April is World Autism Acceptance Month, and groups that advocate for people on the autism spectrum said they want more than public awareness, especially with the inequities deepened by the pandemic.
Zoe Gross, advocacy director for the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN), said her organization works with people who have felt abandoned by society, in terms of getting the health care and services they need.
She noted one contributing factor has been state governments not prioritizing people with disabilities in vaccine-distribution plans.
“They’re still not sort of paying attention to people with disabilities and giving a higher priority that our community needs based on our risk,” Gross contended. “People really feel like the pandemic has brought home the way society devalues the lives of people with disabilities.”
ASAN’s COVID-19 Tracker of people living with disabilities in congregate settings shows Florida has the highest case numbers in the U.S. As of today, all Florida residents are eligible to receive any COVID-19 vaccine.
Gross emphasized the prospect of increased funding for home- and community-based services would aid people who need personal care, but can’t risk being exposed to COVID-19 in group settings.
“COVID has really brought home the fact that institutions are dangerous places to live; places that put people’s health at risk, and restrict their personal rights and freedoms, and no one has to live that way.”
She added the aid is part of the latest proposal from the Biden administration, which includes $400 billion to expand Medicaid home services.
Gross pointed out ASAN also supports a proposal in the infrastructure package to end the subminimum wage, which allows employers to pay people with disabilities less than the minimum wage.
“It’s really tied in to a bunch of different problems that the disability community is facing, from poverty to unemployment and underemployment, to being stuck in segregated settings and not having the opportunity to enter the community, and get plugged into community living,” Gross outlined.
She thinks Autism Acceptance Month should include action items to improve the lives of people on the autism spectrum, rather than stigmatizing or sensationalizing autism.