Positive Exposure – click on the name and their page will open. I was not paid to write this, I have no association with the organisation and I received no incentives (positive or negative) to write this blog post.

On Wednesday 26 April 2017 I caught the bus down to the University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) to attend an open to the public lecture called Positive Exposure.  I’ll freely admit I read the blurb on the USC FaceBook page which roughly said that the lecture was about changing societies perceptions of people with disabilities and mentally went “yeah right here we go again”.  I’m a sceptic to my bones so I was fully expecting this lecture to be given by some Warrior Mum or Zealot Scientist on how more funding needs to go into finding a cure and in the mean time the disabled should be intensively trained to be more abled.

Boy was I wrong

The lecture was given by an amazingly charismatic and interesting man called Rick Guiddotti a native New Yorker who was a top level fashion photographer, who decided to use his skill, knowledge and ability of imagery in popular culture to start Positive Exposure.

The concept behind Positive Exposure is that everyone is beautiful just the way they are and we should all have access to positive imagery no matter what our genetic diversity is!

This TED Talk by Rick Guiddotti  Is basically the lecture that I went and heard. Positive Exposure wants the world to change how it views genetically different people rather than trying to change (read cure) the genetically different.  Rick makes the point that when you see the scary person, bad guy or victim in popular culture they are almost always genetically different.  Classic examples of this can be found  in The Princes Bride the person who runs The Pit Of Despair is Albino or my personal favourite of evil bad guys The Joker from DC Comics is severely mentally deranged and probably Schizophrenic.

Before Rick started Positive Exposure he was an incredibly successful fashion photographer so he is acutely aware of how exposure to the right or wrong images can influence not only how the world views someone but how they view themselves.  Positive Exposure not only gives people who are genetically different a place to find images of themselves that are happy, funny, quirky, beautiful and just part of their family and society it’s also building ground up education networks.

The PEARLS (Positive Exposure Ambassadors Real Life Stories) which are blog posts written by people who are genetically different from their prospective about their day to day life.

The FRAME (Faces Redefining The Art of Medical Education) which literally aims to change how people in the medicine, counselling, education or business are taught about genetically different people by giving them access to short films, images and information that portrays the person with the genetic different as a PERSON not as a CLINICAL SUBJECT.

Positive Exposure also collaborates with Art Galleries, community groups, special interest groups, cities, hospitals, schools, universities, textbook manufacturers and so on to run portrait & information exhibitions.  The portraits show people with genetic diversity in every day life with friends, with family, playing, laughing, arguing, and all the other day to day stuff humans do.  Positive Exposure has the view point that the more people see positive images of someone who is genetically different the less likely people are to stare, whisper, point, pitty, handout unwanted advice or treat the person and their family/carers as social pariahs.

Rick tells a story about doing a portrait exhibition all over Washington DC for one of the organisations he collaborates with who were holding their yearly conference in Washington DC.  He insisted that the portrait exhibition went up a month before the Conference and ended a week after the conference.  This is not the typical way things are done normally the portrait exhibition would kick off on the first day of the conference and every one wanted to know why do it differently.  The answer was simple – if people had been seeing portraits of the people with the genetic difference for weeks before the conference started they would be so used to seeing them that when the participants, families and carers arrived no one would stop, stare, whisper or point they’d just go “oh they’re here for the conference” and not think twice about it.

Most of the images and stories in his lecture are about children who are genetically different so I hung around after the lecture to ask Rick if he worked with people who get adult diagnosis.  I’m glad to say he does and he is also well aware of the problems that not only people who receive an adult diagnosis face with acceptance and access to services & funding but also the ticking time bomb of what happens when children age-out of the current programs to an adult world that is not equipped to help them. It’s a world wide issue that no government really wants to deal with.

The thing that convinced me that Rick truly thinks genetic differences should be celebrated  and embraced was when I told him I’d been diagnosed last year as Autistic and he said “congratulations it must be nice to finally know what to call it so you can find out more about it”. Why was that statement profound?  Every other person I’ve told has 1 of 4 reactions:

  • Not really surprised  – usually from family or close friends
  • Really but you seem so normal – usually from people who don’t know me well
  • Oh I’m so sorry / that must have been devastating – it’s totally random who’ll have this response and often not from someone I would expect to say it
  • You shouldn’t tell people things like that they’ll think you are disabled – yes that has been said to me or versions of it said to me on more than one occasion

Over the last 6 months on various social media outlets I’ve been reading chatter about the fact that it’s never the person who is Autistic that get’s asked about living with Autism and that the general population has a rather negative and narrow view of who an Autistic Person is.  I’m seriously thinking that we the #ActualAutistics especially the female ones need to get on board with Positive Exposure and start showing the world the wonderful array of creative, funny, caring, loveable and unique individuals that we really are.