Last week I posted about the divide between professionals, parents, and self-advocates, questions raised because I knew I’d be walking into a conference that was intended to cater equally to all three. There were divides, yes, and some of them necessary, good divides, and others–not so much. There was some common ground as well. There was definitely a lot to think about.
In a past life, I worked for a very long time in the field of technical communications, information design, and web development. I managed a company-wide intranet and wrote most of the documentation for a telecommunications / software development company. It’s the sort of work that invariably starts with the question “who is the audience?” Because, well, writing a help file for customer service representatives is quite a different thing from writing a help file for a network engineer–or a troubleshooter. Context is then the second question: what does the audience need to get from the writing, how will the audience be using the information? Y’all expect complete sentences and something resembling good grammar in a blog post, but when you’re frustrated with a piece of software you don’t want to have to wade through walls of perfectly formed text–you want to see the solution to your problem instantly and fix it quickly. Speed of information retrieval is usually more important in software help files than proper grammar.
So, like, what does all that have to do with autism community divisions? Or a conference?
When Elesia and I were preparing our presentation on self-advocacy for people who use non-standard communication (focus on deaf and autism stuff), that question of audience and information usage was just as critical as it had been in my tech com days. Were we writing directly for speech/language professionals? For parents looking for things to teach their kids? Or were we writing this for people like ourselves? We had to write for all three audiences as best we could, but in the end decided to address the self-advocates as our primary audience. “I’ve sat through enough talks where a professional or parent talked about me ‘the client’ in third person, let them experience what it’s like for a change,” I even grumpily said. So our presentation made the assumption first and foremost that we were addressing our peers.
What does this have to do with questions of division within “the community?”
In some ways, yes, the divide is artificial and way more antagonistic online than it is in day-to-day “meatspace.” However, in some other ways the fact that audience and context matters may point to some more solid reasons for why the divide does, and likely will always, exist.
How do I protect myself from abuse when I am invariably far too trusting of others? –This is a question I ask for myself. Answers need to play to my skills and strengths.
How do I know if the person who looks after my daughter can be trusted not to abuse her? –This is a question a parent might ask. Answers need to play to the parent’s very different skills and strengths.
How do I teach the person I work with to have a better danger sense about others? –This is a question a professional might ask. Answers are in a different format here than for the parent or self-advocate.
The answers to these questions are, necessarily, different due to differences in perspective, motivation, and context. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s just a thing. Is there a way to make these different perspectives, motivations, and contexts complimentary and respectful instead of antagonistic and offensive?