Different? No doubt. But disabled?

In a recent post suggesting the formation of an Alliance for Autism, Mike Stanton raised a few issues on which parents and adults with autism as a group may need to come to some sort of agreement.  One of those issues are the questions:  Is autism a disability or a difference? Can it be both?

More than just an academic debate, the answers to these questions have very definite real world consequences.  Disabilities are covered by various laws, policies, etc. etc..  Differences, on the other hand, are not.  This was brought home to me when I read the aspie:talk post an adult trying to get accomodations. Although his her issues were more related to not having an official diagnosis, the situation presents a good point of comparison.

If treated as a disability, supported by the proper diagnosis, then the company needs to provide appropriate accommodations to allow the employee to work.  If, however, autism is seen as a difference, then the company is under no obligation to provide this employee any unique accommodation.

In a comment to the post, Al had this to say:

i would lay out what accommodations you need in the workplace without referring to the medical issue… which is unsolvable at this point. just state what you need item by item as matters of personal preference, in terms of “developing a comfortable working environment” and “ways they can help you be happier and more productive.” many of the social problems you have are probably going to exist at any workplace, i would guess, i’m not sure to what extent a diagnosis would alleviate the “micro-social” situation.

Obviously, this is an area where parents and adults with autism may have some differing opinions.

Difference, or disability?  What do you think?  Me, I’m still trying to figure out what I think.