Writing Contest Winner Disqualified By Odd Fellows Because He is Autistic

This story about how Autism Acceptance still has a long way to go was brought to our attention by our good friend Casey DePriest from Optimal Rhythms, Inc./Access Academy in Evansville.

It seems that a young man named Niko Boskovic submitted an essay to a national writing contest held by the Odd Fellows, a national fraternal organization. His essay on Ukraine was chosen by Portland’s Peninsula Odd Fellows Lodge as their entry for the contest. 15 year-old Niko was selected to join 300 other children from around the world to go to New York for The United Nations Pilgrimage For Youth.

However, about a month and a half after his entry was submitted, the Peninsula lodge got an unexpected email from the order’s national nonprofit organization saying Niko would not be accepted for the trip after all, with no real explanation as to why.

According to a report posted by KGW.com, Portland’s NBC affiliate, Niko’s mom Loretta said, “We can’t get any explanation in writing from them but when I spoke with the gentleman who’s the board chair for the UN Youth Program, he said ‘we are not equipped to accept people with disabilities.’”

We find this short-sighted and discriminatory attitude of the International Order of Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F.) to be totally unacceptable in 2017, especially from a not-for-profit organization whose stated goal is “to make the world a better place in which to live, seeking To Improve and Elevate the Character of Mankind.” (src: http://www.ioof.org/) How in any way, shape, or form does Niko’s exclusion from the contest improve or elevate the character of the organization, much less the World?

According to KGW’s report, the local lodge had filed a complaint, demanding to know why Niko had been rejected, but has yet to receive a response from the national organization other than getting a check refunding the money that the lodge paid for his entry. According to Peninsula Odd Fellows Lodge secretary David Scheer, “We’re not going to allow them to discriminate like this.” He stated that the local lodge is giving Niko the prize money to use on a trip of his choice, and that the chapter will be boycotting the UN Pilgrimage Program until the organization agrees to not discriminate against winners because of their disabilities.

We carefully investigated the I.O.O.F.’s United Nations Educational Pilgrimage for Youth website, and found no rules pertaining to the disqualification of disabled delegates other than their antiquated attitudes about their not being equipped to accept people with disabilities. In our opinion, this is a completely unacceptable position for a “Christian” organization to take. It is time for the I.O.O.F. to join the 21st Century and get equipped to accept ANYONE that otherwise qualifies to be a delegate to the Pilgrimage. If they can’t accommodate everyone, perhaps it’s time to put the whole thing to rest.

We have to ask, what kind of message are we allowing the I.O.O.F. to teach our children if we allow this kind of discrimination to stand? Their seemingly elitist attitude appears more appropriate for 1917 than 2017 from where we stand.

We want to offer our congratulations and encouragement to the Peninsula Odd Fellows Lodge chapter for standing up to the PTB in their support of Niko and the work he has done. In our opinion, the national organization is apparently staffed by hypocrites who are too scared to even respond to the questions and criticism of their decision. We just hope that, seeing the reactions their terrible decision has generated, that the national leadership comes to it’s senses and reverses their ridiculous, indefensible decision.

Good luck Niko. You have the full support of everyone at Saved By Typing. We hope you will be able to participate in what should have been one of the best experiences of your young life. Better yet, we hope you win!