Keen spectators watch as the magnificent white pillars of the White House turn blue as an act to raise awareness for World Autism Awareness Day.
President Trump has prioritized further research into the causes and treatments for autism spectrum disorders, and this day is meant to celebrate both the individuals and families affected by autism, and to recognize the struggles they overcome on a daily basis.
The “Light it Up Blue” campaign itself is a subset of Autism Speaks, founded in 2005 by Bob and Suzanne Wright – controversial amidst the autism community for their alleged portrayal of autism in a dehumanizing and demeaning manner. Bob and Suzanne Wright, although had questionable means of pursuing their goal, did make admirable progress with regards to raising attention, internationally, about autism.
It’s important to steer away from performative social justice actions, and although it is vehemently important to continue to raise awareness in an effort to both destigmatize disabilities as well as raise funds for research, it’s equally important to not fall into the trap of sensationalizing an illness just for a day.
This romanticized notion of social justice action is, unfortunately, becoming part of the routine of modern day philanthropy – feeling selfless and socially aware by just changing your profile picture for a day or sharing a hashtag.
However, considering Trump’s history with ableism and relationship (or lack thereof) with disabled activists over time also raises suspicions over whether Trump is truly committed to helping the autism community, or whether this is just a publicity stunt to divert attention from his negative history and perception among many Americans.
Although it is a progressive move forward, especially for President Trump who has been called out on several occasions for using ableist and discriminatory language, to make such a widespread statement, it does also go to show how engrained our misconceptions around such disabilities and illnesses are. To so easily fall into the traps of supporting a movement because it’s a “feel-good issue” and brings to light something that generally is not spoken of, and in doing so avoiding doing any substantive research into the real issue at hand only feeds into the stigma.
Ableism is discrimination or prejudice against people with disabilities. Although a lot of ableism is ingrained so deeply in our everyday social discourse and practices that it’s not initially perceived as malicious, it is representative of a deep cultural shift that needs to take place in order to have a truly progressive movement forward with regards to destigmatizing disabilities.
Light it Up Blue is raising awareness about early diagnosis and treatment of autism, celebrating the many incredible contributions made to our society by those with autism, and also encouraging movements forward for research and development.