About a year and half ago I had to go to court because I had forgotten to put in a bulk pickup request in a timely manner.
If you are on the spectrum or if you know someone who is, you are likely familiar with the issues with short term memory. I can intend to do something, and forget completely that I need to do it. I can see the limbs or bulky trash set out on the curb as I turn into my driveway, think to myself, “I need to make the bulk pickup request,” and forget between getting out of the minivan and opening the front door (everything is behind me, so out of sight . . .). And naturally, I will remember to do it when I’m at Starbucks, a week later, randomly.
I had received letters telling me that I need to make the bulk pickup request. I was not sure how many, though I learned it needed to only be one before they would issue a citation.
I have written about institutional discrimination against people with autism before. This is the very kind of thing I was talking about in that post. Legislation that requires good short term memory from its citizenry is necessarily discriminatory against people on the spectrum. Worse, it ends up resulting in the harassment of people who already feel imposed upon by everyone. Unless the person goes to court and points out that they are on the spectrum and that they have short term memory problems as a result, a fine is likely to be imposed. To impose a fine on someone with autism because they forgot to do something is the same as fining them for having autism.
Either way, I had to go to court. When the judge asked me if I was going to plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest, I said, “Well, let me explain my situation first . . .” I then proceeded to tell her that I had Asperger’s and that meant that I had short term memory problems that affected my ability to remember to do things like put in requests. I then asked her, “What is the purpose of my being here? The purpose of imposing a fine is to ensure that I will remember next time, right? But imposing such a fine on me won’t have the desired outcome, because I simply cannot remember.”
The prosecutor suggested that my cased be dismissed “in the interest of justice.”
The judge agreed, but said next time I would be fined.
I was hardly going to argue with her, though the problem nevertheless remains. However, since I did in fact go read the ordinance (which oddly left out the number of warnings and any mention of a fine), there is a certain probability that my exceptional long term memory will aid my short term memory and I’ll actually remember.
To avoid an absurdly high $280 fine, let’s certainly hope so.
So the good news is that justice in this case prevailed. If I forget again (so far, so good), it won’t. And worse, how many people are out there on the spectrum who consistently forget such things and find themselves fined? My guess is very few if any have enough self-understanding and presence of mind to make the argument I did in court today. As a result, there are likely hundreds of thousands if not millions like me who are being fined for having autism. And that is hardly in the interest of justice.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m certainly not arguing that one should get a “get out of jail free card” for every and all expectations. If there is a job, for example, that requires one to have a strong short term memory, I would hardly argue that I should be given that job. However, when it comes to government, the law should always apply to equal people equally. But what about when you have a truly unequal situation?
There are situations where equal isn’t fair. If any law assumes that everyone is identical in every way, then that law cannot be fair. Exceptions certainly are made all the time to accommodate people’s disabilities.
In a case like this, one should ask whether or not my disability creates a danger for anyone. In this particular case, it clearly does not. No one is harmed if I forget to request trash pickup for a few days. Sometimes the trucks come by for other pickups, and there’s literally no reason they shouldn’t stop when they see something. I shouldn’t have to pay out an obscene amount of money because I have a bad memory. I don’t find that accommodation ridiculous in the least. I find the legislation itself ridiculous.
It’s not about excuses. It’s about the fact that my brain works in a different way from neurotypical people’s brains, and there really should be reasonable accommodations for that. I would even argue that it would be entirely reasonable for them to leave me alone and not harass me over this issue. Would they make an exception for a forgetful elderly person? I think they should, and I suspect they would. Because that, too, would be in the interest of justice.