Ad Age is marking Disability Pride Month 2023 with our Honoring Creative Excellence package, in which members of the disability community revisit some of their favorite creative projects. (Read the introduction here.) Today, Rachel Lowenstein, the global head of inclusive innovation at Mindshare, writes about a self-portraiture project designed to give autistic creators “the stage to represent themselves.”
“You don’t look autistic.”… Pray tell, what does autism look like?
“My plumber’s 5-year-old nephew is autistic!”… Cool—what does that have to do with me, a grown woman?
“You must be really high-functioning.”… Do you think it’s humane to call someone “low-functioning”? Never mind the fact that my outward presentation has nothing to do with my support needs that I’m hiding from you for fear of rejection.
I was diagnosed as autistic at 30. At 32, I’m exhausted by these phrases that thousands of autistic folks hear every day who don’t fit the stereotype of white savant boy. I can’t wholly blame people who say this. Media’s representation of autism is abysmal.
Type in “autism” into any search engine and the results are all:
• Stereotypes (a disability that only young, white boys experience)
• Exclusions (few women, girls, BIPOC or LGBTQ+)
• Harmful imagery (puzzle pieces, which the autistic community rejects as an icon given that it implies negative sentiments about autism)
For decades, non-autistic-led organizations and media have spread stereotypes about the autistic community, portraying autistic people as burdens or puzzles to solve. At best, these representations fail to capture the diverse experiences of being autistic. At the worst, they actively harm us. The way autism has been represented in the media has a significant impact on how we’re treated in society, especially for women and BIPOC.
As a leader in media who is autistic, I knew we could endeavor to undo these stereotypes.
Getty Images, Mindshare and Hiki are moving to smash stereotypes around autism by creating an image bank of self-portraits by diverse autistic creators. Launched at Cannes Lions 2023, we call it #AutisticOutLoud—a self-portraiture project that is in direct opposition to the ways autistic voices have been spoken over by giving the community the stage to represent themselves. By being part of Getty’s commercial platform, we hope to provide economic opportunities for autistic people in addition to changing autism’s representation in media, especially given that 80%+ of autistic adults are underemployed or unemployed. Hiki is an app that connects autistic people, given the loneliness epidemic in the community. Hiki is helping to connect autistic voices to each other and their role in this project is to connect us into mainstream culture.