Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Interview on Employment of Autistic People, by Alec Frazier and Autistic Reality

Please note that my answers are definitely not exhaustive, but are rather a combination of what is true to me, and what answers I find to be least given by other people.
  • What does inclusiveness and accessibility mean to you in the workplace?
Autism is a social and behavioral disability. Therefore, to me, inclusiveness and accessibility in the workplace means a kind, understanding staff. It also means office social situations that I can easily become acclimated to. I recognize that some autistic people have a harder time becoming acclimated than others, but I also understand that some are unwilling. In my opinion, being willing to acclimate to certain social situations as much is comfortably possible can help one in business tremendously. There are meetings to go to, presentations to give, and coworkers to get along with.
  • What are some of the challenges facing autistic people who are in traditional workplaces, particularly due to a lack of accommodations or accessibility?
Interestingly, the least accessible workplace I have ever been in was an independent living center in Buffalo, New York. This is highly ironic, given that independent living centers are disability-run, and are supposed to be the most accommodating workplaces in the country. This was definitely not true of this business. My immediate boss yelled at me and belittled me every single day—often until I cried, one of the receptionists repeatedly told me I did not work there, the IT staffer told me to “fuck off” repeatedly, and the entire place was run by three members of the same immediate family, in the most glaringly obvious ethics violation I have ever encountered. Sadly, the autistic community often encounters staff members with bad attitudes or lack of understanding.
  • What can employers, coworkers, hiring managers, HR departments, etc. do to better support autistic employees?
As a contrast, my current employer, the Executive Vice President of Diversity at BBDO Worldwide, a large advertising firm, recognizes that I have my own idiosyncrasies, odd behaviors, and needs for accommodation. In terms of the odd behaviors, he actually encourages them! He is the nicest boss I could ever imagine! He understands that a large part of inclusion is a good attitude and being tolerant of people who are mentally and emotionally different. He and I love to tell jokes, talk about our personal lives and our work experience, and get all geeky and nerdy together! HR departments need to recognize that not everybody is going to fit the same behavioral mold, and that just because someone is goofy, geeky, or “weird”, does not mean that they are necessarily a bad employee or job candidate.
  • What stereotypes or myths have you come across about autistic people that affect how autistic people are treated in the workplace?
One stereotype is that we are all into things like math and computer science. That is absolute hogwash. While it is true that autistic people tend to fixate on specific issues, there is nothing about the autistic population that guarantees that we will all be mathematicians or scientists. I, for example, am interested in things like history, political science, and architecture. Another stereotype is that we are, by and large, completely socially inept. In reality, social experience can often lead to us being quite savvy to the moods and emotions of others. It has for me.
  • Can you give me a specific example of different things that help you succeed in the workplace? Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve had to ask for your workplace to be made more accessible to you?
This plays into another stereotype, which says that sensory issues are inherently severe for the autistic population. First off, the sensory diagnosis is actually separate from autism, and has gone by various names such as Sensory Integration Disorder and Sensory Processing Disorder. This is often quite severe in many autistics, but that is not always the case. In addition, our tolerance for sensory overload can be grown and expanded with experience. As I mentioned earlier, many of us in the activism world are not interested in growing that tolerance. I respectfully disagree, as growing my tolerance for sensory exposure has allowed me to become a better worker, a better friend, a more integrated member of society, and a more independent adult. That said, I have asked that my workplaces be aware of my sensory issues and be more accommodating. The abusive workplace I was in earlier demanded medical documentation, when all I wanted was for the break room lights to be off for five minutes. My job for BBDO Worldwide actually has a dark study room/library built specifically so that the bright lights of the office do not overwhelm the workers all the time.
  • Are there any common workplace trends that you feel employers need to re-think in order to make the workplace/office more inclusive? (For example, Skype interviews or open office plans)
My biggest suggestion is actually not for the workplaces, but for the training of potential employees. Throughout school, throughout social skills classes, throughout job training seminars (of which there were plenty), throughout vocational rehab, throughout job counseling (which was seemingly endless in my case), a clear majority of the training involved putting together a resume and filling out an application. Although it is sometimes a relatively recent development, workplaces no longer rely solely on resumes and applications when hiring people. Networking, networking, networking is the skill that gets at least half of America their jobs in today’s society. This is actually not as new as it seems. Back in the day, giving your friend a job was not a big deal. The difference between then and now is that now employers are looking to hire qualified employees because they know them well, and they know that they are right for the job. In Buffalo, New York, I applied for at least one hundred and fifty jobs in a row without even hearing back. It’s not like I was declined, but I never even heard back! Three days after I moved to Washington, DC, I was invited to the mother of all networking events at the Obama White House and met my current boss. We Skyped, talked by phone, and one day he offered me a job that I didn’t even apply for. Not just that, but it is a well-paying job, with lots of benefits. And, it is terrifically fun to work at! This is a perfect example of how training those entering the workforce needs to stop focusing entirely on resumes and applications and start focusing on networking!
  • Have you ever worked remotely, or do you have anything to say about the benefits of working remotely or flexible working hours for autistic employees?
In fact, I am working remotely right now. What I do is not like telework. Instead, I set aside some time to do my job, which involves creating written content, and editing other people’s written content. A large part of my job also involves traveling and experiencing things so that I may write about them and attending conferences and meetings in various localities such as New York City and Boston. My hours are up to my discretion, and the location where I do my work—often at my laptop—is also up to my discretion. I do realize that not everybody can have a job this flexible, but it has proven extremely beneficial. Many of the experiences I have for my work are extremely fun, and I get compensated for writing about them. It also allows me to set my own leisure time.
  • How would you like to be quoted: Name, pronouns, and a very brief one-sentence bio
Alec Frazier is an editor and disability rights advocate from Washington, DC.

This blog posting is both the personal opinion of Alec Frazier, and the professional policy of his advocacy firm, Autistic Reality. If you oppose it, please screen grab it! We are very proud of this opinion!

Monday, February 19, 2018

We Are All in This Together: Lessons in Advocacy from Marvel’s Black Panther (2018), by Alec Frazier and Autistic Reality

Warning! May contain spoilers!

Alec Frazier (center) seeing Black Panther with his friends Kenny (left) and Heidi (right)
Last night some friends of mine and I went to see Marvel’s Black Panther. We were completely blown away by the storyline, and by the leadership of the African-American community in making this film. It is, on that front, a tremendous civil-rights landmark.

The film stars Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, King of the fictional African nation of Wakanda, and its protector as the Black Panther. This nation is the most technologically advanced civilization on earth, and is far, far ahead of the rest of the world. This raises an interesting quandary, as the King is encouraged by various others to share his kingdom’s knowledge and technology with the rest of the world.

Let us not kid ourselves: even the best-off nations in the world can use some help. The United States is rife with gun violence, poverty, and corrupt politics. Those are just a few of our problems. However, no one society on earth should have the right to claim superiority above the rest. This is part of what motivates T’Challa not to meddle in global affairs, in addition to a long-standing tradition of noninterference from his ancestors.

Enter N’Jadaka also known as Erik “Killmonger” Stevens, played by Michael B. Jordan, a rival to the throne, who has grown up amongst the urban poor African population in the United States. He is feeling hurt, betrayed, and angry at the way the African ethnic group has been routinely abused and mistreated around the world. He seizes control of Wakanda, and attempts to use their advanced resources, and more importantly, their more advanced weapons, to arm the marginalized African community around the world. He wishes to start a global revolution.

Nevertheless, by the end of the film, T’Challa defeats Killmonger, and offers Wakanda’s aid, science, and technology to the rest of the world.

At the end of the film, T’Challa gives a speech at the United Nations in which he says, “We have spent far too long focusing on what sets us apart, when we share so much in common.” At this point, in the audience, we at Autistic Reality shouted, “Thank you! That’s what we have been saying for years!” and the audience clapped.

There are obvious parallels between T’Challa and Killmonger and today’s society. Believe it or not, there are parallels between these two and the autistic advocacy community.

The traditional Wakandan point of view about the world has some parallels with the view of Autism Speaks, an advocacy organization run by parents and caregivers. The traditional Wakandan point of view states that other nations are naturally inferior, and that Wakanda should not get involved in world affairs. Meanwhile, Autism Speaks believes that the autistic population is naturally inferior, and that autistic people do not have a right to equal involvement in the world.

Killmonger’s point of view is that Africans in general, and Wakandans in specific, are superior to the rest of the world, and that they should overtake it by means of a violent revolution and rule it. Various groups such as the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) draw parallels to Killmonger. Whether or not it is their stated policy, members of organizations such as ASAN repeatedly voice their own superiority to the rest of the world, and even threaten violence against people with whom they disagree. Even when they are not threatening violence, they are needlessly combative, focusing more and more on identity politics than the commonalities which draw us altogether. In fact, the same feelings felt by Killmonger, hurt, betrayal, and anger, are often turned into emotions and actions of hostility, superiority, and separatism by organizations such as ASAN and their members.

Meanwhile, at our firm, Autistic Reality, we feel a strong parallel with T’Challa’s policies at the end of the film. T’Challa has decided to use the unique resources available to him and his kingdom to help the world become a better place. As an autistic individual, I feel that I have a unique worldview, and experiences from which I can gain knowledge to better help the world. In addition, I have other resources at my disposal, thanks in large part to networking, befriending people, and overall getting along with individuals and organizations whether they are autism-centric or not. I could care less if you are fat, thin, gay, straight, black, white, transgender, cisgender, old, young, disabled, or nondisabled. Are you a good person? Do you seek to better yourself and those around you? If you do, then I believe in your potential.

T’Challa’s speech at the United Nations plays into a philosophy I have had of the world for years, long before the release of the film Black Panther: we are all human, and our common, shared identity is the most important attribute we have. Too many people play identity politics, squabbling amongst each other, instead of focusing on the fact that any benefits we make should serve society. When we are separate, we are small minority groups. When we are together, we are humanity; we are one!

Wakanda forever!

Together forever!

This blog posting is both the personal opinion of Alec Frazier, and the professional policy of his advocacy firm, Autistic Reality. If you oppose it, please screen grab it! We are very proud of this opinion!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

My Avatar Story, by Alec Frazier and Autistic Reality

> What is your ‘Avatar story’ from when you first saw it?
Me at the Valley of Mo’ara on Pandora
When Avatar first came out, I heard the mumblings and then rumors of what a fantastic, world-changing film it was. Then, late in December 2009, I saw a bit on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart where correspondent John Oliver reported from Pandora. I was intrigued, to say the least, but still not sure that Avatar deserved all the praise it was getting. However, the rumor mill was working full-time, and I finally saw the film on January 6, 2010. My life was forever changed. I have always been a consummate geek, and this film was, to me, the best of geekery, as well as having many messages that were completely in line with my worldview.

> What struck you the most about Avatar?
Producer John Landau, Neytiri, and Yasu at Lightstorm Entertainment.
Identity has always been incredibly important to me. Fiction involving identity and revelations about identity have always struck me extremely potently. Jake finding his identity and finally becoming it moved me to my core. The way that the identity message figures in with messages about tolerance and acceptance only makes it more vital. Nevertheless, we should not let identity politics drive us apart, and I am extremely thankful that the Na’vi teach this lesson in the film.

> What did it mean to you?
Me with Jake Sully’s Wheelchair
I live my life every day with more than ten disabilities including autism, bipolar, and sensory integration issues. The fact that the main character has a disability himself, and that he can save an entire world while living with those disabilities has, in my mind, done a tremendous amount for disability civil rights. I am aware that the actor himself does not have those disabilities, but the fact that he was required to play a nondisabled role as well would have made it difficult for someone without use of their legs to play the role. I know for a fact that there will be disabled actors in the sequels.

> How did it affect you?
With my Avatar on Flight of Passage on Pandora
Because the film perfectly encapsulated how I felt about the world and where it should go, I was able to refer to it when voicing my philosophical, political, and even religious ideals. I believe in cooperation and was able to join a fandom that cooperated to bring reality to the values which I hold most dear. As a disability rights advocate, I teach of how honest work and good intent can change the world for the better. This film is absolute confirmation of those facts.

> What themes in the film/story/world resonated with you the most?
Valley of Mo’ara on Pandora
My entire life’s philosophy is based upon optimism and a positive worldview. This film showed a world where you could live in harmony with the planet—in this case, literally—and triumph over many adversities. As mentioned before, I have many disabilities, and I am also gay. Nevertheless, I believe that we are all human, and that we all have the right and ability to work together for a better future.

> What connections did you make with other fans?
Linda Drumming in Swotu Wayä Na'vi Drum Ceremony on Pandora
At first, I was vaguely aware of fan efforts to show some love for this phenomenal franchise. This all became abundantly clear when I learned about AvatarMeet 2014, when the group was set to visit Lightstorm Entertainment. I messaged them, and emailed those in charge, which got the ball rolling.

> How did you connect with other fans?

With Producer Jon Landau at Lightstorm Entertainment
Initially, it was difficult, as there was no official Facebook page for the Meetup. I joined some of the Avatar web forums, but due to ADD and writing disabilities, among other reasons, forums are not a natural virtual space for me to inhabit, so there was quite a bit of emailing. We also used the resources that the AvatarMeet homepage keeps to help us keep in touch and apprised of each other’s situations.

> What was the easiest way to connect?
Omaticaya Clan in Cirque du Soleil’s Toruk - The First Flight
At some point after the first Meetup I attended in 2014, a Facebook group page was created for all of us to interact. This has been incredibly useful, both in arranging Meetups, and in keeping in touch day to day. AvatarMeet has dozens of attendees from around the world, and Facebook really is the easiest and most convenient way to keep in touch. For example, I take a great deal of photos as a hobby and can share them on the page. My career also involves me generating a lot of content based on my experiences, and the Facebook page has become a place where I can share that content.

> What were some of the best things that happened to you because of Avatar.
Ikxeru Syoapìwopx Celebrates his Birthday with Me at Satu'li Canteen on Pandora
As an autistic person, it has always been much more difficult to make friends. AvatarMeet and fandom of Avatar in general has allowed me to make many, many, many wonderful friends. As mentioned, some of these friends are from all over the globe. I laugh with them, I cry with them, I eat with them, and their several whom I love dearly as compatriots in the fandom.
Dr. Paul Frommer Teaches Na’vi at his Home
In addition, the organized fandom of AvatarMeet has allowed me to meet many wonderful people who are involved in the creation of Avatar itself. I have gotten to meet many the filmmakers at the 2014 Meetup and have met many the circus performers from the Cirque du Soleil show online. Heck, Dr. Paul Frommer, the inventor of the Na’vi language, is a very, very dear friend, and he and his partner have even invited us to their house in the Hollywood Hills for a party during the 2014 Meetup.

> Were there any bad things that happened as a result of your Avatar experience.
AvatarMeet 2014
No, not really. There have been two or three people I’ve met in the fandom who have turned out to kind of be jerks, or one or two who are not always too nice, but otherwise, my Avatar experience has been phenomenally good.

> How long did your interest in Avatar last?
AvatarMeet 2017
I am still incredibly interested in Avatar. In November of last year, just three months ago, I went to the last AvatarMeet in Florida to visit the theme park and the Kennedy Space Center, both of which had tremendous impacts on me. In my apartment, I have several memorabilia items displayed, and they include my Na’vi knife, my avatar, and my Ikran. I also have several Avatar books, some of which have been signed by people involved in the franchise, including Paul Frommer and John Landau.

> What keeps you interested in Avatar?
With Friends at Pongu Pongu on Pandora at AvatarMeet 2017
Forgive me, but at the risk of sounding like a broken record, the friends, positive message, and compatibility with my own opinions and beliefs sustains my interest in Avatar

> How would you like to see the fandom evolve?
Mr. Avatar’s Truck at Lighstorm Entertainment
I would like to see the Avatar fandom grow and become even bigger, even more global, and even more diverse. I am noticing that the fandom is mostly white, and it would be great to expand that to all racial identities. One positive thing about the fandom as of right now is that there is a large LGBTQ population within the fandom. In addition to its growth, I would like to see the fandom stay progressive, fun-loving, environmentally friendly, and tolerant and accepting of fans from all different walks of life. It is amazing that at a Meetup, I can be talking to an IT professional from Germany, a lab technician from Virginia, a barista from Seattle, and a man who takes care of big cats in Nevada.

> What is missing?
Finale of Cirque du Soleil’s Toruk - The First Flight
In my opinion, it would be great to show Na’vi with developmental disabilities. Jake Sully was an awesome role model as a character with physical disabilities, and as a veteran, but many people today, myself included, are living full and productive lives with conditions such as autism, cerebral palsy, depression, and other developmental disabilities. In my case, for example, I have at least ten developmental disabilities including autism, and I work as an editor at a major advertising firm, and as a disability rights advocate, doing public speaking, lobbying, and even meeting with national legislators. If avatar has shown us anything, it is that we can decide what our limits are, instead of letting them define us.
Some of My Avatar Autographs
In addition, it would be totally amazing to show some Na’vi living in homosexual or even polyamorous relationships. A scientist named Christopher Ryan has proven that monogamy is not natural for human beings, having only developed as recently as we started holding property. In addition, homosexuality is incredibly natural, just as natural as it is to breathe or hydrate. I can completely understand if the former tendency may be too radical to show in the sequels, or at least early in the sequels, but the Na’vi live in harmony with their world, which should include sexual identity.
Jon Landau’s Autograph
I have had a discussion on these matters with Jon Landau, and he says he is incredibly in favor of showing diversity and teaching lessons in diversity by using the characters in the films, but he did say was that we must be careful not to beat people over the head with these ideas. I agree completely, as people exist with their identities, instead of the other way around.

> And here’s a biggy, how do you think you will feel if/when there is a large influx of returning and new Avatar fans, when the next Avatar films hits the cinemas?

My Na'vi persona Älexänter te Frayzer Txawnält'itan astride my Ikran Tìronsrel
I will say, “Kaltxì”, and welcome them with open arms! I would like them to acknowledge that there is already a thriving fan community, including an official get-together, AvatarMeet, and I want them to feel free to join, as well as ask questions if they have them. Our clan is always growing and is welcoming towards others! They should also know that there is no official litmus test to be an Avatar fan, and that everyone is welcome, so long as they respect others, and the world around them!
Night Time on Pandora
This blog posting is both the personal opinion of Alec Frazier, and the professional policy of his advocacy firm, Autistic Reality. If you oppose it, please screen grab it! We are very proud of this opinion!

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

A Hollywood Titan on Diversity in Film: Alec Frazier of Autistic Reality Quizzes Jon Landau of Lightstorm Entertainment

Me with Jon Landau
In 2014, I was privileged enough to visit Lightstorm Entertainment with AvatarMeet. One of our activities was a question-and-answer session with a number of the filmmakers and other people involved in the making of the Avatar franchise. What follows is my exchange with producer Jon Landau, one of the smartest, most successful people in Hollywood, after I asked him about involving disability and other forms of diversity in film.

Me: I’m interested in that uh, you have this great environmental message but another message that I’ve liked a whole lot about Avatar is the message of tolerance and so I’m wondering about uh, I have a general part of this question and then specifically… I’m wondering how you’re willing to in general enforce tolerance, will not enforce but address tolerance in the movies and specifically things like sexual orientation, religion, race, and disability, things like that. So I’m wondering if any of the future movies will deal with that, or will feature that in any way, and uh, and my general question is if they will go further to promote tolerance.

Jon Landau: Well look, I think that, a general answer? Yes. When you say feature something, it always makes me nervous.

Me: No I don’t…

Jon Landau: No, no, no. I’m just saying, cause we work on stuff creatively. When you push something to the forefront, I think it has much less of an impact than one you play it in the…

Me: I agree.

Jon Landau: …background. So, featuring things I don’t think, you know will continue to exist. But, that sense, I mean I really see the future movies again, not about Na’vi versus human, but is about the choices we make. It’s about good versus evil. It’s about are you a good Na’vi, are you a bad Na’vi. Are you a good human, are you a bad human. How do you become accepting of other people and their differences. So I think those things, those thematic themes are going to play out and it’s important for us, because those are universal themes. They are not American jingoistic themes. And as we make movies in today’s world, we have to do it for a global audience and we have to, you know, attract people in and let them discover the types of things we’re talking about, and not be beating them over the head Of discovery for them, and we’re really looking at this, and while each movie will complete itself as a story arc, and I say that Jim [Cameron] twice has done sequels, I argue that both times they have at least lived up to if not been better than the first movies, but they were complete movies, so we have to do that and some of our themes that remain in the end are themes that are really gonna take the full story arc to play out, but I think that’s okay um, andwith them, let it be a journey, a journey…    

Me: That’s what I believe, too.

Jon Landau: …at the end, as we talked about we want to make movies that, that affect people, and have an impact on their lives, and how they see the world, as they move forward.

Me: Just in the interest of full disclosure, I don’t like being labeled. People exist, that’s what I think that they…

Jon Landau: Look, I’m going to use the movie “An Inconvenient Truth”. I went through it, I enjoyed it, but their preaching to the people they already converted. What you have to do is you have to, like the first Avatar does, people have heard me say this before, it begins and ends with Jake opening his eyes. So what we need to do is get people to come in, and they may think that their eyes are open, but they’re really not. Because if through our films we can get people to open their eyes and see things differently, then we’ve been successful.

This blog posting is both the personal opinion of Alec Frazier, and the professional policy of his advocacy firm, Autistic Reality. If you oppose it, please screen grab it! We are very proud of this opinion!

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Be Heard: Je suis prest (I am ready), by Alec Frazier, Autistic Reality, and NOH8

Autistic Reality’s NOH8 Campaign Photo
My name is Alec Frazier. I am currently 31, and I have known I was gay for a little over 10 years now. I have been fortunate enough to have an extremely accepting family and group of friends. In community college, I was surrounded by a number of students and staff who tried to make my life hell. In part it was because I am gay, yes, but also because I have a number of disabilities which have impacted me throughout my life. These disabilities include but are not limited to autism, OCD, bipolar, and ADD.

For a great deal of my life I was surrounded by people who feared what they did not understand, and hated what they feared. Of course, because of the disabilities, people did not understand me. As I mentioned, I have always had supportive family and some supportive friends, as well as a number of supportive educators. These people enabled me to advocate for myself. I started advocating as early as third grade in 1994, and had impacted state education policy as early as eighth grade in 1999.

I am a firm believer in viewing the world as a glass half-full scenario. I believe that everybody is capable of good, and that they have the power to make good choices. As I have grown up, I have gotten my undergraduate and masters degrees, and moved to the Washington, DC area to help better impact national policy for the LGBTQ and disabled populations. I run a firm called Autistic Reality, am published, employed in a job I love, tons of friends, and continue to make our voices heard on the national level. Everyone has the power to make their voice heard. I would like to encourage all of you to stay in touch with your politicians, and do other things to make sure that our voices never go silent.

I have a key philosophy in life. I believe that there are three levels to our identities. First off, we are all human, and whatever our differences, we all share more in common than what sets us apart. Second, I believe that we are all unique individuals with our own likes and dislikes, quirks, hobbies, and reactions. Third, I believe that, as humans, we express that second tier through any number of identities. Some identities we are born with, such as sexuality and gender, and other identities we choose, such as religion and political affiliation. These three tiers of identity are each vitally important, and, when expressed correctly, help us to maximize our potential and become the best people we can be.

I would like to thank the NOH8 Campaign for standing on the side of loveacceptance, and cooperation.

Thank you, my wonderful friends, for going on this beautiful journey with me!

This blog posting is both the personal opinion of Alec Frazier, and the professional policy of his advocacy firm, Autistic Reality. Coloring, bolding, and photography was done by the NOH8 Campaign. If you oppose it, please screen grab it! We are very proud of this opinion!

Friday, January 26, 2018

The Customers Can Go to Hell: A Review of Ithaca Dispatch, by Alec Frazier and Autistic Reality

I have been many places in my life, but the place I like to call my hometown is Ithaca, New York. Like many people, indeed, a great majority of people on earth, I do not drive. And, until the advent of Uber and Lyft, those who do not drive have been royally screwed by the cab companies in upstate New York. This piece shall attempt to review the primary taxicab company in Tompkins County, New York, Ithaca Dispatch. I shall recount a number of individual experiences, as well as some general traits of said company.

Uber and Lyft came late to upstate New York. In part, the disability community is to blame, for refusing to allow them until various accessibility standards were met. I have been a disability rights advocate since at least 1994, and I have at least a dozen. While I greatly respect a number of people in the disability community who have tried to prevent Uber and Lyft from coming to the area, I respectfully disagree. In upstate New York, many of the towns do not have public transportation, and even in those that do, taxicabs are often the only option to fall back upon. And, given these facts, one would expect taxicab companies to be reliable, courteous, professional, and very good to customers.

They are not. They don’t even try to be. As mentioned, this review shall focus on Ithaca Dispatch, which holds an extreme monopoly on all taxicab services in Tompkins County, New York. There are a couple of other companies, but they each have only a couple of cars. In name, there are a number of cab companies in town, but almost all of them are owned by Ithaca Dispatch. In all but name, they are one company. You are stuck with them. And, until Uber and Lyft came to town, they knew that they were the only game in town, and proceeded to make the customer’s life a living hell. In fact, they still do, but the difference is that now there is an alternative.

Ithaca Dispatch is corrupt to the core. One way in which they are corrupt is their fare system. They have flat rates dividing the region they cover into zones. This may seem like a good idea, but they have pulled one over on us. Each zone is always measured from the center of downtown Ithaca. For example, if you live in the town of Lansing, and want to go to the supermarket in the town of Lansing, you will be charged the same fare as if you were going from downtown Ithaca to the town of Lansing. This ends up being $13-$15, without tip. The actual amount is somewhat flexible, as drivers like to stiff you for cash, and Ithaca Dispatch lets them get away with it. Uber charges around six dollars for the same trip.

The cabs are often very unclean, and absolutely falling apart. The company prides themselves on passing inspection, but the inspections they pass are subject to just as much corruption as anything else the company does. There is bribery, inside manipulation, and the fact that the company de facto regulates its own inspections. The company often does have some wheelchair accessible vehicles, but they do not keep them in reserve for wheelchair users. Instead, they assign them like any other cabs. One time, we said we needed a cab with a lot of room, so we got a wheelchair cab when we would have been fine with a van. We then proceeded to take it all the way from Ithaca, New York to Syracuse, New York, thus potentially depriving someone with a disability of a necessary ride for absolutely no reason.

Dispatch itself is absolutely rude, and brags about that fact. As has been noted by a seemingly endless number of other reviewers, they hang up on you without telling you the estimated arrival time for your cab. If you do ask them for an estimated arrival time, they will say “a few minutes”, or “on its way”. Sometimes you will have to call back to ask for an estimated arrival time. Sometimes, in fact, frequently, they will refuse to give you one. If they do, in fact, give you an actual number of minutes, it will, without fail, be incorrect. I say all this as someone who has over ten years experience using this company frequently because there was no other alternative. At one point, I took the dispatcher to task and told him it was his job to know where his cabs are and what time they would arrive. He actually said to me, verbatim, “Yeah, it is, but I’m not in the habit of being convenient.” Other times, they will actually yell at you and swear at you.

The drivers for the cab company do not care about customers, or, if they do, they absolutely hate you. A great number of the drivers to not live in town. One particular driver who has been driving for over ten years likes to brag about the fact that he does not care where things are in town. At one point I told him I wanted to go to Viva! Taqueria in the center of town. He pulled up to the main intersection in town and asking where it was. I asked him how long he had been driving in the town, and then asked him why he didn’t know where things were in town, to which he said he just didn’t care. I told him to look out his right-hand window, and there was Viva! Taqueria. This very same driver has had disgusting toilet issues every single time I’ve taken a ride with him, at one point farting all over the customers in the cab.

There have been endless other times of cab drivers bragging about not knowing where things are in the town where they work. Not a single cab driver knows where the County Chamber of Commerce is, despite the fact that it is the official visitor center for the county. Other drivers intentionally get in political arguments with you. One started by saying, “You know, the Constitution doesn’t guarantee us safe drinking water.” Unfortunately, he picked the wrong person to argue with, as I have known every word of the Constitution verbatim since fifth grade and now have a college degree in the matter. Another time, when I had gotten out to use the ATM, the cabdriver started to drive around with his taxi doors open and my things falling out. When I got back to the car, he denied ever doing that, and then admitted it a few minutes later. Drivers will often include other parties in your cab without consulting you, often drawing out your trip significantly. Initially, I thought that this was just incredibly inconvenient. It turns out that it is actually against state law to include other parties in a taxicab without the consent of all parties. Unfortunately, very few people know that, and it is one of the more minor infractions perpetrated by Ithaca Dispatch.

I wanted to devote a paragraph to the lovely Miss Sue*. Sue hates her job, hates her boss, hates the law, and you can damn well bet that she hates you. I have been in her cab a number of times over more than ten years. She has never had her legally required paperwork on her. At one point, a fellow passenger asked her why it wasn’t present, and she laughed and said that breaking the law was fun. Another time, she refused to accept my credit card, even though company policy required that she accept it. I had to call her boss to make sure she would take it, but only after she had given me a lot of grief. A few times, I have had misfortune when in her cab. The last time, in fact, I have accidentally hit my head on the trunk door of her cab. She thought this was hilarious, and laughed profusely. Sue hates me. Sue hates you. Sue hates all customers. One time, she picked me up and I started to say, “Hello. How are you today?” only to be confronted by her yelling at me for no reason whatsoever. If Ithaca Dispatch were not run by absolutely corrupt individuals, she would have been fired years ago.

It should be mentioned that there is absolutely no grievance process. There is a number for complaints, but it just goes to one of the dispatchers. As mentioned, the dispatchers do not want to do their job, and brag about the fact, and make no secret of the fact that they hate you. One time, the dispatchers left me sitting in three feet of snow for over an hour and a half. When my cab finally arrived, he said the call had only just gone out five minutes earlier. In other words, the dispatchers just wanted me to suffer. I can assure you, from reading other reviews, that they have wanted other customers to suffer as well.

Do not place a timed call with Ithaca Dispatch. A number of drivers have confirmed to me that timed calls are not noted. They have said that in almost all cases, dispatch waits for the impatient or angry customer to call asking for their cab, and then dispatches it. Also, if drivers do not care about the layout of their town, then dispatch has actual disdain for the facts of where places are located. A number of times, I have asked to be picked up at the Tops supermarket on Southside. Dispatch has told me that they do not know what Southside is, but that there is a Tops downtown and a Tops in Lansing. As any local can tell you, the Tops in Ithaca proper is quite far from downtown. In fact, I used to work at the town zoning commission, and there are at least three neighborhoods between downtown and Southside. Heck, the entire reason why Southside was established was to take various businesses out of downtown. Dispatch doesn’t care. They will yell at you and curse at you some more. It’s what they love doing.

Uber and Lyft have finally come to upstate New York. The managers of Ithaca Dispatch wrote a lengthy editorial in the local papers, riddled with spelling and grammatical mistakes, demanding that these new services be subject to the same legal requirements that they are. May I ask why? Ithaca Dispatch doesn’t even follow its own self-imposed rules, let alone the law. In fact, a number of drivers and dispatchers have bragged to me about breaking these rules and the law. Some of the managers of Ithaca Dispatch went on Facebook to plead their case, and by “plead their case”, I mean insult people and make bigoted statements littered with profanity. For many, many, many years nobody has liked Ithaca Dispatch. Nobody has wanted them. And now, let us hope that we are finally rid of them.

If I were to give a star-system based rating to this cab company, I would give them one out of ten stars, or one out of five.

* Not her real name.

This blog posting is both the personal opinion of Alec Frazier, and the professional policy of his advocacy firm, Autistic Reality. If you oppose it, please screen grab it! We are very proud of this opinion!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Advice in Making Cell Phone Stores Autism-Friendly, by Alec Frazier and Autistic Reality

Earlier today, an academic at Waterloo University asked me, in my capacity as Director of Autistic Reality, for advice in making cell phone stores more accessible to individuals with autism. Here is my advice, slightly edited for clarity.

As far as improving the experience of autistic individuals in cell phone stores, there are a few suggestions I could make. A number of us with autism have sensory disabilities. Cell phone stores can be difficult, because they are often filled with bright lights and crowded with people. One may often wish that they were dimmer, or included a dimmer area. A quieter area would also help the autistic population, and not just in cell phone stores, but in many different kinds of establishments.
In addition, cell phone stores often rely heavily on procedure. There is someone to greet you as you come through the door, and they immediately demand case information, before passing you on to their colleagues, who may also shirk politeness in favor of efficiency. This leads to one of the biggest changes that cell phone stores and many different types of businesses can make, to benefit all of humanity and not just the autistic population: they can be nice to you. The effect that a courteous staff person has on the customer cannot be overstated. Autistic people often spend their whole lives being treated as “other” by society, being socially ostracized or being tested by doctors and educators. Courteous staff may seem like a small step, but it is much appreciated. On an autism specific level, staff at cell phone stores and once again all stores should be educated that not all people fit the same social models. Social disability is incredibly prevalent in a large portion of the population. It is time that businesses start accommodating social disability the same way that they have been accommodating or attempting to accommodate physical disability. Social disability is, in fact, a civil rights issue.
Finally, not all autistic people are capable of speech, and that does not mean that they are stupid or uneducated. Autistic people who do not speak are just as capable of thinking as you and I, and often use tools such as iPads or cell phones to communicate, since they are not capable of or comfortable with speech. This provides cell phone stores and companies with a very unique opportunity to cater especially to and even higher autistic individuals who do not communicate using traditional methods. Cell phone companies can lead the way in a very unique form of diversity inclusion.
I hope this answer provides some interesting new ways of looking at things! Thank you for your inquiry! If you cite me, cite Alec Frazier, Director of Autistic Reality. Thank you very much!

This blog posting is both the personal opinion of Alec Frazier, and the professional policy of his advocacy firm, Autistic Reality. If you oppose it, please screen grab it! We are very proud of this opinion!