The Arc Reacts to President’s Executive Order Raising Minimum Wage for Federal Contract Workers, Including People with Disabilities

This week, President Obama signed an executive order raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour for federal contract workers, including people with disabilities.  This order applies to new contracts beginning January 1, 2015, and will apply to replacements for expiring contracts as well as new agreements.

“The Arc is pleased that President Obama took this step for federal contract workers, including people with disabilities.  This wage boost is an important step forward and will benefit the lives of many people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, helping them achieve their goals of greater financial independence.  We will be communicating with the Administration to ensure a smooth phase-in of this change and to encourage the Administration to put in place the infrastructure, safeguards, and supports for people who need more significant accommodations to succeed in the workplace,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

The Arc Supports The Keeping All Students Safe Act

The Arc released the following statement in response to the introduction of The Keeping All Students Safe Act, introduced by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT). This piece of legislation will prohibit the use of physical restraint unless a student’s behavior poses an imminent danger of physical harm to self or others, while ensuring that personnel receive proper training, that parents are aware of any restraint used with their children, and that the most dangerous types of restraint and seclusion are eliminated.

“There is no question that the safety of our children should be a top priority, and that is exactly what The Keeping All Students Safe Act is all about. The Arc is concerned with the well-being of students as well as school personnel and we support national standards that focus on preventing behavior problems and promoting a positive and safe school climate. Children with disabilities have disproportionately high rates of being restrained and secluded in schools, and reports of this type of discipline going wrong and leading to harm of the child are all too common. We urge Senators to act quickly to protect all students in all schools by supporting this important legislation,” said, Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

Students are not the only ones being hurt when restraint and seclusion are used.  School staff is sometimes injured when they use the practices, resulting in staff taking sick leave or even retiring from teaching.

The introduction of this legislation is paired with the release of findings of an investigation into the use of seclusion and restraints conducted by the Senate HELP Committee. The investigation found that under current law, a family whose child has been injured, experienced trauma, or died as a result of the use of seclusion or restraints in school has little or no recourse through school procedures or the courts. Examining ten recent cases where children have suffered severe trauma and even loss of life as a result of these practices, the investigation found that only eighteen states currently require parents be notified about the use of seclusion or restraints. To read the full report, visit the Senate HELP Committee’s website.

Reflecting on Wings for Autism

By Sylvia Fuerstenberg, Executive Director of The Arc of King County.

Wings for Autism event registration

Wings for Autism took flight at SeaTac Airport, and it was a great success. I am so grateful for all of the families who took part in our launch, as well as the many volunteers who made the event a success. The commitment of The Port of Seattle and Alaska Airline is phenomenal. They are single minded in making travel inclusive for everyone. The TSA even made going through security a positive experience. When that is true, you know that everyone was committed! Although I could say a lot more about the event, I would rather let some of the parents and event partners tell you about their experience.

From Lisa Okada Visitacion, Mom:

“Phenomenal event. Increasing awareness and understanding. Building confidence and skills. Giving families hope. These are just a few thoughts I had about the Wings for Autism event yesterday. Kelli (and all the other participants) did such an amazing job. Many, many thanks to all the volunteers (there were many!) and staff at The Arc of King County, Alaska Airlines, TSA and the Port of Seattle. We will remember this experience forever and will most likely be flying Alaska Airlines when we travel by air. (I wonder if we can we take along a few of the volunteers, too?!?!)”

Wings for Autism pilot & child

From Jacki Jones Chase, Mom:

 “We got in the plane and they taxied it all over the airport runways. Then they stopped and let the kids, and adults, go check out the cockpit and bathrooms – they really put on an awesome event for kids with Autism!”

Wings for Autism pilots

From Jennifer Wade, Mom:

 “From the moment my family arrived at the airport, there was a friendly, smiling person with a Wings of Autism T-shirt on, guiding us along our way.   Every step of the process we were assured, explained the process and every attempt was made to ensure we were comfortable,  our questions answered and made to feel at ease in what is potentially a stressful situation for any parent /caregiver, taking a child on a flight. A special thanks to our pilot Mark who walked thru the entire waiting area talking to each family, meeting the kids, shaking hands and relaying his own personal story and why the event was so important to him. Having a child with special needs I’ve learned that it’s the support of family, friends, specialist and complete strangers willing to share their own insight and compassion that keeps our momentum going onwards on the path of progress and potential.”

Wings for Autism participant

Ray Prentice, Partner at Alaska Airlines:

“I didn’t realize until this event that a little bit of additional training and guidance, combined with our great caring employees, could totally change people’s lives. Speaking on behalf of Alaska Airlines’ volunteers I can openly share that we had a blast.  We felt a close connection with everyone at the event.”

Wings for Autism participants 2

From Sue Hanson Smith, Partner at The Port of Seattle who traveled to Boston to learn about the event and inspired us to bring it to Seattle:

“Thank you for all for pulling off a spectacular, in some cases, a life-changing event. I am so proud to be part of such a well-organized, energetic, and fun-loving team of professionals! The Arc of King County rocks! Without you we would not have had the families and the special kids to learn from.

Without Alaska Airlines we wouldn’t have been able to provide the “life-changing” experience. Thank you so much for your flexibility and your generosity in providing the airplane experience and memories to these selected families and their children. The t-shirts were the best!

And…TSA was outstanding in their ability to provide an easy, pleasant experience to the families and their children. From all the comments I heard, the first Wings for Autism at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport was a great success and it’s because of all of you.”

Wings for Autism participants

Seizure Treatment for Individuals with IDD

It’s not shocking news to hear that individuals with disabilities have more health issues than the general population.  Unfortunately, individuals with intellectual disabilities also have an increased risk of developing epilepsy.  According to the Epilepsy Foundation Metropolitan New York about 30% of children with epilepsy have another developmental disability, and the risk of children with developmental disabilities below the age of 5 years old having a seizure is 4 times higher than other children at that age.  As adults 10-20% of individuals with IDD also have epilepsy and for those individuals with and IDD and cerebral palsy it increases to 50%.  The reasoning behind this is uncertain, but it could be a because of the underlying neurodevelopmental condition that is already in existence.

There are many different treatments available to help control or reduce seizure activity within the body.  The majority of people with epilepsy take daily medications to try to control activity.  For individuals with disabilities it’s just one more mediation to be added with more adverse side effects and behavioral changes.   The side effects of these medications can also be difficult to determine with non-verbal patients.  Behaviors and mood changes might be mistakenly linked to the disability instead of the seizure mediation or they can go unnoticed by staff/caregivers.

Other forms of therapy are the vagus nerve stimulation and a Ketogenic diet.  The Ketogenic diet is a medically prescribed strict diet individuals can go on that is high in fat and low in carbohydrates and proteins. It is not completely certain how and if this diet will work (can vary by person), but it creates a metabolic change that can alter brain chemistry and limit frequency of seizures.  The stricter you follow this diet the more effective it is said to be. This diet can be a struggle for individuals with IDD that may already have other food issues present – strong dislike of smells, tastes, etc. The vagus nerve stimulator (VNS) is a small device implanted into the shoulder area that sends electrical impulses up the vagus nerve in the neck to stimulate the brain at set intervals. These impulses help to regulate the electrical activity in the brain that causes seizures.  The VNS can also be paired with a magnetic device that can turn it on when an individual feels a seizure coming by holding it up to the chest area where the VNS is implanted.

The best way to try to control seizures is to be aware of all the facts surrounding them – times of day they occur, how long they last, frequency per day, possible triggers (missed medication, overtired, dehydrated, alcohol use) and any feelings/effects afterwards. The more information you can present to your physician the better they will be able to understand the big picture of what’s happening and provide better care for the individual.  Websites such as, SeizureTracker.com  help to record all this information  in one secure place, so you can easily document the most detailed information  possible.  Learn more about SeizureTracker.com through our webinar with the site’s co-founder, Rob Moss.

For more information on seizure treatments and evaluation, check out Seth Keller’s HealthMeet webinar.

The Arc Reacts to Maryland Commission’s Report on Community Inclusion in the Wake of the Robert Ethan Saylor Tragedy

Recently, the state of Maryland’s Commission for Effective Community Inclusion of Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (I/DD) released their initial report.  Created in September by Governor Martin O’Malley, the Commission is charged with bringing to life accurate, effective and comprehensive attitudes, policies, and supports that will guide first responders in their work with people with I/DD.  Representing The Arc on the Commission is Joanna Pierson, Executive Director of The Arc of Frederick County.

The Commission conducted a national review of materials and approaches in the area of I/DD, examined the status of training in Maryland, looked at how community inclusion efforts over the years have impacted people with I/DD, and determined next steps in their process.  Now the Commission is hosting listening sessions across the state that The Arc will participate in.

“The Commission has started an incredibly important dialogue in Maryland about how to bring more awareness to communities across the state about people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  Too often, we hear of instances where law enforcement is approaching a situation involving a person with an intellectual or developmental disability from a crisis perspective.  We need to change this approach so that our first responders are first made aware of how to engage people with disabilities so that things don’t escalate into a crisis as they did with Robert Ethan Saylor.  The Arc Maryland is ready to provide this training support with a program that involves people with disabilities, as suggested by the Commission.  We think it is vitally important that any training and awareness brought about by this Commission’s work should be inclusive of all types of intellectual and developmental disabilities so that we can make our state safer and more inclusive for all,” said Kate Fialkowski, Executive Director, The Arc Maryland.

In October, The Arc Maryland conducted an introductory training entitled “Law Enforcement Response to Developmental Disabilities” at the Governor’s Fall Criminal Justice Conference.  In an “Ask Me” format, individuals with developmental disabilities led this training.

At the national level, in October The Arc was awarded a two-year grant for $400,000 by the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) to develop the National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability.  This is the first national effort of its kind to bring together both victim and suspect/offender issues involving people with I/DD under one roof.  The goal of this project is to create a national clearinghouse for research, information, evaluation, training and technical assistance for justice and disability professionals and other advocates that will build their capacity to better identify and meet the needs of people with I/DD, whose disability often goes unrecognized, and who are overrepresented in the nation’s criminal justice system – both as victims and suspects/offenders.

“Just a few months into this project, and we are already seeing just how great the need is nationally for resources, information, training, and support around this issue. It shouldn’t take another tragedy like the death of Robert Ethan Saylor to bring the kind of focused attention this issue deserves, and we look forward to working with the Commission to make Maryland’s communities safer for everyone,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

Wings for Autism™ Program Takes Off Nationally in Seattle

Wings for AutismSeattle, WA – Tomorrow, The Arc will hold its first Wings for Autism™ event at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport​ (Sea-Tac), in partnership with Alaska Airlines, the Port of Seattle, the Transportation Security Administration, and The Arc of King County. Wings for Autism™, one of The Arc’s newest national initiatives, is an airport “rehearsal” specially designed for individuals with autism spectrum disorders, their families and aviation professionals. Originated by the Charles River Center, a local chapter of The Arc in Massachusetts, and the Massachusetts Port Authority, Wings for Autism™ is designed to alleviate some of the stress that families who have a child with autism experience when traveling by air. The program provides families with the opportunity to practice entering the airport, obtain boarding passes, go through security, and board a plane.

Wings for Autism™ also gives airport, airline, TSA professionals and other personnel the opportunity to observe, interact and deliver their services in a structured, learning environment. This experience is equally useful for families that have a member with other intellectual or developmental disabilities (I/DD) that are concerned about the ability of their family member to travel.

Thirty one families from the Seattle area have signed up to benefit from this experience.  The day will kick off with families arriving at the airport at 11:20am. Upon arrival, event attendees will check in to receive their boarding pass, go through security, and be greeted at the gate prior to boarding the plane. A small reception will be held afterwards.

“We are excited to begin national expansion of Wings for Autism™ program in Seattle. For parents of children with autism spectrum disorders, everyday tasks can sometimes prove to be far more difficult for their child.  Air travel can prove particularly challenging between clearing security, the overwhelming noises, and harsh lights. This program will not only alleviate the stress children and their parents may feel, but help educate airport and airline professionals about how best to serve children with autism or other intellectual and developmental disabilities in the future.  We are grateful to our partners on the ground in Seattle – Alaska Airlines, the Port of Seattle, the Transportation Security Administration, and The Arc of King County – who are committed to making air travel possible for families with children with autism and other intellectual and developmental disabilities,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

“We’re honored to host Wings for Autism at Sea-Tac Airport,” said Mike Ehl, director of aviation operations for the Port of Seattle. “The program literally opens a window to the world for families with children with autism and other disabilities by demystifying the airport experience.”

“Our employees are trained to provide the highest level of security and customer service to all who pass through the security checkpoint,” said Jeff Holmgren, TSA Federal Security Director at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.   “TSA welcomes the opportunity to work with these families to demystify the aviation security screening process.”

“Everyone deserves a nice vacation with their loved ones. That’s why it breaks my heart to think of the families who have never been able to travel outside of the Pacific Northwest. Most families take airplane travel for granted, but families who care for children with autism often fear getting on a plane, or even going through security at the airport. Thanks to the support of our Wings for Autism partners and volunteers, our goal is to produce this event several times a year, enabling all families to travel with more confidence, making great vacation memories together,” said Sylvia Fuerstenberg, Executive Director of The Arc of King County.

The Arc and Specialisterne USA to Work Together on US Expansion of Model to Employ People with Autism in Tech Industry

Specialisterne logoWashington, DC – As the World Economic Forum kicks off in Davos, Switzerland, The Arc and Specialisterne USA are announcing a new agreement to help Specialisterne replicate its successful model of employing people with autism in the tech industry in the United States.  By utilizing The Arc’s strong network of chapters, Specialisterne USA and The Arc will expand the model to sites across the country with a goal of serving technology companies nationwide.

Specialisterne USA is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization established by The Specialist People Foundation, a not-for-profit Danish organization that works to create meaningful employment for people with autism and similar challenges by building relationships with technology companies that need employees whose skill sets match the characteristics of many people on the autism spectrum.  In 2013, The Specialist People Foundation entered into a partnership with technology company, SAP AG, while Specialisterne USA entered into a partnership with Computer Aid, Inc. (CAI), to provide employment opportunities for people with autism as software testers, programmers, data quality assurance specialists and other technology positions.  Specialisterne USA , with operations in the Midwest, Mid Atlantic and Southwest regions of the US, and The Arc’s New York City chapter, AHRC New York City, began working to pilot replication of the Specialisterne model late last year in New York City.

Participating chapters of The Arc will be trained by Specialisterne USA to recruit, assess and train people with autism to work in technology jobs at competitive wages alongside people without disabilities.  Within three years, Specialisterne USA aims to have Specialisterne operations in twelve regions of the United States, working with employers to expand their recruitment to include people with autism and similar challenges and providing a range of job coaching and mentorship services to employers and individuals with autism.

“This is a huge opportunity for individuals with autism to be trained for and employed in the high-tech sector where the career opportunities are promising.  We are excited to launch this partnership with Specialisterne USA because we know it has worked in European markets, and we have our work cut out for us here in the United States to close the huge unemployment gap facing people with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

Thorkil Sonne, Specialisterne Founder and President of Specialisterne USA, says that the partnership with The Arc will be a key step in spreading the Specialisterne model throughout the United States. “We consider this a very important step on our journey to enable 100,000 jobs in the USA. The Arc is a perfect partner as the largest organization in the US working with people with disabilities and we have already had a very positive experience working with the New York chapter of The Arc. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, I have the opportunity to discuss with business leaders how The Arc and Specialisterne can help the corporate sector in the US get access to a huge untapped pool of talent,” said Sonne.

About Specialisterne and The Specialist People Foundation

The Specialist People Foundation, which owns the Specialisterne concept and trademark, works to enable one million jobs for people with autism and similar challenges through social entrepreneurship, corporate sector engagement and a global change in mind-set. The foundation works with partners and stakeholders around the world to bring about a vision of a world where people are given equal opportunities in the labor market. Specialisterne, which translates from Danish as “The Specialists”, is a socially innovative company where the majority of employees have a diagnosis on the autism spectrum. Specialisterne harnesses the special characteristics and talents of people with autism and uses them as a competitive advantage. Employees work as business consultants on tasks such as software testing, programming and data-entry for the public and private sectors. To date, Specialisterne has operations in 12 countries around the world, including the US, Canada, the UK, Germany, Poland and Spain.

The Arc Receives $25,000 from MetLife through Successful Social Media Campaign

MetLife presents The Arc with $25,000This week, The Arc was presented a check for $25,000 from the MetLife Foundation. In December, The Arc was chosen as the beneficiary of a social media campaign MetLife was conducting in conjunction with its MetLife Center for Special Needs Planning.  For one day, MetLife donated $1 for each “like” of a post about The Arc and $2 for each comment (the cap for donations was $25,000).  The response was overwhelming with more than 38,000 “likes” and 2,000 comments. This was the highest response MetLife has ever received with a social media campaign.

“On December 17, we partnered with MetLife and raised $25,000 for The Arc to help individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families.  The overwhelming response of our followers online highlighted how strong our movement is.  Support of organizations like MetLife enable us to continue our work to promote inclusion and civil rights for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and we thank them their generous support,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

“It’s rewarding to be able to give to an organization that helps the families we serve.  And what better time than the season for giving,” said Kelly Piacenti, Assistant Vice President, MetLife Center for Special Needs Planning.

The Arc and UCP React to Offensive Language to People with Disabilities in The Wolf of Wall Street

The Arc and United Cerebral Palsy released the following statement in response to the use of the r-word and the offensive depiction of cerebral palsy in the new film The Wolf of Wall Street.

“The Wolf of Wall Street is getting a lot of attention for how it offends audiences on many levels, but one aspect that hasn’t been discussed is its use of the r-word and its unacceptable mockery of people with cerebral palsy.  Hollywood just doesn’t seem to get it.  More than five years after people with disabilities protested at theaters across the country against Tropic Thunder, a film which included a highly offensive portrayal of people with intellectual disabilities, the industry is still using language and jokes that hurt audience members and don’t add any value to the artistic intent or point the film is trying to make,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc. “Among moviegoers who have paid to see The Wolf of Wall Street in recent weeks are people with disabilities, their parents, siblings, and friends.  It’s time for Hollywood to wake up and see that their customers deserve better.”

“The Wolf of Wall Street’s gratuitous use of an offensive term for people with disabilities, as well as its depiction of cerebral palsy, is outrageous. For more than 60 years, UCP has been working to ensure that people with cerebral palsy and other disabilities can live their lives without limits—including equality, inclusion and respect in our society—but it is very clear that our fight is far from over,” said Stephen Bennett, President and CEO of UCP. “While we understand that the film’s content is deliberately distasteful and excessive, it does not excuse it. It is astonishing that the film’s producers, director and actors deemed this kind of language and portrayal to be acceptable—they can do better, and we urge them to.”

Statement of Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Social Security Task Force Regarding Recent New York City Disability Fraud Allegations

Approximately 100 former police officers, firefighters and others were indicted this week in New York City for allegedly fraudulently obtaining Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits. The allegations are extremely troubling, and if true, these individuals’ actions are nothing short of deplorable.

The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Social Security Task Force condemns any misuse of the Social Security disability programs. Any individual who seeks to abuse vital programs like Social Security does so at the expense of the millions of disabled workers for whom benefits provide essential economic security — and must be brought to justice.

At the same time, we must take care not to paint Social Security’s disability programs with the brush of the few who aim to defraud it, without putting them in the context of the millions of individuals who receive benefits appropriately and for whom Social Security is a vital lifeline.

Social Security’s disability programs are a core component of our nation’s Social Security system, which keeps millions of hardworking Americans and their families out of poverty. Extremely strict eligibility requirements mean that fewer than four in ten applicants are approved for disability benefits, even after all stages of appeal. Demonstrating eligibility requires extensive medical evidence, and many individuals are denied benefits despite significant disabilities and chronic illnesses. Benefits are modest but vital – averaging just over $500 per month for Supplemental Security Income and approximately $1,130 per month for Social Security Disability Insurance. For many, disability benefits make it possible to secure stable housing and purchase food, life-sustaining medications, and other basic necessities. Disability benefits can be the difference between life and death for many Americans.

The Social Security Administration works hard to ensure program integrity, but it requires adequate resources to do so. It has been deprived of adequate administrative resources to conduct necessary program integrity work for several years. Congress holds the purse strings to enable the Social Security Administration to ensure that benefits are paid to the right person, in the right amount, and at the right time— and to implement the array of critical safeguards that exist in current law.

We encourage anyone who suspects abuse of the Social Security disability programs to report it via Social Security’s hotline 1-800-269-0271 or online at www.oig.ssa.gov.