Saturday, April 9, 2011

From Cafe Press - Autism Awareness month update

Autism Awareness month update: "Over the past 24 hours we’ve received messages from the community expressing concern for our decision to donate a percent of proceeds from Autism related products to Autism Speaks. The response we’ve received takes us a bit by surprise, as this is our third year partnering with Autism Speaks and the first year we’ve heard [...]"

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

How to Profit from Your Enemies - by Autism$peaks

NOTE: 4-8-2011 Update Follows at End of Article- Cafe Press' Response

During my morning Facebook check in routine, I stumbled on a post by a fellow advocate, Paula C. Durbin-Westby. The post stated simply,
If you have a Cafe Press site and have the word "autism" in your product name or line of products, 10% of the final sales purchase will be donated to Autism Speaks. If you don't like your site being used in that way you can contact Cafe Press.
For those unfamiliar, Cafe Press is reseller of personal logo-wear and accessories. Every day "joe's" can upload their logo and have their own store front. Cafe Press keeps the profits, but stores are encouraged to mark up prices as to make a small profit on everything they sell.  As a member of non-profit who hosts a logo shop at Cafe Press, I was a bit curious as to how this Autism Speaks campaign could possibly work. I went to their blog where they give the details

Here you find the details of the promotion.
* An amount equal to 10% of the final purchase price for all products tagged with “autism” and sold through Marketplace during April 1, 2011 through April 30, 2011 will be donated to Autism Speaks
Key in the promotional guideline is this - for all products tagged with “autism." Store owners use tags to help market their products. For instance, if you search for autism at the site, Cafe Press will return results with this tag. I probably do not need to tell you that anyone can use any tag whether its to help or hurt a cause.

Perhaps Cafe Press is unaware of the millions of dollars Autism Speaks rapes from the people in the name of helping those with Autism. Thing is, they are a grassroots organization in name only. They do not "give back" to the communities who fund them. They profit and divvy that profit up among their high paid executives. In 2009, Autism Speaks paid out more to their internal employees than all that they spent on research and advocacy. Their IRS 990 form is here. I'm no mathematician but thankfully others are better. Here's a nice breakdown of how Autism Speaks spent their money from a fellow blogger:

That's just the tip of the iceberg, really considering they have now surpassed popularity of other Autism organizations who preceded them. I can only imagine what 2010's 990 will look like.

But lets look at a bigger problem. Autism Speaks does NOT support self advocacy. Autism Speaks has gone as far as to sue a 14 year old Autistic teen over a blog that denounced them. That story can be found here:

The gist is that a teen made a parody site called NT Speaks that denounced intolerance. And though she did not use Autism Speaks logos, she designed the site to be similar in look and feel. And though this is not considered a copyright infringement according to law (parody sites are exempt), their high-powered attorney used intimidation and threats and made her destroy the source code for the web site.

There's more. Over the years, Autistics have been trying to sit on Autism Speaks board of directors. They will NOT allow someone with Autism to infiltrate the organization. That says it all to me. Autism Speaks who has been notoriously vocal against the very people it supposedly supports, has found a way to profit from them.

So, if you shop at a store that promotes Neurodiversity you are inadvertently donating to Autism Speaks. If as a store owner you have tagged any of your items with "autism," they are getting 10% of the sale. 

I posted a rather to the point comment on their blog that has been awaiting moderation for roughly four hours and counting. I'm not the only one. Others have posted comments that are either being ignored or sat on until the smoke clears. [update: Cafe Press did not approve my comment as of 4-7-2011, it's no longer pending or there. No one else's comments exist either].

Perhaps Cafe Press is now scrambling to undo the mess. Or perhaps they have a vested interest in Autism Speaks. But I for one, am considering cutting business ties with them. No matter how or why they chose this campaign, it was in bad form to presume that their clients would happily contribute to an organization.

4-8-2011 Update
I received this response from Cafe Press regarding the issue:

Thank you for your blog comment; we appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts on our Autism Awareness program. Over the past 24 hours we’ve received many other messages expressing concern for our decision to donate a percent of proceeds to Autism Speaks.

The response we’ve received takes us a bit by surprise, as this is our third year partnering with Autism Speaks and the first year we’ve heard concerns voiced about specific organizations or their approaches. That said, as a community-based business we feel it is important to listen and respond to our users’ concerns. You helped us to understand an adjustment to this program is needed. We have learned a lot about Autism in the process and feel privileged to be a part of the national conversation about supports for individuals and families facing the challenge of Autism.

For this year we’ve already made a commitment to Autism Speaks, and we do not want to go back on our promise to them, but we do want to add another charitable organization to split the money donated and balance our support to other Autism related good works. We’re asking our community to choose the specific Autism support charity that will receive ½ of the money raised through sales of Autism related goods.

If you’re interested in voting on this additional charitable initiative, or want to suggest one not on our list, please visit

While we know this may not answer or solve all of your concerns, we hope it helps to show our commitment to the community and to a dialogue about Autism support. Please know that we have nothing but the best intentions with our Autism Awareness donation plan and we hope you find our changes to the program palatable.