Saturday, July 18, 2009

A bright red helmet

For 21 years, he worked at the same job, at a golf club in Manchester, England. For the last eight years of his employment there, he was made to wear a bright red helmet, lest golfers confuse him with some other, regular, you know, non-autistic green keeper. Eight years he endured this and other forms of workplace bullying that included physical assault, ridicule, and being denied adequate breaks from heavy physical labor. Finally, in 2007, he began missing work and was fired by the club.

Now Andrew Beck, 44, has been awarded £78,000 in damages. Mr. Beck’s father, Arnold Beck, said that his son’s employers “never made an effort to find out anything about autism disorders. If they had done that he would probably still be working there…Hopefully it will make employers think twice about how they treat people.”

How do things like this happen? While Arnold Beck points out that golf clubs can be “notoriously stuffy and old-fashioned,” Renee at Womanist Musings calls the situation a study in ableism, acknowledging also the complicity of coworkers who knew about the abuse, but remained silent.

Over time, unchallenged abuse becomes the norm. The autistic employee, often someone who has faced bullying and exclusion for many years, may not be certain of his rights. He may not have a friend in the workplace to help him figure it out. He may have been advised not to rock the boat, when so few on the spectrum are fully employed. Bullying happens when some members of a society are viewed in some contexts as less than full citizens. With each press release declaring that autistic people are “sick,” or “damaged,” or “costly,” exclusion grows. With each self-advocate threatened or harassed, abuse becomes somewhat less unthinkable, slightly more ordinary.

I am happy that Andrew Beck has received compensation, some measure of justice for what he endured. Here’s hoping his next employer is more deserving of the loyalty and perseverance he showed on the last job.

Meanwhile, Nick Marner, the head green keeper responsible for the abuse, is still employed by the Davyhulme Park Golf Club.

1 comment:

  1. "Over time, unchallenged abuse becomes the norm." and as it becomes more normal and acceptable to do this people find nicer sounding words to disguise the abuse.

    "With each self-advocate threatened or harassed, abuse becomes somewhat less unthinkable, slightly more ordinary." exactly!


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