FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Autistic Self Advocacy Network
AUTISTIC ADVOCACY GROUP CONDEMNS PRESIDENTIAL APPOINTMENT OF ANTI-VACCINE ACTIVIST PETER BELL
Recent appointee Peter Bell has a long history of supporting fringe, anti-vaccine positions widely discredited in the scientific community
Washington, DC – January 12, 2012 – The Autistic Self Advocacy Network, the nation’s leading advocacy group run by and for Autistic adults, today expressed concern and disappointment over President Obama’s announcement Tuesday of his intent to appoint anti-vaccine activist Peter H. Bell as a member of the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities.
“Bell’s appointment shows such contrast to the forward motion the Obama administration has shown in the areas of autism and disability as a whole,” said Melody Latimer, ASAN Director of Community Engagement and an autistic parent of autistic children herself.
Bell, Executive Vice President of Programs at Autism Speaks, has a long history of supporting anti-vaccination related causes, dating back to his time as President and CEO of Cure Autism Now, which merged with Autism Speaks in 2007. Despite wide ranging scientific evidence to the contrary, Bell and others in the anti-vaccine movement have long maintained the existence of a link, a position viewed as irresponsible by many public health advocates.
“The link between Autism and vaccines has long been discredited, and so an appointment placing an anti-vaccine leader in a position to influence a greater audience and re-open the issue is disappointing and ill-advised. We respect and appreciate the Obama Administration’s commitment to autism issues, but hope they will vet their appointees more carefully going forward,” Latimer noted.
Autism Speaks, Bell’s employer, has a checkered and controversial history. In 2009, Autism Speaks lashed out at the Department of Health and Human Services for refusing to incorporate research objectives connecting autism to vaccines in the Inter-Agency Autism Coordinating Committee’s Strategic Plan for Autism Research. In response to Autism Speaks’ disconnect from mainstream science on this question, several senior executives resigned from the organization in protest.
Autism Speaks has also been viewed with substantial controversy by Autistic people themselves, in large part due to the organization’s failure to meaningfully include individuals with the disability on their board of directors or in more than token roles in their senior leadership. Other criticisms of the organization include the low percentage of funds Autism Speaks invests in services, abnormally high executive salaries and what many have interpreted as deeply offensive advertising utilizing fear and pity to raise money. In 2009, the organization debuted its much-ridiculed video “I Am Autism” at the United Nations in New York City, presenting autism as an anthropomorphic force aiming to steal children. After widespread protests from Autistic adults across the country and criticisms from other disability organizations, Autism Speaks eventually pulled the promotional film.
The Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) is the nation’s leading advocacy organization run entirely by and for Autistic adults and youth. ASAN’s supporters include Autistic adults and youth, cross-disability advocates, family members, professionals, educators and friends. ASAN was created to provide support and services to individuals on the autism spectrum while working to change public perception and combat misinformation by educating communities about persons on the autism spectrum. The organization’s activities include public policy advocacy, community engagement to encourage inclusion and respect for neurodiversity, quality of life oriented research and the development of Autistic cultural activities and other opportunities for Autistic people to engage with others on the spectrum.