Hidden Behind the Headline

PG - Autistic Adults Housing

Someone writing headlines at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette must think that people with autism belong in a zoo.

I mean, there’s no other way to interpret what is truly an egregious and insensitive headline in the July 13, 2015 edition of our local newspaper.

I’ll give the Post-Gazette the benefit of the doubt by saying that I don’t think that the phrasing was deliberately intended to malign people with autism.  I mean, I certainly hope not, but who can tell? Given the vitriol in a hateful column recently penned by an associate editor of the Post-Gazette, the paper has demonstrated that they have no qualms with discarding a person’s feelings and dignity in exchange for the clicks garnered by a sensationalistic screed.

Let’s put it another way: would the Post-Gazette have written (and gotten away with) the same headline about people who have cancer? Who have brain tumors? Who are gay? Who are a certain race or ethnicity?

I doubt it.

Motive aside, this headline is more than an unfortunate choice of words. By using the phrase “with the general population” in addition to “house adults with autism” (as found within the accompanying article) the Post-Gazette is perpetuating decades of misunderstanding, stigma and shame while conjuring up a time in our country’s not-so-distant past when people with disabilities were, in fact, sent away to live in horrific institutions. Often subjected to abuse and inhumane conditions, the atrocities they suffered never saw the light of day because they were hidden away from the world.

We like to think that we’re more evolved now, thanks to greater awareness and advocacy efforts and legal strides. But we’re really not. Even today, people with disabilities still are treated as lesser individuals in every sense. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is abyssmal; last month, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that “in 2014, 17.1 percent of persons with a disability were employed…in contrast, the employment-population ratio for those without a disability was 64.6 percent. Bullying and all forms of abuse are higher among this constituency.  Supportive services vary significantly from state to state and at 21, all of those supports vanish.

Which is, ironically, exactly why a housing complex like the Dave Wright Apartments is so desperately needed. With 1 in 68 children identified with autism spectrum disorder, the need for living arrangements like this one will only increase as these children become adults. Developer Roy Diamond, Elliot Frank, president of the Autism Housing Development Corp. of Pittsburgh, ACTION-Housing Inc., NHS Human Services, and Goodwill are to be commended for their vision and efforts in seeing this exciting concept become a reality. Their work is giving people with autism an opportunity to live fulfilling, independent lives while providing their families with a modicum of peace of mind as they plan for a time when they are no longer here to serve as advocates and caregivers for their loved ones.

People with autism deserve this chance.

And they sure as hell deserve a lot more respect from the Post-Gazette than they received in Monday’s paper.