WAAD 2019: Assistive technologies / by Erich Kofmel

The United Nations has announced the theme for this year's UN World Autism Awareness Day, 2 April 2019: "Assistive Technologies, Active Participation"


They write: "Autism awareness has grown worldwide in recent years. For the United Nations, the rights of persons with disabilities, including persons with autism, as enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), are an integral part of its mandate.

"When world leaders adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in 2015, the international community reaffirmed its strong commitment to inclusive, accessible and sustainable development, and pledged that no one would be left behind. In this context, the participation of persons with autism as both agents and beneficiaries is essential for the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

"For many people on the autism spectrum, access to affordable assistive technologies is a prerequisite to being able to exercise their basic human rights and participate fully in the life of their communities, and thereby contribute to the realization of the SDGs. Assistive technology can reduce or eliminate the barriers to their participation on an equal basis with others.

"The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities acknowledges the instrumental role of assistive technologies in enabling persons with disabilities to exercise their rights and freedoms. It obliges States that are party to the Convention to promote availability and use of such technologies at an affordable cost, to facilitate access to them, and to undertake or promote research and development into new such technologies.

"While technological advances are continuous, there are still major barriers to the use of assistive technologies, including high costs, lack of availability, lack of awareness of their potential, and a lack of training in their use. Available data indicates that, in several developing countries, more than 50% of the persons with disabilities who need assistive devices are not able to receive them.

"In September 2018, the UN Secretary-General launched a new Strategy on New Technologies, which aims to define how the United Nations system will support the use of these technologies to accelerate the achievement of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. The Strategy is also intended to facilitate the alignment of these technologies with the values enshrined in the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the norms and standards of International Law, including the CRPD and other human rights conventions. These values include equality and equity, inclusion and transparency. Design and use of new technologies, according to the Strategy, should be guided by a rights-based and ethical perspective.

"In the context of the Secretary-General's Strategy, the 2019 World Autism Awareness Day observance at UN Headquarters in New York will focus on leveraging the use of assistive technologies for persons with autism as a tool in removing the barriers to their full social, economic and political participation in society, and in promoting equality, equity and inclusion. Topics to be addressed through discussions with self-advocates and experts include:
- The Internet and digital communities: Leveling the playing field
- Independent living: Smart home technology and more
- Education and employment: Communication and executive functioning
- Telemedicine: Opening the doors to healthcare
- The right to be heard: Political participation and advocacy

"In 2008, The United Nations General Assembly unanimously declared 2 April as World Autism Awareness Day. The 2019 observance of the Day at UN Headquarters is organized by the UN Department of Global Communications and Department of Economic and Social Affairs, in close cooperation with persons with autism and their representative organizations."

While we can't speak for other autistic-led self-advocacy organizations, no one from the UN has reached out to seek the input of Autistic Minority International. We are also concerned about the ongoing distinction made between self-advocates and "experts". As actually autistic people, we are the real experts on our lives.

The programme hasn't been announced yet, but if you are planning to be in New York, you can already RSVP.

[Update 2 April 2019: The programme for the WAAD event at UN headquarters has finally been posted (was still not up two days ago):


It would appear that the last session has been turned over to pro-ABA speakers. Two speakers, including one autistic self-advocate, represent the Global Autism Project, a third speaker is an ABA practitioner from Kenya. The Global Autism Project uses language of autism acceptance, but in reality "recruits professionals in the field of behavior analysis to travel to partner sites and participate in training". When contacted about collaborating with them in 2018, Autistic Minority International informed them that we are strongly opposed to Applied Behaviour Analysis and similar forms of "therapies" aimed at normalization and behaviour modification, often experienced as abusive by autistic children and adults and disrespectful of our autistic identity, and therefore horrified at all these attempts at exporting ABA to developing countries, such as the Autism Speaks/WHO Global Autism Public Health Initiative or the Global Autism Project.

There's also an unfortunate post by the self-advocate invited to speak at the UN on the "semantics war" on the Global Autism Project website, regarding identity-first language. Non-autistic people need to listen to actually autistic persons and our own preferences, not that of others. It would be wrong if autistic people use "with autism" just to placate their audience (or "target" group) made up of parents and professionals. They need to change, not us.

Presumably, the event will be webcast live and/or archived on UN Web TV: http://webtv.un.org/ ]