If the Democratic frontrunner wins the presidency and does even half what she promises, she’ll make an enormous difference in autistic people’s everyday lives
Clinton’s proposals leave all other 2016 candidates in the dust. Photograph: Jae C. Hong/AP
Hillary Clinton just made disability history. For the first time, a mainstream political candidate prioritized the rights and opinions of autistic people by embracing policies that autistic advocates and activists have rallied around for years.
Clinton’s autism plan, announced Tuesday, is well-informed and shows a grasp of the issues that few outside of disability rights circles have. If she wins the election and does even half of the things she promises, she could make an enormous difference in the everyday lives of autistic people. If she loses, she has still tremendously raised the bar on how presidential candidates can and should address autism.
Her plan focuses on necessary and sorely needed support programs for autistic people: improving employment opportunities and housing availability, significantly limiting the use of physical restraints, guaranteeing access to assistive communication technology for people who are nonverbal or have difficulty with spoken language and a specific call to do research on adult autism prevalence and needs. These issues are of vital importance to autistic people and our loved ones. No other major US presidential candidate has made these issues a part of his or her political platform.
Political discourse around autism in the US has followed a very different narrative over the past few decades: autism is a tragedy. Autism is an epidemic. Autistic children need you all to donate money to genetics research that will not help those currently living with autism in any direct or meaningful way.
The fear of this “autism epidemic” is used to justify any number of illogical, yet widely accepted, perspectives, like the repeatedly debunked notion that childhood vaccines cause autism. It is apparently better for dozens to die from measles than to possibly risk that your child might become autistic. In this perverse worldview, autistic adults do not matter. We are the worst outcome. We can be consigned to segregated workshops where we do meaningless work like unwrapping bars of soap or capping lotion bottles for less than minimum wage – if we are employed at all. After our parents die, we disappear entirely. This may seem dystopian, but it is reality for many Americans.