My entire family is on the autism spectrum. After my diagnosis late in life all of my siblings, my mother and my uncle were later diagnosed on the autism spectrum. We are all still learning about the effects of living on the autism spectrum and it has been a wonderful, if at times frustrating, experience.
I have noticed as of late that a great many people on various social media are often in a fury when they take to social media decrying this or that problem or cause and recently some of that fury has been directed at a schism within our culture between those dubbed “social justice warriors” and those more aligned to “conservative” understanding. It occurred to me that a lot of what I am reading in social media might be attributed to claims of lived experience. Many of the S.J.W. (social justice warrior) types seem to be in a state of desperate furious meltdown over not being heard and this leads to an assumption that their perceived “enemies” of social equality aren’t listening. On the other side of this divide many of the more conservative and/or neural typical types feel unfairly prejudiced and attacked. I can understand both points of view. I present as white but I am in fact of bi-racial heritage, I present as hetero normative but am in fact poly amorous and I present as “high functioning” though I am in fact a man on the autism spectrum that has suffered from P.T.S.D. in the past.
My brother recently, also a man on the autism spectrum, tried to purchase lunch at a local A+W while he was on a work break. My brother has amazing abilities in math most likely resulting from his strengths on the autism spectrum and has become an excellent licensed arborist. However one of the challenges my brother has, also resulting from being on the autism spectrum, is difficulty with emotional regulation. When my brother wears a mask (as is currently mandated for Covid-19 safety) the sensation of it drives him into a meltdown and he simply looses his temper at no specific person or cause. This leads people to assume him to be dangerous when he really isn’t, but how would they know? I am able to wear a mask without much issue, my brother just cannot. He has tried. My brother has a service animal and my brother carries his diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder from his doctor in his pocket, it is on an official letterhead from the doctor’s office that diagnosed him. When my brother tried to enter the A+W he regularly visits for lunch during work hours he was again denied service. He has had several conversations with staff at this A+W over several lunches and every time a new staff member is working he has to go through the process of explaining his challenges around wearing a mask all over again.
So I contacted the human rights legal support centre of Ontario to seek clarification around the legality of exemption of having to wear a mask if one has special needs. After seven hours on the phone I finally spoke to a very helpful person that informed me of the nature of the laws surrounding accommodation of persons with disabilities. It was very enlightening.
It turns out that the law is such that a person with a disability preventing them from wearing a mask, like my brother, would firstly have to present a letter in official overhead from a licensed physician to any party asking for reasons why one cannot wear said mask. This first point is curious because it means that disabled persons must be willing to share their personal medical information, albeit in a limited capacity, with total strangers. Even if one were willing to do that such an act only means that the business owner is now expected to have a conversation demonstrating “reasonable accommodation for the persons disability” that can be made without “placing the business at risk of bankruptcy or damage.” Ignoring the violation of privacy because said business owner cannot take in good faith that a person claiming disability is genuinely disabled, how would a person with emotional regulation challenges be expected to then negotiate a tense conversation? Even if that were possible the only outcome that is safe for both parties would be to have a staff member (in this case there was only one person working at the fast food location) exit the building and speak to my brother to take his order, would have to take cash since the debit machine is in the building, and then would have to bring the order outside to my waiting sibling.
So to all those that are frustrated I would like to share this realization. The constant assertion by our government that people with special needs do not have to wear a mask isn’t true. People with special needs are allowed to ask to have a conversation about being given accommodation ONLY IF they first present a official letter of diagnosis from their doctor. I am sure you can deduce that the majority of people with various special needs are not capable of such a conversation for many different reasons. Reasons like speech not being possible, emotional regulation difficulties, unable to enter a building in the first place because of stairs, hearing difficulties and breathing difficulties etc. etc.
Maybe the reason so many S.J.W.’s on social media are losing their minds in rage from not being heard is because of laws like this one that APPEAR to be helpful but in fact are just the opposite in every way. These laws are lip service at best from a government that did the absolute minimum required to appear sympathetic to citizens with various challenges. Maybe those being attacked on social media are not the ones that should be attacked because it isn’t able citizens that wrote such laws but it was government that has only a passing indifference for the needs of its vulnerable people? Maybe these laws have our citizens at each other’s throats instead of working together for public benefit? We are all good people at our core. Clearly there is just a massive miscommunication about what various challenges of disability look like. So when you see such indignation from people on social media understand that it may be misplaced and I sympathize with you. Try to understand that there is still very little aid for special needs persons and all we want is to buy lunch.
Times like this I am thankful I have been given the opportunity to write stories for institutions like the A.S.O. I might get frustrated sometimes, we all do, but by volunteering I get an opportunity to be heard, sadly that is more than what most people with disabilities get.
Maybe I just think differently though, I am a man on the autism spectrum after all. I am just blessed to be one that has more advantages resulting from being on the spectrum, advantages like being able to order my lunch unmolested.