The real fight in the autism community is acceptance, equality, and advocacy, not vaccines

While we, the scientists and reality-based people, are fighting back the claims and misinformation of the anti-science and anti-vaccine groups and their activists, there are issues that need addressed in our society when it comes to autistic people. Those issues don’t have to do with complicated concepts like immunology or chemistry. They don’t have to do with abstract concepts like whose feelings get hurt by using “autistic” versus “person with autism.” No. These issues are simple, from a certain point of view.

In the United States, we have these sets of laws at the local, state, and federal level to require employers to pay a certain wage to their employees. We call this the “minimum wage,” and it’s been holding steady at $7.25 at the federal level. States and local governments may require higher minimum wages (e.g. San Francisco has it at $10.55 this year), but all wages have to be at least $7.25 to comply with federal law. Well, not all wages.

It appears that some loophole in the federal labor law allows companies to hire disabled persons (like autistic adults who are disabled) and pay them pennies an hour:

“Goodwill Industries, a multibillion-dollar company whose executives make six-figure salaries, is among the nonprofit groups permitted to pay thousands of disabled workers far less than minimum wage because of a federal law known as Section 14 (c). Labor Department records show that some Goodwill workers in Pennsylvania earned wages as low as 22, 38 and 41 cents per hour in 2011.”

What can you buy on 41 cents per hour? I don’t know about you, but I really couldn’t make it on $16.40 a week, before taxes. Apparently, the big boss of Goodwill makes hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, while the employees are paid pennies. Being the good capitalist that I am, I don’t fault him for making that much money if he’s worth it. But, come on! 41 cents per hour? That’s not capitalism. That’s slave labor.

More from that NBC article:

“Defenders of Section 14 (c) say that without it, disabled workers would have few options. A Department of Labor spokesperson said in a statement to NBC News that Section 14 (c) “provides workers with disabilities the opportunity to be given meaningful work and receive an income.”

Terry Farmer, CEO of ACCSES, a trade group that calls itself the “voice of disability service providers,” said scrapping the provision could “force [disabled workers] to stay at home,” enter rehabilitation, “or otherwise engage in unproductive and unsatisfactory activities.””

Really? We, the consumers, couldn’t pressure companies to be good corporate citizens (since corporations are people) and pay a fair minimum wage even to their disabled employees? And how many of those disabled employees are actually quite employable and capable of doing meaningful work? I’ll bet you it’s a lot.

“His wages have risen and fallen based on “time studies,” the method nonprofits use to calculate the salaries of Section 14 (c) workers. Staff members use a stopwatch to determine how long it takes a disabled worker to complete a task. That time is compared with how long it would take a person without a disability to do the same task. The nonprofit then uses a formula to calculate a salary, which may be equal to or less than minimum wage. The tests are repeated every six months.”

Time studies? WHAT. THE. [EXPLETIVE]? I don’t mean to fulfill Godwin’s Law, but time studies are dehumanizing:

It doesn’t surprise me that the 14 (c) section of the Fair Labors Standards Act was passed in 1938.

This is 2013. Science and technology allow even the most disabled people to be productive in one way or another. Paraplegics write books and teach classes through telecommunications. That same science and technology can allow someone with a cognitive impairment (or neurodevelopmental delay) to perform a task that is productive. Further, how is it that those of us who are not disabled and/or are neurotypical have the privilege of the protection of the minimum wage law while others don’t? Where’s the Equal Protection Clause? Where is that whole thing about being created equal? How is this happening?

In case you can’t tell, this has me all sorts of fired up. I’ll be writing letters to my local, state, and federal representatives. This is an outrage. This is the true evil against autistic people (and others) that must be combated, not whether there is thimerosal in vaccines or whether 12 year-old girls get the HPV vaccine. If all the [expletive] time and effort that anti-vaccine groups put into lying and misinforming was put to pressure companies and governments to make sure everyone was treated equally, we would live in a better world, instead of one where I (and other scientists and rational thinkers) have to keep my (our) ear(s) to the ground and fight back the latest round of conspiracy theories. We could be advocates for those who cannot advocate for themselves, and, bonus, we could take out some very, very bad vaccine-preventable infections once and for all.

ADDENDUM: I took a quick inventory of the stories published at the “daily web newspaper of the autism epidemic” for the week of June 16 to June 22. Here’s what I found (warning, links to AoA):

June 16: A video candlelight vigil for a child killed by his mother and caregiver AND a post about the fathers of autistic children (it is Father’s Day, after all)

June 17: Dachelbot obsesses over Dr. Paul Offit AND a letter from the father of a grown autistic man AND some story about no more HPV vaccines in Japan (though that’s not what is happening at all)

June 18: Dachelbot obsesses over Dr. Paul Offit AND an advertisement of something to lower your glutathione levels and cure you of something or something AND what looks like an advertisement for some therapy against autism that uses homeopathy

June 19: The Dachelbot obsesses over mercury AND another blog post obsessing over mercury AND another blog post about, what else, mercury. (Seriously, has anyone told them that the MMR vaccine Wakefield demonized never had any mercury in it? But their tuna does? I know! Big Tuna!)

June 20: The Dachelbot talking about pollution, legal stuff, and, what else, vaccines AND an anecdotal story of a child who was “recovered” from autism

June 21: Semi-advocacy post, ruined by the question, “What if Andrew Wakefield was right?” AND Post about no more insurance coverage for compounded (many times unproven) medications AND Pimping of anti-Pharma pseudodocumentary, asking if Wakefield was right

June 22: Anti-pharma post on malaria medication

By my count, there were 17 posts that week. Four were about Dachelbot’s reports of where she’s been spamming comment threads, or her apparent obsession with Dr. Paul Offit. Two posts about the horrors and corruption of Big Pharma. Three posts about mercury. One story of recovery. Another story of being the parent of a child/adult with autism. A thank-you post to the father’s of autistic children. Some video where two kids hold a candle in an apparent attempt to not be forgotten while people are remembering a murdered child. By my count, there were maybe two or three posts dealing with advocacy for people with autism, and one of them was ruined by asking, “What if Andrew Wakefield was right?” And two were advertisements for products (a pharmaceutical and a therapy that uses homeopathy).

Where is the advocacy? Where is the outrage over how autistic people and others with disabilities are treated? It’s all about blame this (vaccines) or blame that (Big pharma) or blame them (physicians) or blame him (Dr. Offit). Am I crazy? Am I seeing things? Is the “daily web newspaper of the autism epidemic” about advocating for autistic people?

5 thoughts on “The real fight in the autism community is acceptance, equality, and advocacy, not vaccines

  1. Sorry I was remiss about posting my opinions about the bot. I was otherwise engaged posting comments at the bot and her groupies, who post their trashy anti-vaccine, anti-science comments on internet media outlets. If you have been following my posts on Respectful Insolence, I alert the “RI Regulars” about Anne’s daily “Media Updates”.

    The bot still believes that her 27 year old son diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome is “vaccine-damaged”, as she related in this 2006 Op-Ed article:

    Anne has gotten more active, now that the epi-wannabe is no longer associated with AoA. She is posting scurrilous defamatory remarks about Paul Offit, in addition to her daily Media Updates and the canned Spam that she posts:

    There is a deplorable lack of advocacy at AoA, on behalf of the disabled community. I’ve been following the AoA blog for several years and have yet to find any evidence that the *journalists* or the groupies have ever made efforts to improve the lives of people with disabilities. They b!tch and moan about the coming *tsunami* of children who will age-out of education programs and the lack of resources for their grown children to develop skill sets for competitive employment or in sheltered workshops (according to their abilities). (Anne *claims* she never met an autistic child when she was growing up fifty years…ergo, it must be a newly emerging *epidemic*). Anne never went into the developmental centers (human warehouses), where thousands of autistic children and adults were placed…ergo it must be a newly emerging *epidemic. Anne and her pals do not acknowledge the parent/advocates who pushed for Federal legislation (PL 94-142 The Education of All Handicapped Childrens Act, 1975), that enabled her kid and all children with developmental disabilities to a “free appropriate public education”.

    Anne and her buddies never advocated for expanded health care that provides insurance coverage for expensive therapy (ABA), specifically for autistic kids. They are p!ssed off that the Affordable Care Act doesn’t provide coverage for quack biomedical *treatments* for their children. And, they believe that alternative living arrangements in small group homes, supportive living apartments or Intermediate Care Facilities will *miraculously materialize* at the time when they can no longer care for their grown children. (The waiting lists for these alternative living arrangements are years long and tens of thousands of developmental disabled individuals are on those lists).

    If they won’t advocate for their own autistic children…why should we expect them to advocate on behalf of blind people?

    (End of rant…for now)

  2. While your outrage is laudable, you also have to consider disability law.
    Once a disabled person makes an amount above some rather low dollar figure, their disability compensation is reduced dollar for dollar.
    Not a biggie if the paycheck is more than the disability check, a biggie when it is not.

    That said, I live in Pennsylvania and have used Goodwill stores for some odds and ends over the years. For what they’re paying workers, I’ll just eBay it instead.
    It’s one thing to not screw the worker by eliminating a disability check and the worker gaining less compensation than if staying at home on disability, it’s another to screw the worker over in a grand style.

    To close on an up note, I have a buddy who has an autistic child. He blames the autism on nothing but dumb random chance and insists on evidence based medicine for the medical care of his son. That especially includes immunizations.
    His opinion of the antivaxers is rather poor, using phrases that reflected his years of Naval service.

      • Don’t even get me started on that one.
        My wife can’t collect disability because we moved in with my aging father, who is unable to care for himself.
        As we own our own home, she’s ineligible for disability or medicaid. Hence, all medical care is out of pocket, which is troublesome, as I’m unemployed and out of U/C.
        She was told that if we divorced, she’d be eligible. That’s about as likely as elemental mercury being used in the place of motor oil.

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