A couple of months ago, I wrote an email to PZ Myers, the blogmaster of Pharyngula, about disability rights and the skeptical movement. He responded positively to my email, and I was pleased by that. Since the skeptical community became entangled into the lives of autistic people through their help in debunking the “vaccines cause autism” myth, I’ve been both grateful and annoyed at their treatment of autism. Grateful because they were some of the best people to explain why Andrew Wakefield and Jenny McCarthy are deluded and dangerous, annoyed because they often engaged in the same disablist schtick that others did, “Well, of COURSE autism is a horrible thing to live with! Obviously we’re not doubting that, but it’s not going to be fixed by oxygen therapy or chelation, that’s dangerous.” Nope, only got it 50% right there.
Today, I remembered that email when PZ posted a short agreement to an article on why Jerry Lewis’ gawdawful MD telethon was problematic at least, and insulting and disgusting at worst. I can still remember a political cartoon in my office of a weeping Jerry drowning a kid with MD with his big ol’ crocodile tears, which illustrates just how “helpful” he was to the cause.
My favourite part of PZ’s contribution? This:
That’s not a message of hopelessness. To the contrary, it’s saying there are positive improvements that can be made that don’t involve relegating the disabled to the rubbish bin of ‘God’s mistakes’.
Sound familiar? It’s what us autistic self-advocates have been saying about most attempts to “cure” autism at the expense of helping autistic people here and now live positive lives in their communities. I’m glad to see PZ getting it.
Before I get too warm and glowing though, here’s a few ideas for skeptics to make their communities more disability friendly, so skeptics with disabilities (c’est moi!) can participate in the conversation on equal footing, which I should have put in my original email, but forgot:
+ Forever banish terms like “Christard”, “Teatard”, or “Religutard” from your vocabulary. Do I even need to explain why? I shouldn’t have to.
+ Captions, captions, captions! If you can find two identical videos, one with captions and one without, you should know which one to choose. That’s why I loved Symphony of Science. No captions available? Do a transcript. It takes minimal effort, but does maximum help for people who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have sensory processing disorder. Caption pictures as well, it’s easy. Try something along the lines of, “A photo from National Geographic of a group of frogs, species xxxxxx, copulating by depositing their sperm onto an egg sac”. Or something like that.
+ Make sure skeptic-oriented events are at venues which are wheelchair accessible, and put a ban on wearing perfumes and strong scents. That latter one is more essential than you think.
+ On the note of events, if you’re giving a talk at a skeptical event, add captions to videos if you have them in a slide show, and ask if there’s an ASL interpreter provided.
+ Remember, Tokenism is evil and not well-regarded by anyone. If you hire disabled skeptic speakers, don’t not hire others or ignore others because you think you did your good deed by having just one and stock the rest of your itinerary with able-bodied neurotypicals.
With that aside, I’m very happy at both PZ’s response and the demise of Jerry Lewis in the telethon. If I believed in God, I would consider him to be more of a goof of God than any child with MD.