Press Conference on UN Postal Stamps to Commemorate World Autism Awareness Day

30 March 2012

Press Conference on UN Postal Stamps to Commemorate World Autism Awareness Day

30 March 2012
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on UN Postal Stamps to Commemorate World Autism Awareness Day

 

The head of the United Nations Postal Administration today kicked off the Organization’s celebration of World Autism Awareness Day with the announcement of the launch on 2 April of a series of postage stamps featuring the work of eight artists with autism.

David Failor told reporters at a Headquarters press conference that the stamps, along with special “first-day” covers, would be issued in each of the Postal Administration’s denominations — dollars, Euros and Swiss Franks — at the three United Nations Post Offices, in New York, Geneva and Vienna.  The stamps would also be available online.

He said that the 62 year-old Postal Administration was relatively small, and while it issued only seven commemorative postage stamps each year, “our stamps circle the globe and are great little billboards for getting out what the United Nations is doing”.  He added that this was the first time the Administration had chosen to raise awareness about autism and spotlight the unique talents of people with lifelong disability.

Admitting that he was not an expert, Mr. Failor explained that autism spectrum disorder and autism were general terms used to describe a category of rather complex brain development disorders.  Those disorders were characterized by difficulties with social interaction and motor coordination, as well as repetitive behaviours and problems with verbal communication.  About 25 per cent of people with autism were non-verbal but could learn to communicate through other means.

Despite such challenges, he said, many people with autism excelled, exceptionally in math, music, art and other visual-oriented skills.  “Each individual with autism is very unique.  About 40 per cent have average to above average intellectual abilities, and many take deserved pride in their distinctive abilities and atypical ways of viewing the world,” he added.

That uniqueness had left the Postal Administration’s design team facing a unique challenge, he said:  “After all, how can you visually depict autism on a postage stamp?”  Yet, the one thing that struck a chord with the designers was the many hidden talents that people with autism had and so they had settled on the idea of using artwork created by people diagnosed with the disability.

Continuing, he said the United Nations had subsequently called on the civil society organization Autism Speaks late last year to help get the word out about the stamps.  The response had been so great that within a few weeks, some 200 pieces of artwork had been submitted for consideration.  Despite being “a little overwhelmed” — both by the response and the by the difficulty in choosing only eight designs out of so many great submissions — the Postal Administration had been very excited to work with people with autism and their families.

“I’ve been in this business for about 15 years and this is probably one of the most exciting initiatives I’ve seen,” he said, adding that the most rewarding part of the experience had been discovering the talent people with autism had and working with their “passionate and energetic” support networks.

Mr. Failor was also joined today by Rorie Katz, Head of Graphic Design at the United Nations Postal Administration, who noted that some amazing work had been submitted and that the initial plan had been to select only three works.  The response had been so great that the decision had been made to expand the series to eight stamps.  Mr. Failor added that he believed that Autism Speaks planned to put all the submissions on line after the launch next Monday.

He also announced that seven of the eight artists would be in attendance next Tuesday at a panel discussion on “World Autism Awareness Day:  Delivering Answers through Inclusive International Collaboration”.  The event, which would also feature the public unveiling of the stamps, would be co-organized by the Permanent Missions of Bangladesh and Qatar, the United States Mission and Autism Speaks.  The Secretary-General was expected to participate.

The eight artists whose selections would be featured on the 2012 Autism Awareness Stamps were:  Trent Altman (United States); Michael Augello (United States); Seth Chwast (United States); Colm Isherwood (Ireland); Hannah Kandel (United States); Alex Masket (United States); Ryan Smoluk (Canada); and J.A. Tan (Philippines and Canada).

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.