Two days ago, I participated in a program called Reactor Room. I spoke in front of a panel of business leaders, social workers, and psychologists about my talents, skills, and experience in the workforce. I also talked about my current projects. Then I took questions and comments aimed at helping me to develop all of that into a successful career. It was nerve wracking, and I spent all day yesterday recovering, but it was a very positive experience overall.
Reactor Room is run by Dr. Heidi Stieglitz Ham as part of Spectrum Fusion, which is her vision of a community of adults on the autism spectrum who support each other and serve the global community with our abilities. She believes that we all have the potential to do great things, and I agree completely. That’s why I’m so glad to be a part of what she’s doing.
Unfortunately, some people don’t see autistic adults that way. The other Reactor Room participant is a writer/editor who is seeking opportunities in that field. A member of the panel he spoke to by the name of Denise Hazen voiced opposition to what Dr. Ham is trying to do, saying that my fellow Reactor Room participant will never find a job in writing. She thinks that Dr. Ham encourages unrealistic goals, helping autistic people find employment in their area of interest.
So what does Denise Hazen think is a realistic goal for adults on the autism spectrum? Manual labor. She employs them to produce trinkets that she sells in her program called Aspire Accessories. In return, they get training in a variety of retail-related skills and “fair wages.” Does that sound like minimum wage to you? It does to me.
And the stuff they produce isn’t cheap. Check out this leather, Texas-shaped keychain. Normally, you would expect a keychain to cost, what, about $5? Maybe $10 if it’s really nice? Well, this one costs $20. Sure, each one is hand made (by someone whose boss thinks they’d be lucky to have a job collecting grocery carts), but $20? Seriously?
Denise monopolized the conversation in order to promote her business, because that’s what she came for. She wasn’t there to help autistic people.