(Photo by Paul Morse/Wired.com)
Ari Ne’eman, An Inspiration
Ari Ne’eman is the President of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) and also serves on the National Council on Disability as appointed by President Obama. He strives to empower people with autism and sheds much needed light on the importance of celebrating the neurological diversity of people with disabilities. As someone who was diagnosed with autism at an early age, he has a real passion and dedication for this movement to shift the perception of “disabilities as weakness.”
Ne’eman grew up in New Jersey and was verbally advanced as a child, though struggled, like many autistic children, to be socially accepted. After being moved to a special education high school, he felt stifled and didn’t feel like he was being challenged enough. Ne’eman used his talents and passion for advocacy to return to mainstream schooling and immediately founded ASAN before moving forward to study Political Science at the University of Maryland.
Now at age 26, Ne’eman has a wide variety of accomplishments under his belt that rival those of most peers his age. However, it was not achieved without hardship and criticism. Before officially joining the Council on Disability his nomination was placed on hold by advocates who claimed that he didn’t have enough sympathy for others on the ASD spectrum and didn’t have the drive.
In a recent lecture at Cornell University, Ne’eman says, “It’s about changing the conversation from creating a world without autistic people, to creating one where autistic people are respected and enjoy the equality of opportunity.”
Students at Cornell welcomed this view and are now working on their own initiatives to promote neurodiversity within their own campus because they understand it to be part of a larger social justice movement. If Cornell University, an Ivy League college, can recognize the importance of including neurodiversity within their campus, then perhaps more colleges will begin to follow suit. It is definitely a move in the right direction.
Also part of Ne’eman’s initiative for change, ASAN partnered with Freddie Mac, a leading mortgage and finance company, to promote and fill four paid internship opportunities for recent graduates and current students on the autism spectrum. This opportunity allows them to gain invaluable experience and enter the workforce in a successful environment and one that definitely welcomes diversity. Launched in May 2012, Freddie Mac’s diversity initiatives have proven to be an asset to their company. Diversity Learning and Recruiting Manager, Stephanie Roemer adds, “Our interns are terrific workers who are not easily distracted.”
ICare4Autism also has a strong focus on integrating autistic people and promoting neurodiversity within higher education and ultimately the workforce through our own workforce initiatives, i.e., working with high school kids and young adults towards this end. Dr. Joshua Weinstein, Founder and CEO of ICare4Autism spoke on neurodiversity and deficit views at the AUTISM CONNECT conference hosted by Fordham University November 8th of last year where he stressed the importance of understanding Autistics as individuals with strengths and differences rather than individuals carrying a disease.
That being said, we are proud and honored to have such a strong advocate as Ne’eman as a guest speaker for our 2014 International Autism Conference hosted right here in New York City this upcoming June. We hope you will be just as inspired as we are!
For more information on this conference and how you can hear him speak for yourself, click here
For more information on ASAN, click here
Follow Ari Ne’eman on Twitter