i autistic » Dark Side » Do not rely on disability awards

Many disability awards function more like subjective beauty pageants than meritocratic competitions based on objective criteria. However, as with most NeuroTypical activities, the organisers will only reveal a few of these criteria to the applicants.

The award organisers have specific political aims and messages, which candidates must conform to. If the message is that autism is a disability, candidates must present themselves as “disabled-looking”. If the message is that autistic people are “differently abled”, then the autistic person must show competency in an ability that the organisers recognise.

The organisers may also have branding/reputation requirements. They may only accept candidates with specific qualifications, credentials or experiences. They may also require candidates to be backed by nominators with political influence, social status or membership in certain groups.

Candidates must meet the organiser’s expectations. Even if the awards are for candidates who break expectations, they must break them according to the organisers’ criteria, such as excellence in sports and arts, rather than providing community service as peers.

There may also be hidden agendas of the organiser to use autistic advocates to show their inclusiveness. For instance, a wealthy person, political party, or business may create a non-profit that gives out such awards but actually serves as a low-cost, subtle marketing campaign to showcase their “inclusiveness”.

Changing how we do advocacy work to qualify for awards will not be worthwhile. Do not expect to be recognised with an award even if we do meaningful and high quality autism work, and do not use awards to judge the quality of the autism work of other people. This is because the awards are not a statement about the quality and scope of our work, but how well we fit into the award organisers’ agendas, how much political support we have in the autism/disability community, and what subjective expectations the organisers have.