Autistic Self-Advocacy Network ASAN logo in the middle of white graphic. In the 4 corners are people of color protesting. 2 are holding microphones. One is typing. The other is holding a sign saying BIPoC

Allegations of Ethical Misconduct made against Ari Ne’eman, June 17, 2021

From: A collective including:

Cal Montgomery, former ASAN Board of Trustees Chair
(unavailable on medical leave)

Oswin Latimer, former ASAN senior staff

In addition to: Anonymous collective of former ASAN Board and Staff

We, as a collective, would like to acknowledge that not all of us have personal knowledge of all the facts stated.

Testimony by Oswin Latimer Regarding Ethical Misconduct by Ari Ne’eman

These allegations are put forward by Oswin Latimer, a co-author of this document. Other names have been redacted and all pronouns are gender neutral to protect people. There are several additional allegations that have been shared privately by members of the collective and have also been corroborated, but these are not being posted publicly in order to protect those individuals’ privacy.

Five years ago when Ari Ne’eman announced he was stepping down as ASAN ED I published a blog post regarding his misconduct, ASAN’s Past Abuse and Moving Forward. Here is a summary of specific incidents that occurred while I was an employee 8 years ago:

-Oswin Latimer, autistic Indigenous multiply-disabled nonbinary former ASAN senior staff member
  • “Culture of silence” – it was always made clear that we couldn’t publicly or privately talk negatively about ASAN or Ari or views he believed in. This was particularly hard when there was a pressured overlap of work colleagues were also friends. It encouraged keeping everything internal. If you had complaints, you discussed with coworkers. Everything fed cyclically.
  • Intimidation: People were made afraid to speak out against Ari Ne’eman and ASAN. Many people have made it clear that because they still wanted to work in the autism self-advocacy realm they couldn’t speak up. I know at least two of us experience extreme panic attacks when we see either ASAN or Ari’s name published anywhere.
  • [Redacted] reportedly was bullied during a protest by Ari. They ran the [Redacted] chapter and Ari pressured and bullied them during an Autism Speaks protest. 
  • Reasonable ADA accommodation requests were regularly denied. With no way to formally ask for accommodations, no channels to assure that they are given due consideration, staff often is left to the whim of senior staff. Complaints have to be brought directly to the supervisors they are lobbied against as there was no structure to speak to an unbiased third party. Unfortunately, this only drives most staff members to give up requesting accommodations even when new needs arose.
  • Grant funding allocated to the [Redacted] subsidiary ASAN chapter I was involved with, ASAN [Redacted], was denied/diverted. Ari was very insistent that [Redacted]’s bylaws and structure ensured ASAN National still ultimately had control of them. I was forced to try get Pro bono help to set it up despite theoretically having funding for directly that purpose. I left before the grant ended, but I know [Redacted] never formed. Unclear where that money disappeared to.
  • ASAN would demand subsidiary ASAN chapter organizations to lend significant volunteer hours for work ASAN national staff were paid to do. I don’t know if ASAN expects affiliates to do this now like when they were chapters. But it represents a significant harm that occurred in the past. There was very little that national gave in return. This led to a lot of burnout and closure of chapters, and leaves already vulnerable, economically-disadvantaged population more destitute. 
  • Literally anything that didn’t fit a specific narrative Ari agreed with was silenced. For example, I was personally against the ACA before it passed because of having relied upon the Medicaid system, I had long term concerns about the marketplace and whether doctors would accept it based on personal experiences. I was told I could not bring it up. I was also told regularly that I couldn’t bring up that I had children because he was concerned about it looking like an autism mom at ASAN.
  • A sense that speaking out meant we’d be accused of “you will kill the movement” – these exact words were never explicitly said, but Ari created a culture where there was always the feeling that whatever was done to ASAN (including speaking out) was going to hurt the whole community. Or even more that ASAN was the whole community. 
  • Friendships were twisted and manipulated: – [redacted] pretty quickly friended me when I moved. They very much supported my mental health while I was there. [Their partner] was volunteering to help create a website. But health and stuff with [redacted] and they lost their job at one point. But I was pulled aside by Ari and told by Ari I needed to leverage my friendship with [redacted] to get [their partner] to complete the work. Like this was directly asked in this manner. Ari went on to explain at another time that he develops friendships in order to be able to ask things personally. 
  • “Choosing between rent or healthcare living” – Reference to the fact that [redacted] in their first year literally had to do this. They also were living in a very unsafe neighborhood. I don’t know if ASAN still doesn’t pay a livable wage, but it is what happened historically (and this was happening at the same time as the dropout remark).
  • “Triangulation” – When I was there, I saw this happen to three people. [Redacted name 1] is who Ari started with. Questioning their work output. There were questions asked of me about their role as chapter coordinator that now seems clear to be about mounting a character assassination. He did it to [redacted name 2] as well, behind the scenes to [Redacted org] and [Redacted org]. Really pushed them under the bus. Last was with [redacted name 3]. Ari said a lot that they didn’t contribute. A bunch of the triangulation came down to who Ari thought was living up to his standards, I feel like. Most were pretty ableist standards. Even as my meltdowns increased, everything became about basically not being a supercrip. That I needed to suffer through burnout, but not ever show it.
  • Had to move for ASAN – This goes back to the living wage discussion. At the time, (maybe they still do.) ASAN required employees to work in DC. But the median income under Ari was $34,000 a year which is incredibly hard to live on in the DC area. This equally led to the racial bias that exists today. 
  • Character assassination by Ari after I left – Through other people, I learned he told several people that I had had a behavior problem. It’s been said that I “never really fit in.” [I can corroborate that I was told you had a behavioral problem after you were forced out. -Lydia X.Z. Brown, co-author of this document]
  • ASAN has often taken credit for work that was primarily other people’s work and ASAN only provided name support. Ari would attempt to manipulate people who were doing activism work to get them to match what ASAN wanted. Biggest example I can remember was with [Redacted org]. Ari started feeding tactics to them to make them appear Centrist when at the table.
  • It’s important to look at the oppression through a wholly intersectional lens. The things that happened to people occur the highest to BIPOC, marginalized genders, and multiply disabled people. ([Redacted] was [Redacted identity] and Autistic, BIPOC and [a gender minority]. I’m Autistic with chronic pain, BIPOC and non-binary, etc etc). It can’t be narrowed down to just racism. It’s more systematic that leaves us most at risk. The only thing that really is always present is the ableism. “If you can’t output or behave, then you can’t be here” is the mindset.

Other Testimonies of Ethical Misconduct by Ari Ne’eman

What follows are further testimonies by former staff of ethical concerns regarding Ari Ne’eman. Those testifying have asked to be anonymous, all names have been redacted, and pronouns are all gender-neutral to protect those testifying and others involved.

  • “He would threaten my job security if I did not do what he wanted. If I give an example, it will be obvious that it was me who shared the info.” 
  • “When I shared my feelings with him about a highly visible ASAN event which I had not wanted to do, he told me that I’d better think twice and have my resignation letter ready if I ever wanted to go ‘against my boss’ again.”
  • “Sometimes, when he didn’t like someone, he would ask me if I knew anything about them that would not reflect well upon them.”
  • “I never, ever experienced anything racist, that’s for sure…[but] when I left ASAN, [redacted] told me that Ari removed my name from all of the publications I had led. [A colleague] said it was unethical and that I could sue. But I just wanted to leave.” 
  • “I also remember him saying that he knew just what to say to take down [Redacted]. He expressed some guilt over what had happened with [Redacted] (I don’t know the full story), but he said that he would be willing to drive the final nail in [Redacted’s] coffin. Those are not his exact words. But his exact intentions for sure.” 
  • “He also refused to let me do the things I wanted to do on business trips. He told me that I had to stay on the grounds of wherever we were staying and that I could not take any personal time.”
  • “Ari forced me to call up the press during an Autism Speaks protest that I was not leading. He wanted me to lie and say they’d better get there quickly because it was a big deal and cameras and coverage should be there. I hated that task and it made me feel ridiculous.” 
  • “He wanted to know where I was at all times. All of his texts had to be answered ASAP, or he would accuse me of not working …as a result, my pay was reduced.” 
  • “ASAN held an event that I was expected to fly to. I arrived at the airport to find my flight had been delayed. After waiting for hours, I told Ari that I couldn’t do this and was having panic episodes. He yelled at me and told me to stop being anxious.”
  • I’m autistic with multiple other disabilities, nonbinary, and a person of color, and I think for a while, I was the lowest paid employee at the time. Started at $9/hour, then got $12/hour, finally paid $14/hour. One time Ari invited me in and said he wanted to give me a raise to $14/hour. I told him that’s what I already made. He said “oh, never mind then.”