, it is quite the opposite, especially in a culture dominated by neurotypicals and the pathology paradigm. Many of us get overwhelmed by the hate and fall apart or become reclusive. Sometimes it’s necessary. We need to take care of ourselves first, long before we can protest the anti-autistic vitriol flowing through April. But the two do not have to be mutually exclusive at all.

On self-care:
There are many “self-care” guides for Autistic and non-autistic individuals. However, many are either generic or unhelpful. In some cases, counterproductive. My view on self-care(for anyone), on the other hand, is much simpler: do what you love, and find what makes you happy. For Autistics, this can mean focusing on things that interest you; your passions. Or what non-autistics refer to as our “special interests”.

Our special interests are frequently referred to as “weird”, “unhealthy”, “obsessive”, or other derogatory terms meant to pathologize our existence. And I say, to hell with that. Those are words meant to oppress us, to prevent us from enjoying things as well as we do. Our interests bring us joy, and oftentimes end up highlighting our skills. They bring out the best in us, as they do with most people. And we must use that.

Self-care is not one concrete thing and making yourself feel better and happier is also not a concrete thing. It varies from individual to individual, and it is important to find whatever it is that makes you happy and do it.

When it comes to immersing yourself in your interests and passions, it leads into the other part of this survival guide: how you can turn self-care into a weapon of protest. Particularly during this month, I will openly speak about my interests and passions, no matter how unusual. We are often discouraged from doing so, lest we come off as “odd”. We are taught to be ashamed of having intense passions and interests.

“Awareness” has contributed to this. But it doesn’t have to stop us. On the contrary, focusing on our passions and special interests is, in my eyes, a double-score: we get to make ourselves happier by thinking about and doing what we love. And it in and of itself is a form of protest.

“Respect existence or expect resistance.”

This quote sums up my survival guide for “awareness” rhetoric throughout April. For all the hordes of people proudly displaying their desire for a world where we don’t exist, the best way to protest that is to be ourselves wholly and without compromise. It is hard, but it is worth doing. Simply being openly Autistic is in and of itself an act of resistance. We have been oppressed for long enough, and it is time to take a stand. We were never broken, and we will not go away for the convenience of others.

We are often forced to try to be more like allistics, to be someone we are not. That must end. As some would say, “living well is the best revenge”. If we can show people that despite all the hardships and struggles we face, we are capable of being happy and thriving, we can be the living defiance of the narrative that being Autistic is an all-out tragedy. We can display parts of us that we do like. In the process, we can wind up frustrating those who express anti-autistic sentiment.

There is another way we can protest simply by being ourselves: stimming… openly.

I have written about this before. Stimming is a universal trait within multiple species. Autistics may need to stim more due to a complex sensory perception, and the need to direct our focus. Stimming is something that is supposed to be both helpful, and a way to express ourselves through movement. And yet, it is vilified by non-autistic people.

We are made to suppress it through ABA, and taught to avoid it in most other situations, lest it come off as “weird”. But who cares about “weird”? If it brings you comfort and doesn’t harm anyone, it’s acceptable, and as far as I’m concerned, “weird” isn’t a bad thing at all.

Stimming brings us comfort and it brings us joy. It helps us deal with our pain. It helps us connect with the world and the universe around us in a unique, and special way. Most importantly, it is a form of self-expression. An Autistic person’s stims are as unique as them, and they deserve to be respected as such.

Stimming also happens to be one of the ways Autistic people are easily identified in public. If people have a hard time believing you are Autistic, flourishing your stims openly may persuade them before they have the chance to voice that.

Stimming openly is also a measure of defiance, in a society where Autistic expression is frowned upon. Stimming openly and without hesitation is one way we can enjoy ourselves, express ourselves, and defy cure-rhetoric.

In summation, two of the best ways to survive April as an Autistic person are to openly stim, and to express your passions and interests. Turn to the things you love for joy, even if they are forbidden. It has long been said that the best way to defy the anti-autistic narrative, and to spite your oppressors, is to be openly Autistic in front of them. To flaunt it, and to wear it with pride. Living as an Autistic person is one of the most defiant things you can do and is also the most gratifying.

That being said, it is important to take safety precautions. When it comes to openly stimming, apply your judgement and be careful doing so around law enforcement, or anyone with the power to do you serious harm. Remember to protect yourself first and foremost: know your limits, and apply your judgment to the best of your ability. You know how to take care of yourself best.

These ideas are not to be seen as solid instructions, but concepts to be molded, customized, and personalized to suit you. Withstanding April is hard for many Autistics, and I hope that these ideas bring comfort, hope, and amusement to some of you. Best of luck surviving, and fighting April.

Autism Acceptance Day/Month 2018, by Mandy Klein

Throughout the month we will be re-printing some of our members’ blogs about April, autism “awareness” and autistic pride. This post is by Mandy Klein, from her blog Tales from an Autistic Family:

Autism Acceptance Day/Month 2018

“Many people know that April is Autism ‘Awareness’ Month (or Bewareness month as some autistic people call it).  The specific day set aside by the United Nations for World Autism Awareness Day is April 2.  Most people who follow autistic bloggers and/or are friends with autistic people know that most of us don’t like Autism Awareness Month.  Side note- I don’t presume to talk for every autistic person.  My opinions are mine and based on what I see in the communities.

Autism ‘Awareness’ Month is a time where organizations and groups, especially the big one A$, fund raise.  A big part of the way that they fund raise is by scaring people; telling the public that we are an epidemic; turning us into a list of symptoms; by saying how hard it is for our families and caregivers to take care of us.

In 2011, Paula Durbin Westby started Autism Acceptance Month (Click here for some background) as a response to Autism ‘Awareness’ Month.  It is a day/month about us as opposed to non-autistic caregivers and parents.  We can talk about our autism, both the good and the bad parts, and celebrate it and each other.  It is a way of respecting autistic people and our contributions as humans.

The past couple of years, I’ve noticed that organizations and groups are starting to refer to the day/month as Autism Awareness and Acceptance Day or Month, or even World Autism Acceptance Day.  They are starting to throw around words like neurodiversity, neurodivergent, and acceptance but they are just empty, meaningless words in these cases.

There is no action or follow through on their part.  I still see the same things coming out of these organizations and groups.  They have just taken our words and are using them to make it appear that they support and respect us.  Nothing has changed, except for the new words on banners and pages.  They still talk about us as symptoms and how we need to be fixed with therapies, like ABA.  We are still excluded. They hold conferences and presentations which do not include us even though they are about us.  Just before I wrote this post, I saw this come up on my Facebook Newsfeed:

‘Join us tonight at 7:00 pm for our free first responders webinar. Hear perspectives of parents, police officers, and Autism Ontario professionals, with information and resources along with examples of what is working across our province to support people with autism and an opportunity to ask questions and hold a discussion.’

It says nothing about actually autistic people, just everyone else.  We are not included in discussing supports for us!

If we do get included, it is only autistic people who see things exactly the way the organization does (mainly because they don’t know that there is a whole autistic community out there and they can just be themselves instead of having to mask who they really are.  That is how they were brought up and the message in the media).  Also, if we are included, we are talked over and not listened to anyway.  I don’t see acceptance in that.  Where is our input?  If it is about us, then our input is the most important piece.

If non-autistic people were listening to autistic people, then they would not just take our words to use.  They would not need their ‘awareness’ campaigns to know we exist.  They already know we exist, so do they really need to remind each other every year?  If they were truly listening, there would be action.  There would be change in how we are treated.  We would be listened to.  We would be respected and treated as human.  We would be accepted.”

April Action: Raise our Own Flag

Event: Raising the Flag for Autistic Pride
Location: Toronto City Hall, 100 Queen Street West
Date: April 3rd, 11:30 am
Organizing contact: a4aontario@gmail.com

Background
Each April at City Halls across our province, parent-led organizations gather and raise a flag for “awareness” about autism. Through their events, these organizations perpetuate the myth that parents should be the primary spokespeople for autistic lives and realities. Autistic individuals are excluded from speaking, much like autistic self-advocates have been excluded from consultations on the provincial policies that impact us the most.

It is time to change that. It’s time to raise our own flag: for autistic pride!

Our Event
Our flag-raising will be happening at the same time as another flag raising –that of Autism Ontario –and this is purposeful. By raising our own flag on April 3, we are taking back public space and representing ourselves. We are also demanding a place in the development of policy for our province and our communities. Nothing about us without us. 

Our speakers will be discussing the issues that really matter to autistic Ontarians – such as human rights, education, employment, housing and more. We will also be countering the “tragedy” narrative of autism, expressing our pride and having fun!

Our flag bears the infinity symbol, which represents the diversity of the autistic community as well as the greater neurodiversity movement. It is red to symbolize the #redinstead movement, which calls for a greater visibility in April and throughout the year.

From Awareness to Acceptance
Globally, the neurodiversity movement is shifting the narrative of April –from parent-led autism “awareness” (often portrayed more like “bewareness”) towards autistic-led understanding and acceptance.

As Kassiane S. writes: “Acceptance and awareness come from vastly different mindsets. Awareness seeks to highlight how other we are and emphasize the differences and distance between our ways of being. Acceptance looks at commonalities we share and at the strength inherent in diversity. Acceptance seeks to meet us where we are, or at least far closer to equitably than awareness does.”

If you are autistic or an ally, we hope you will join us in raising the flag for autistic pride this Tuesday! For more information, please visit us online at a4aontario.com or via Facebook.

About A4A: Autistics for Autistics, founded in September 2017, is Ontario’s first autistic self-advocacy organization. We are a collective of autistic adults, advocating for reform to Ontario’s approach to funding and services. We are united in supporting all autistics in the province on the issues that impact our community.

Disability Day of Mourning Vigil in Toronto: March 1

On March 1, 2018, A4A will be hosting Toronto’s Disability Day of Mourning Vigil.

Date: March 1, 2018
Time: 3:00pm-5:00 pm
Location: Ryerson Campus, Oakham House (1st floor)
63 Gould Street, Toronto

Background: The Disability Day of Mourning is in honour of disabled people who were murdered by their parents or caregivers. It was founded in 2012 by Zoe Gross of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network and now happens in cities and towns across the world. This is the first year a vigil will be held in Toronto.

About the event: Following a brief introduction, members will be reading the names of victims, followed by a moment of silence. Information about the issues and how to get involved will also be available onsite.

Why it’s so important: Our lives have as much value as any other. Yet the murderers of autistic and/or disabled people are routinely given lighter sentences by the criminal justice system. Lighter sentences not only dishonour the dead, they also encourage more abuse and more murders. In fact, research shows that lighter sentences lead to copycat crimes.

Media portrayals of these murders as “mercy killings” or reports that empathize with the murderer or blame autism for their acts create a chilling environment where violence is seen as justified. Parents and other caregivers often justify their abuse by blaming autism or another disability: blaming the victim rather than the perpetrator.

There is only one victim in a filicide: the child. All murderers should be held equally accountable for their actions.

On March 1, we honour the memory of our disabled and autistic family who were murdered. They should be here with us and we mourn them deeply. As we grieve, we also fight for judicial reform, true equality for the disabled and justice, in their name.

If you would like to volunteer at the event or want more information/seek an interview, please contact us. Thanks.