creative commons license
In preparing for our recent cross country vehicular jaunt (i.e., vacation/holiday) I faced a bit of an ethical dilemma. The US National Parks Service offers a variety of different passes that are valid for admission to all national parks and forests. Besides these annual passes, it is also possible to purchase access for a limited period of time (usually 7 days) for a discounted amount.
I had been vaguely aware of the Access Pass from a local autism online group. The Access Pass gives free lifetime admission to the parks to those with permanent disabilities (along with up to 3 other people traveling with them in the same non-commercial vehicle). I hadn't thought about it much, but now took the time to consider it.
Was Buddy Boy permanently disabled? I have taken the tack of presumed competence, and thus proceed assuming he will continue in school, get a job, and be able to live independently. Would I be "giving in" if I had him labeled as having a permanent disability? Would I be lying to myself from here on out if I said I was presuming competence, but at the same time presenting a card that said that Buddy Boy was permanently disabled?
When we first knew that Buddy Boy was different, I had at least moderate resistance to placing any sort of a label on him. What advantage would it confer? And at what cost? At first I thought that the costs of placing any sort of label on him (ostracism, bullying, presumed incompetence by the schools) far outweighed the potential advantages (identity, and knowing he was not bad, just different). In fact, if we could have obtained educational supports for him without publicly labeling him, I might have continued to lobby for such an approach.
I have no problem with Buddy Boy knowing he is autistic. We treat it as a matter of fact thing around our house (much like we treat the fact that he joined our family thru adoption). I do wonder, though, about future implications of him having his name in official databases with a label next to it. Will it affect future employment opportunities? We cannot always predict unexpected outcomes from decisions we make.
In the end, my decision on whether to get an Access Pass for Buddy Boy was based on pragmatics. I first consulted the National Parks FAQ's regarding the pass. According to this site:
Who qualifies for the Access Pass?
The pass may be issued to U.S. citizens or permanent residents that have been medically determined to have a permanent disability that severely limits one or more major life activities.
A permanent disability is a permanent physical, mental, or sensory impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working. (emphasis added)
Surely Buddy Boy's ADHD and autism qualified him as having a learning disability (the powers that be certainly thought it severe enough to kick him out of his regular classroom and place him for awhile in a class for emotionally disturbed kids). As to whether his autism and ADHD will affect his learning permanently, the experiences of adults on the spectrum would certainly seem to bear this out. While people develop various "work arounds" as they mature, they don't magically learn not to be autistic as they get older.
That left the question of tracking him in a central database. A little asking around revealed that they don't record a Social Security number with the name, so there's no way that they can track these passes and merge them with other databases. Finally, as Buddy Boy gets older, it can always be his decision whether he uses the pass or not.
So we went with the pass. Got a letter from his doctor detailing his autism and its effects on his learning, showed up at the park and presented the letter, and got the pass with no hassle at all. It felt good to get something useful from my tax dollars, for a change.
So, first we used the pass to drive thru the Badlands
Then to visit Devil's Tower National Monument
And finally to visit Yellowstone National Park
Further photos can be found here.