Community matters. One of the things I always appreciated about my first few weeks in college was the existence of the local Hillel — the Jewish student center active on my campus, and many hundreds of other campuses across the country. I was an out-of-state student going to a university where most of my classmates had grown up within no more than an hour’s drive of the campus. Having an immediate sense of community as a Jew was incredibly meaningful for me — and yet, I always felt a profound sense of regret that I didn’t have the same opportunities as an Autistic as I did as a Jew. Walking into the university disability services office was a far cry from the warmth of Shabbat dinner or outreach by campus Jewish organizations. Instead of being connected to others who could relate to my experiences as someone on the autism spectrum, I and other disabled students were usually greeted by a bored work-study student handing us a card upon which we could check one of a few “standard” accommodations — extended time, alternative print/braille, note-taking and a few others, crafted without thought to the needs of students like me. Anything else required a long wait and an uphill battle.
There are a lot of issues worth unpacking here — the low quality of support offered to disabled students in post-secondary education, the vast gap between programs focused around compliance and those focused around quality of life — but the one that I want to focus on today is the value of community. Being part of any minority group is always a challenging experience. Living in a world built for people who are not like you is alienating, whether it’s because of the way your brain works or because you don’t celebrate Christmas. In the disability world, we use concepts like the social model of disability to explain this experience. Service-provision and reasonable accommodations and any number of other things we fight to receive are intended to bridge the gap between the world as it is and the world as we’d like it to be. Yet, we still have so very far to go to create a more just society. The last few months have seen some heated discussions about privilege in both the autism community (that is, the community of non-Autistic parents and professionals with an interest in autism) and the Autistic community. I think one of the things that makes privilege such a hard topic to discuss with those who are, or would wish to be, our allies is that it continues to exist, even when we get the things we’re advocating for. In the best of all possible worlds we can create, we will still be expected to explain ourselves to others in ways that no neurotypical person would have to do. We will still frequently face assumptions and stereotypes that require us to work twice as hard for the same results.
Please read the rest on the original post, found here.