The new scarlet letter A: An exploration of the power of online informational websites to influence and brand those impacted by autism spectrum disorders

Barbi Smyser-Fauble

Abstract


Technical communication is often perceived by the public as containing objective information that is supported by scientific data. Audiences of such products are unaware of the rhetoric employed within its content that works to perpetuate social constructions of dominant ideologies, including digital texts such as informational websites. This article presents a comparison of the rhetoric employed on two national websites, Autism Speaks and Generation Rescue that convey similar information on Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs), but present ASDs differently in terms of language, tone, and lens. Through the acknowledgement of these differences, I posit that web sites affiliated with the medical/scientific community such as Autism Speaks work to perpetuate damaging biases toward and prejudices about the ASD community, while operating under the commonplace of being objective.

This article argues for identifying, interrogating, and tearing down the walls of marginalization and prejudice that continue to stand between society and those impacted by disability. These walls are strengthened by the refusal to acknowledge the voices of the community, those with lived experiential information regarding the world of ASDs. Thus, instead of perpetuating the rhetoric that those with disabilities should work to overcome and accommodate, I encourage technical communicators to interrogate their normalizing practices in order to challenge hegemonic notions of disability as a means to project positive imagery that could result in increased notions of possibility and recognition of those with ASDs.

Keywords


professional communication; disability studies; community literacy; autism rhetoric; visual rhetoric; rhetoric of accommodation; cultural studies; rhetoric

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