By Jeff Wheeler, CIP Berkshire Academic Coordinator
In June of 2008 I read an article in the New York magazine by Andrew Solomon entitled “The Autism Rights Movement”. This article changed the way I viewed those diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorders, indeed, it changed my perspective on the entire field of special education.
The article featured an interview with Ari Ne’eman, a 23 year-old autism rights activist who had just won a battle against an advertising campaign by New York University Child Study Center that he felt denigrated autistic individuals.
Ne’eman is a former high school roommate of the Berkshire Center’s Zach Zeller. Zach is a fourth year student who hails from New Jersey and is on course to graduate from Berkshire Community College in December of 2011.
Ne’eman is an internationally renowned speaker who went on to create the Autistic Self Advocacy Network www.autisticadvocacy.org which has goals that are profoundly important to those in the autism community.
Autistic Self Advocacy Network mission statement:
The Autistic Self Advocacy Network seeks to advance the principles of the disability rights movement in the world of autism. Drawing on the principles of the cross-disability community on issues such as inclusive education, community living supports and others, ASAN seeks to organize the community of Autistic adults and youth to have our voices heard in the national conversation about us.
In addition, ASAN seeks to advance the idea of neurological diversity, putting forward the concept that the goal of autism advocacy should not be a world without Autistic people. Instead, it should be a world in which Autistic people enjoy the same access, rights and opportunities as all other citizens. Working in fields such as public policy, media representation, research and systems change, ASAN hopes to empower Autistic people across the world to take control of their own lives and the future of our common community. Nothing About Us, Without Us!
In June of 2010 the U.S. Senate voted unanimously to confirm President Obama’s appointment of ASAN President Ari Ne’eman as a member of the National Council on Disability. More details here. The ASD community now has a voice at the highest levels of policy making.
Given Ne’eman’s young age, we hope that he will be a voice for those with differences for a long time to come.