Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Clone Trooper Army World Record Continues LEGO / NAS Partnership

Name of Model: LEGO staff set a new Guinness World Record
Created by: The National Autistic Society and LEGO UK (a division of the LEGO company)
Found at: http://www.nas.org.uk/nas/jsp/polopoly.jsp?d=1673&a=
I'm sure that if you read a blog like this, you probably already think LEGO and Star Wars are both pretty awesome. I have a new reason to be proud of LEGO today, though, because I have just learned about their partnership with the United Kingdom's National Autistic Society. As an autistic adult living in the USA, I've been furious over the past few years as anti-autism hate groups increasingly dominate the conversation over autism. It's become a matter of course to learn that yet another company, celebrity, or politician has decided to align itself with some crazy organization that's out to exploit or eradicate people like myself. However, there are legitimate groups in the US that do help autistic people of all ages to get the services we need (the services any given person may need vary widely, since autism is a very broad category), and there are plenty of other places where autistic advocacy groups have been more successful. Surprisingly, in spite of the infamous research of Andrew Wakefield, the UK is one place where the situation is much better for autistic people.

The LEGO company is one of the few major corporations who have been responsible enough to team up with an organization that's generally interested in self-advocacy and fair access to services. I don't think it's possible to express how grateful I am that they took the time to find such a great group to be involved with. LEGO UK has made the NAS their charity partner for 2008-2010 and they are donating products to schools and helping to raise money for services and for a playground at a school founded by the National Autistic Society.

This sponsored record attempt looks to me to mostly be a publicity stunt, but there's no doubting that it's excellent as publicity stunts go. I haven't seen any numbers on just how much money the world record attempt is making, or how the details of it worked out, but I'm happy with it nonetheless. Hey, it gives me an excuse to plug an official LEGO show I didn't know about and do some activism that I really care about at the same time! I, for one, am extremely grateful to hear about an autism advocacy group getting such high-profile sponsorship, and I hope that spreading the word about LEGO UK's efforts will help to raise money for the cause. It's also comforting to know that a company that I've cherished over the years is doing the right thing where so many other companies have made terrible mistakes.

If you are in the UK, you can see the LEGO roadshow this summer (click here for dates). This 50th-anniversary roadshow is called "Follow the LEGO® Brick Road", and 50% of the proceeds from LEGO products bought at the show are going to support the NAS. LEGO Roadshows are always excellent, but I don't believe that the record-setting army will be at these. Still, if you can make it to one, you really should.

If you want to support the NAS, they have links for donating at their website, which is at http://www.autism.org.uk/ . If you live in the US and would like to support similar charities, please visit the Autism Self Advocacy Network website at http://www.autisticadvocacy.org/ . To hear some more honesty about autism, visit autistics.org (which, by the way, is also a great place to donate to).

Whatever you do, do not even consider supporting Autism Speaks or anyone who works with them. Their degrading rhetoric, offensive ads, and counterproductive campaigns have been a serious detriment to autistic people in the US, and AS neither helps autistic people nor allows autistic people to be heard in their organization. They are a disgusting source of stigma and bigotry, and their abuse of everyone and everything they can get a hold of is seriously of cartoon-villain proportions here in the states. The thing is, though, that there's nothing cartoony about them - in fact, the past few months have been a frightening time because it looked like one of the major US political parties was going to nominate an AS-backed Presidential candidate who spread neo-Nazi propaganda about "preventing" autistic people in her Presidential campaign (in the interest of fairness, said bigot has since dropped out and endorsed a pro-neurodiversity candidate with a strong record on autism issues, and the pro-neurodiversity candidate is now the presumptive nominee and likely our next President - we dodged the bullet!). Most major American media outlets didn't even find the candidates' drastically different views on autistic people to be worth news coverage, preferring instead to make jokes about biases against women while ignoring actual minority rights issues.

In a world where those sorts of awful things can happen, it's truly amazing to hear about a company as mainstream as the LEGO group taking a stand for what's right. Many companies have tried to jump on the autism bandwagon by doing fraudulent "awareness" campaigns, but this is the first time that I've heard of a global corporation that was willing to put money towards actually helping autistic people to maintain their rights and obtain whatever services are necessary. Thank you, LEGO. I know this is just the UK sub-company of the LEGO group, but it's still an amazing show of solidarity for a cause that is extremely important for the world's large population of autistic people.

Oh, and if you want to see more photos of the awesome Clone Trooper army, Gizmodo has them (warning: I generally try to avoid linking to Gizmodo since they're not really a kid-safe site, but they do have a scoop today, and what the heck, it's not like autism rights politics is generally a kid-safe topic anyway).

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