As Long as Nobody Complains

One way to figure out your social standing is to ask, “What does it take to take away one of my rights?”  The less it takes, the less your standing.

For instance, if you’re a bargain shopper camping in your tent (on public property) outside a Best Buy store on Thanksgiving, you’re pretty much going to get left alone by police and others.  Yet if you are homeless doing the same thing, you’re probably a lot more likely to get pestered, fined, or arrested.  Money has rights that lack of money doesn’t.  The identical actions, but for different reasons (gluttony is okay, poverty is not) result in completely different reactions that reflect the power imbalance of the people involved.  Clearly the homeless guy has less status than the bargain shopper.

In the autism world, and other places, the standard is often, “So long as someone with higher social status doesn’t complaint, you can do X.”  We see this often with service dogs.  So long as nobody complains about the presence of the dog, it’s allowed.  But even one person having a problem with the dog, for legitimate or illegitimate reasons, will often result in the dog getting banned.  Simply put, the rights of the person complaining (even if their complaint is baseless) are more important than the rights of the autistic.  The autistic is to be included, but only so far as it doesn’t cause anyone to get uncomfortable or annoyed.

It also comes up when an autistic child is mainstreamed.  Too frequently the complaint from parents of non-autistic kids is, “The autistic kid is distracting and limiting my kids’ ability to learn. He should be in a special school.”  In other words, my kid’s right to learn in this classroom is more important than your kid’s.  Sometimes multiple parents do this, but even one parent raising the complaint is often enough to cause significant problems for the autistic kid and his family.  Interestingly, however, this is never said about non-autistic kids – even non-autistic kids with a significant history of bullying, and thus distracting and limiting the ability of other kids (including, sadly, often kids with disabilities).  It’s a very rare school that responds to that type of complaint from a parent about a kid, and it’s almost never an option to remove the bully and place him in a special school!  Isn’t that interesting?

IEPs end up written this way, as do rules adults are supposed to follow when they need support.  “You can participate.  As long as it doesn’t bother anyone else.”  You don’t have the right to inclusion, since you’re different.  The others are merely tolerating your presence, a privilege you’re getting (so be sure to be thankful!) that they can revoke at a whim.  I’ll give a hint – that’s hardly inclusion.

The “as long as nobody complains” standard is used by a morally weak person who is already biased – it’s a misguided way to avoid controversy and avoid telling someone, “No, I’m not going to make this place accessible for you and/or your kid.”  It could be rephrased as, “As long as there is unanimous acceptance of the person, he can participate.”  Every other person however has veto power, and a person’s rights are continually at risk of being lost.  That’s a pretty powerless position, rife for bullying and abuse.  It’s about time that we either apply this standard to everyone or figure out a better standard.

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