Friday, July 11, 2008

Confronting Discrimination Against Loved Ones Who Have Autism

Prejudice and discrimination against people who have autism are on the rise. Several incidents of discrimination against people who have autism recently made headlines.

Two cases involved families of children with autism being harassed, humiliated and thrown off of airplanes operated by major airlines. Jarrett Farrell, a two year old boy with autism, and his mother Janice were kicked off an American Airlines plane departing from Raleigh-Durham International Airport. Wendy Slaughter and her family were denied boarding on a Southwest Airlines plane and stranded at Sky Harbor Airport because airline employees considered her autistic son disruptive.

People with autism have also encountered discrimination in other public places. The Church of St. Joseph in Bertha, Minnesota, obtained a restraining order to prevent Adam Race, a teenager with autism from attending its services. Darla and Blandon Granger’s autistic twin sons were among special needs students at Quail Glen Elementary School in Roseville, California, whose class was excluded from their school’s yearbook.

Discrimination against children with autism is not limited to the United States. Sarah Seymour and her family were told to leave a Smitty’s restaurant in Edmonton because their autistic five year old daughter, Eowyn, had become upset because her favorite food was not on the restaurant’s menu.

Some individuals have even taken to making ignorant, insensitive and mean-spirited comments about people with autism and their families in the blogosphere. I will neither name those individuals nor quote their cruel remarks. However, I will direct you to comments about prejudice and discrimination against families coping with autism by outspoken autism awareness advocates Kyron Arambula, Genevieve Hinson, David K. March, Karen Putz, Mia Redrick and

Hold your head up and take your loved ones who have autism out to the public places you enjoy visiting. Your child and your family have just as much right to participate in life as anyone else’s. Your loved one who has autism has rights, and those rights are to be honored, respected and upheld. If you encounter discrimination, take action! In order to effectively combat prejudice, discrimination and intolerance against families affected by autism, it is imperative that families who experience these types of violations of their civil rights take immediate proactive steps to address discriminatory acts perpetrated against them.

If you encounter discrimination from a business, institution or government entity, write a letter of complaint to the head of the company, organization or agency. I also recommend writing a letter about your experience to the editor of your local paper.

Depending on the nature of the discrimination you are subjected to, the matter may need to be further escalated. Under some circumstances, you may want to report the incident to law enforcement authorities and/or state’s Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). You may also wish to report incidents to your state’s attorney general and to your local civil rights commission.

In some cases, you may want to consider consulting an attorney who has expertise in civil rights law. Call your local bar association for assistance finding an attorney who specializes in cases that involve discrimination against individuals on the basis of disability.

Here is a list of organizations you may need to contact if your loved one with autism suffers discrimination:

Americans with Disabilities Act Home Page
Better Business Bureau
Federal Aviation Administration Office of Civil Rights
Federal Trade Commission
United States Department of Agriculture Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights
United States Commission on Civil Rights
United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights
United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
United States Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights
United States Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity
United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Disability Section
United States Department of Labor Civil Rights Center
United States Department of Transportation Civil Rights Office

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