Standing for What is Right – Governor Carr

In the US, we often say we want politicians with ethics, who will do the right thing.  In WWII, the US state of Colorado had one of these politicians – Governor Carr.  He’s been ignored (for the most part) in history, primarily because he did the right thing.

In WWII, Japanese-American US citizens were feared by others.  They were forcibly moved from their homes if they leaved near the coast and often ended up in, essentially, concentration camps (not in the Nazi sense, but still plenty bad).  Many lost everything in this process.  There was little outrage among the public, with one exception – Governor Carr.  He spoke eloquently about the rights of these citizens.  But as a result, this governor, who was at one point a rising Republican star who could be expected to get his party’s nomination for President, destroyed his career.  Ethics were not what the US wanted.  The US wanted a politician that shared their bigotry and bias.

History has vindicated Governor Carr.  Not one incident of sabotage could be attributed to Japanese-American US citizens.  These citizens even fought in the European theater and became an extremely highly decorated unit, likely as a result of their need to prove that they really were loyal – something that should never have been required of them.  That the US put our own citizens in prison camps, with horrible conditions, for no reason other than their race and national origin, while simultaneously fighting a racist regime in Germany shows the depth of hypocrisy (we were joined by Canada, who did the same to their citizens).  It’s a sad chapter in history.

One thing we can learn from Governor Carr, however: do the right thing, even if it costs you.  I’d rather be the rejected politician that Carr became than the person who thought it was okay to corral and fence in my neighbors.

Below is a four-part speech by a man who wrote a book about Governor Carr – it has some fascinating and horrifying parts that show what scared people can do to their neighbors.

What Makes a Good Communication System…Part 3

A bunch of text, including *(#! #W:# and similar text, to stylistically represent internet cuss word obfuscationI’ve written about what makes a good communication system.  This time, I want to talk about newspeak and why it’s important to include controversial words in a communication system.

(Previously, I wrote about the need for a way to say “no” and the need to be able to report abuse)

I remember a talk a few years ago at Autreat where an audience member, during a demonstration of various AAC equipment, talked about how she didn’t like that a device had an icon representing a popular fast food joint, since that was essentially free advertising of the chain, the chain had very unhealthy food, and a child with such a device would then be asking to go there more often, when its’ more desirable to go elsewhere.  I’m probably paraphrasing things wrong, which is why I’m keeping this somewhat vague.

I had a problem with that thinking.  Sure, a parent may decide it’s a bad idea to go to a fast food chain for their child, which is certainly a parent’s right (and, frankly, probably good for the kid’s health).  But eliminating the vocabulary to ask this is not encouraging communication, nor is it providing the same sort of teachable time that a child who speaks would present.  A parent has the right to say no to a child’s request.  And, in fact, parents do so quite often – for the good of their children.  Eventually children learn that some things are off-limits and that continued pestering of the parents will result in negative consequences.  As for the icon choice being free advertising, how else would you represent a fast food chain?  The brand logo seems like an obvious choice!  (note that I did agree with her that only including one fast food eatery isn’t a good idea – any system should strive to include multiple options.

There’s far more controversial things than fast food chains, though.  If you spoke during primary school, do you remember when you first said a naughty word?  For most of us, I’m guessing that was pretty much the first year we were at school.  Certainly most of us knew enough to not say it in front of the teacher (although some of us probably learned that one the hard way!).  In other words, we learned an proper time and place for cussing: you can laugh about the words with your friends on the playground, but don’t do it in front of any adults or any tattle tales!  This is a huge lesson when it comes to communication: language use should differ in different environments.

So, when should a child have cuss-words as part of their vocabulary, if they use a non-spoken language system?  The answer is, for parents and teachers: before you would like them to!  Certainly a school or parent shouldn’t spend hours teaching how to cuss, but the language should be subtly made available, and consequences of its’ use should also be made available!  If the child does cuss at mom to get a reaction, it’s entirely proper for mom to react – just not by eliminating vocabulary.

Likewise, when was the first time you might have talked to another kid about sex?  Once again, it was probably well before it was “age appropriate” in the eyes of parents (who probably would prefer those topics to wait some time).  A language system needs the words that a 13-year-old will use when secretly looking at Playboy magazines with another kid.  You might not want a 13-year-old to look at Playboys, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t have the language to express himself.  You don’t duct tape the mouth of a typical child so he won’t talk about naughty pictures with a friend!

In 1984, George Orwell describes a future where words are eliminated from language to ensure “goodthink:”

“Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thought-crime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed will be expressed with exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out. … Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller.”

Sadly, I’ve seen communication systems for Children programmed to offer a sort-of “newspeak.”  I’m sure it also happens with adults.  It’s convenient to never have anyone bring up any uncomfortable subjects, never have words that cause disruption.  But it’s not how typical children (or adults) communicate, and it’s not how people with communication disabilities should be forced to communicate.

Certainly different people need different vocabulary, but I very much support a vocabulary system that can include words that may not be the focus of instruction, and may even be “inappropriate.”  Newspeak is not an alternative to teaching proper language use!

Unfair Disability Advantage?

There’s a bit of controversy over one of this year’s 400 meter Olympic runners.  Oscar Pistorius of South Africa is competing on artificial legs.  Some have questioned whether his legs make him faster than non-disabled athletes, although the scientific evidence is a bit mixed.

For a bit on the story, see this Star Tribune opinion piece.

It’s a bit ironic since normally we face the issue of being seen as less able than non-disabled peers.  In this case, he’s seen as more able.  There are lots of other interesting questions here too, such as, what differences are “unfair” in the Olympics?  After all, Olympic athletes are unusual, and have unusual differences that let them compete at an amazing level far beyond the abilities of most of the rest of us.

Chicken Sandwiches, Interracial Marriage, Autism Speaks, and Popularity Contests

It’s lunchtime, so, having some time, I thought it would be good to talk about, well, lunch.  This week, gay, lesbian, and bisexual people lost out in the USA.  Their fellow citizens showed that, given the choice between supporting equal rights and eating a chicken sandwich, the sandwich will win.  It was kind of a modern version of the Two Minutes Hate, just with chicken instead of a telescreen (and, as John Stewart says, in the clip below, finally a type of protest that Americans can manage – eating fast food).

But that’s not what is interesting – or even most depressing – to me.  Both sides of the gay marriage issue have taken sides, with the Human Rights Campaign and others now promoting a Starbucks Appreciation Day (Starbucks has publicly stated their support of same-sex marriage).  Essentially, people seem to have a need to show that more people support a their own view than support the other sides’ view(s).

Autistic people who have campaigned against Autism Speaks know the dangers of this.  I would guess that for every person who has spoken out or taken direct action against Autism Speaks, that there have been 1,000 people who have walked in one of the Autism Speaks “Autism Walks.”  The majority is uninformed and wrong when it comes to Autism Speaks.

This isn’t just an autistic issue, either, where a minority finds itself oppressed by a majority that supports causes counter to their own goals.  People referring to themselves as “Jerry’s Orphans” have spoken out about the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s annual telethon (featuring “Jerry’s Kids” – that is, children with muscular dystrophy that were used by the former telethon host, Jerry Lewis, to invoke feelings of pity and loss towards disabled people with muscular dystrophy).  Yet, the MDA’s telethon continues to get popular support, as does the MDA itself (I cringe every time I see firemen standing in the middle of the street holding out boots for me to donate to the MDA).  Popularity doesn’t make something right.

Nor is it even just a disability issue.  You may know that while interracial marriage became legal for the entire USA in 1967, thanks to a landmark Supreme Court case, Loving v. Virginia.  What you may not know is that, in 1968, one year after the legalization throughout the nation (it was legal most places other than the south before 1967, which makes this number more shocking), only 20% of the US population support interracial marriage (67% opposed).  Even as late as 1983, most people in the US opposed interracial marriage – 50% – while only 43% supported it.  In fact it wasn’t until 1997 that a majority of the population was willing to indicate they supported interracial marriage, according to Gallop polls (there were polls in 1994 where only 48% supported interracial marriage, and then again in 1997 where, finally, over 50% – 64% actually – supported it).  What is interesting is that the shift occurred fairly quickly, but if eating at certain restaurants was the key to getting people the right to marry, they would have lost for a long time.  Fortunately we have a good court system that was willing to undo some past prejudice, and not decide whether people have rights based on popularity.

Minorities – whether autistic, people with muscular dystrophy, or interracial couples – don’t get rights by popularity.  It’s decidedly unpopular to extend rights to anyone that doesn’t already have them.  It stays unpopular for years, even decades, after the rights are granted.  Eventually things change, but true courage involves standing up for those rights before your friends and family do so.  It’s not about standing in a Starbucks line with a bunch of like-minded folks, or keeping people from standing in a Chick Fil A line with a bunch of like-minded people.  It’s about doing what the people around you are not doing. We should be teaching people to do the right thing, even if others aren’t doing it with them.  It’s never popular to challenge the status quo.

I’m off to salvage what is left of my lunch hour!  And, no, I’m not in the mood for Chicken.

You Want to Take Away my Window

This is an old essay I put on my former website.  Ancient by some people’s standards – 2001!    A few words first:

Don’t be offended!

This is written “to” an imaginary person who represents those people who can’t accept me for who I am. I’m not targeting it at anyone in particular, nor non-autistics in general.

A window in a bedroom looking out to a grassy path

You Want to Take Away My Window

I am autistic. I’ve always been autistic, and I always will be autistic. Autism is part of who I am, just as my sense of humor and my emotions are part of me. I like who I am, even my autistic part.

You see, autism isn’t an awful condition. I’m not condemned to an “un-natural life.” Yet, I have lived a life with pain, fear, and confusion. Pain because of your cold heart. Fear because of my past, and because of my future in a your world, which can’t tolerate uniqueness. Confusion because of my ways of interpreting your world and because of the deceit, lies, and apathy in it.

But, I don’t just feel pain. I know great joy and peace. I wish I had words for what it is like inside these walls, where the noise of the outside world can’t destroy my peace. You can’t understand the joy I have in my quiet place, alone and far from the voices that would destroy, nor can I understand your world of noise and crowds. You probably can’t understand that I enjoy watching, not participating, in your world, nor can you understand why I laugh in response to an inner joy. But, that’s all-right with me.

I’m an observer, trying to understand your world. You may not know this, since you don’t even think I see you most of the time. But, I do see you. I might not be “looking” at you, but I’m watching you through the window of my house – through the corner of these eyes. I don’t want you to know, though. So, I peer through the blinds as you walk by.

As I watch you, I get confused. I’ve seen you say you hate someone. But, later, when that person approaches you, you tell him that you love him. Did I see something wrong? Did you change your mind? People tell me that I’m defective and broken for not doing the things you do, but I don’t understand how you can say things that you don’t believe deep inside. Have you forgotten where you store your thoughts? What drives you, since you don’t follow your inner beliefs? What gives you your purpose?

As I watch you, I wonder what life must be like for you. How can you tolerate a world without right or wrong, but only shades of gray? How do you know when your actions are wrong, if all actions are at least a little bit wrong and a little bit right? Is it painful for you to live in a world full of subtlety and without boundaries? My walls give me peace and comfort, as I know where my world ends and yours begins. But, you don’t have any walls around you. What keeps you grounded? I’ve been told that my thinking, because of my clear boundaries and rules, is both limited and deficient. Yet, these boundaries and rules are my walls. They hold my soul together. What keeps your soul in one piece?

I don’t see your skin color, beauty, or age. I always thought that everyone deserved to be treated kindly, justly, and lovingly. Yet, when I gaze outside my walls, through my window, I see your world which condemns some to a life of pain because of their race, appearance, or age. You told me as a child that I shouldn’t get near to anyone who was different than me – that I should stay with my people, and they should stay with theirs. Didn’t you realize that I am different from you, too? Can’t you see the inner beauty in someone that’s different on the outside?

Your world tells me that I’m wrong to enjoy my times alone, inside this house, with only my thoughts to speak to me. You tell me that I should surround myself with strange voices, to spare me of the “pain” that comes with thinking and quiet contemplation – that I should listen to some sort of noise to block out these pesky thoughts – perhaps the radio, TV, or maybe other voices – that I should tear down the walls of my house and let these thoughts and my thoughts mix. But, I ask, wouldn’t it destroy my value if I became one with these other voices?

When I gaze out my window, I wonder why you want to take away my joy. You claim that you want me to come out and play with you, to leave the “confines” of my house and enjoy your world. But, you want to destroy my house when I’m not looking. You want to take away my window. You see my quietness as a disease that needs to be cured; my joyful activities a pain to be eliminated; my innocent eyes a blindness to be treated.

Of course, you can’t know why my house is important. But don’t you know that I’d show you what my house is like, if only you would knock on the door?