Autism Now’s New Service – Public Speaking Engagements

DSCN2049By: Amy Goodman, Director of Autism Now

What’s new with Autism Now, you ask? Well, one of my new roles as director is doing consulting work that involves public speaking. Public speaking is something that is difficult for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but in order to overcome my fear of people and being social I decided to try something new. I decided it was time to for me to take my expertise from working on Autism Now and make my public speaking debut by offering services to anyone who wants me to come speak about autism, ASD, bullying, employment, or anything else related to Autism Now or TheArc@Work, our employment initiative here at The Arc.

I recently spoke at the 2015 Alabama disABILITY conference in Orange Beach, Alabama. I believe I was a success because I was able to connect with my audience of individuals with disabilities by presenting from my own experiences. For example, I was talking about dating, relationships, and marriage and I was able to use examples from my life of how I as a person with a disability was able to overcome challenges in order to be married. I was able to have a long term relationship because I was ready and needed it at that time in my life. I found someone who needed me as much as I needed them and it worked out for both of us.

Preparing for speaking engagements is a lot of work, but if done effectively can help build the confidence of the speaker. I prepare over a long period of time, like 2 to 3 months in advance, by reading the information, putting the information into an outline, and writing out what I want to say. Then writing note cards with less information and finally putting just enough information on the power point slides to remind me what to say. Usually that isn’t even full sentences.

I have learned relaxation techniques to help me with anxiety and after this first speaking engagement, I decided I will probably change how I deliver my message. Next time, I think I will share a story, a poem, or quote that has something to do with the topic I am presenting that day. The most important thing is to be able to grab your audience’s attention before starting your presentation. If you can make them laugh or smile then they will tend to be more attentive to what you have to say.

So, the next time you need someone to speak at your event or conference, who are you going to call? Amy Goodman, Director of Autism Now – I’m ready and at your service to share my story and experience your event. Contact me at agoodman@autismnow.org or 202.600.3489.

Planning for a Future in The Workforce: Jobs, Skills, and Supports

Planning for a Future in The Workforce: Jobs, Skills, and Supports

To mark Disability Employment Awareness Month, The Arc’s Center for Future Planning convened thought leaders on a webinar to discuss how people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and their families should plan for a future in the workforce. If you missed it, you are not out of luck – check out this quick summary.

Planning

An ideal person-centered plan provides an accurate picture of the skills and interests of a person with I/DD. The plan should also outline the support a person with I/DD needs to be successful and be used as a document to lay the foundation for a successful career in the workforce. As Anne Roehl, Institute on Community Inclusion, University of Minnesota, noted, “We should be exploring opportunities before the old job gets boring. We should always be asking what the person wants to learn next.”

Exploring Employment Opportunities

In addition to exploring job-training programs, we should provide people with I/DD with the same tools and resources that people without disabilities use to get jobs. John Kramer, PhD, at the Institute for Community Inclusion at the University of Massachusetts Boston pointed out that “people without disabilities try out jobs, get paid, and if they don’t like it, they leave. In the disability employment world, we don’t often think of it that way. People with disabilities also benefit from getting a variety of experiences.”

It is important for people with I/DD to get an understanding of different employment opportunities and they should be encouraged to explore these possibilities during high school. People with I/DD should also be encouraged to pursue internships and informational interviews in order to continue identifying jobs that might be of interest to them.

Understanding Rights and Responsibilities in the Workplace

The Americans with Disabilities Act bars employers from discriminating against people with disabilities and provides for reasonable accommodations in the workplace. Melanie Whetzel, Lead Consultant at the Job Accommodation Network highlighted the importance of people with I/DD and their advocates understanding their rights and responsibilities under the ADA.

Challenges can arise when an employee gets a new supervisor. Melanie pointed out that the likelihood of continuity increases if accommodations are put in place for the person with I/DD through a formal process rather than informally with a supervisor. Use of a formal process increases the number of people who know about the accommodations for the person with I/DD and understand why they are effective.

Support in the Workplace

Thought leaders agreed that it’s critical for people with I/DD to strengthen workplace relationships, which will help with integrating them into workplace teams. A person with I/DD’s supporters should always be looking at how to improve conditions and training in the workplace.

For example, once a person with I/DD is in a job they may be interested in other workplace duties and express an interest in training. Acquiring additional job skills is important not only for the person with I/DD, but it’s also beneficial to the employer when employees learn new skills.

Technology

Technology is advancing and webinar panelists emphasized the importance of access to technology in all aspects of the person’s life. Even if it isn’t relevant to the job today, it could be in the future.

The panelists agreed that use of technology in the workplace should be a priority so that people with I/DD are not left behind. We should remind employers that there might be a need for on-the-job-training. Breaking down a process can enable a person with I/DD to learn the essential elements of what is needed to use a piece of technology on the job.

The Arc Reacts to House Passage of the Two Year Federal Budget Deal

Washington, DC – Following House passage of a bipartisan two year budget deal that raises the debt ceiling, increases discretionary spending that benefits people with disabilities (I/DD), and avoids a cut to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, The Arc released the following statement:

“We commend the House for passage of the compromise Bipartisan Budget Act to keep the government open, prevent default, provide sequester relief for many programs that help people with disabilities and their families, and avoid the imminent, harmful cut to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.  With so much at stake, our nation cannot afford more stalling on these critical issues.

“Remedying the uncertainty caused by inaction on federal funding and the impending debt limit crisis is good for all Americans, including people with disabilities.  While recognizing that the bill is a result of numerous compromises to reach agreement, we are deeply disappointed that the solvency of the SSDI program, a lifeline for people with disabilities, is not extended to 2034. However, we encourage the Senate to move forward with this overall package,” said Marty Ford, Senior Executive Officer for Public Policy, The Arc.

 

October is National Disability Employment Month

Nicole Jorwic, J.D. – Director of Rights Policy for The Arc

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, a time to reflect on the advancements in making employment for individuals with disabilities a reality, and also, on how much work is left to be done. As the Employment First movement has been sweeping across the country, it is important to remember why a job is so important to an individual with a disability. My brother is 26 and has autism, I asked him why getting a job is important to him, this was his response:

“I think that a job is essential to a person with a disability because it gives us purpose, and common ground to build on with the rest of the world. All my siblings get so much of their identities from their jobs, I should have the same chance. All my brothers and sisters in disability deserve the opportunities to work in our communities, for fair pay, so that we can fulfill our destinies.”

As we work in Washington DC and on the state-level to ensure that policies and practices converge to make the road to employment smoother for individuals with disabilities, we must remember that a job is an essential part of what gives someone standing in their community. Individuals with disabilities are succeeding in meaningful careers in a wide range of private businesses, government agencies and nonprofit organizations, while others are becoming entrepreneurs with their own micro-businesses.

We moved from a time when the thought of individuals with disabilities having a job was a dream, through a time when the only options were sheltered workshops, into a new era where there is meaningful and competitive work for individuals with disabilities. The value in having a response to “what do you do?” is immeasurable for individuals with disabilities across the country, including my brother Chris.

Celebrating Catalysts for Employment

The Arc’s Catalyst Awards were created to recognize individuals, businesses, and other organizations that are catalysts for achievement in the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). In honor of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) we would like to highlight three of our 2015 Catalyst Award winners that have distinguished themselves as champions in creating employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities.


Acadia Windows and Doors, winner of Small Business Employer of the Year Award, is located in Aberdeen, MD. The business partners with The Arc Northern Chesapeake Region to not only employ individuals with I/DD, but to educate other local employers about the importance of including people with disabilities in the workforce. Changes that have been made at the plant to accommodate employees with I/DD have actually created a safer work environment for all employees, leading Acadia Windows and Doors to win the Safety and Health Achievement Recognition award from Occupational Health and Safety Administration.

 


SAP
was awarded National Employer of the Year for the work done through its Autism at Work Initiative. The initiative, headed by Jose Velasco, was started in 2013 and has set a goal of having 1 percent of the company’s total workforce be people on the autism spectrum by 2020. Through a partnership with the Danish nonprofit Specialisterne and The Arc@Work, SAP has successfully hired 12 individuals on the spectrum at pilot sites in Palo Alto, CA and Philadelphia, PA. SAP is currently in the process of hiring up to 17 more individuals with I/DD at the Philadelphia site this fall.

 
Tom Wheeler, winner of the Federal Government Advocate of the Year, is the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, DC and created the Disability Advisory Committee of the FCC. Thanks to Tom’s outstanding work 7 individuals with I/DD have been hired at the FCC and are receiving competitive salaries and benefits; and these 7 are just the beginning. As the FCC continues to hire and support individuals with I/DD it will serve as an example to the federal government as whole.

 

These three trailblazers have set outstanding examples of acceptance and inclusion for individuals with disabilities in the workplace. Their commitment to an inclusive work culture has created valuable opportunities for their employees with I/DD and allows individuals with I/DD to live more independently and as active members of their communities.

We have a long way to go in realizing the goal of higher rates of employment for people with I/DD – today, 85% of people with I/DD are unemployed. Are you feeling inspired to become a catalyst for change, and willing to work with us to unlock the talent of people with I/DD to better their lives and improve your workplace? To learn more about the employment related services available to chapters and businesses through The Arc@Work, please visit our website.

A Weekend of Inspiration and Celebration

QSOnelvV9AyzjpQBSydgujLAJVSU7qtf0Wte27bv0jA,oetQPhLxNtIrNNAyiJ9vMNATotRT2lUcEZDusDY36jkThe Arc spent the first weekend of October in Indianapolis, IN with nearly 800 attendees, listening to inspiring speakers and learning how to better serve the I/DD community. Keynote speakers included Tim Shriver, Chairman of the Special Olympics, Derrick Feldmann, creator of the Millennial Impact Report, and Emily Travis of NOFAS. Fifty-one breakout sessions, a Self-Advocacy Symposium, NCE Pre-Convention, and our inaugural Catalyst Awards provided ideas and inspiration to carry The Arc’s movement into the next 65 years and build a stronger and more inclusive future. If you couldn’t attend—you missed out!—but can access most of the presenter’s slides from sessions on the Convention website.

If you couldn’t make it this year or are already looking forward to the next one, mark your calendar for October 27-29, 2016 for the National Convention and International Forum we will be holding jointly with Inclusion International in Orlando FL. We wanted to give you a sneak-peek of some of the photos we captured throughout the weekend. Stay tuned for more, and thanks to every attendee for making the weekend so special.

Insuring the Future of The Arc

Have you ever considered the possibility of making a more significant donation to The Arc?  For many families and supporters this probably sounds impossible, but it may be easier than you think.

When we were young and concerned about an uncertain future, many of us bought life insurance as a hedge against a situation that could devastate our young family.  Life insurance was a tool that provided financial security for our loved ones’ future.

As time passed and we built a ‘nest egg’, we find that the importance of that life insurance shrinks.  The kids grow up and become independent, we build a retirement plan and some of us may have invested in real estate and/or financial investments that provide security for our remaining years.  Even if we have a family member with a disability, many of us created a special needs trust to ensure they are cared for without it affecting other financial needs that our families have.  Therefore, the life insurance policies that were paid for over many years can now serve as a great way to give a gift of value that may not be needed by your family.

Please take a few moments to think about whether you too might be able to make a gift of a life insurance policy to The Arc.  It’s an easy gift to make; it simply requires adding a beneficiary or changing the ownership on an existing policy.  If the policy is already paid up, there would be no additional cost for making a very special gift that will benefit future generations of people with disabilities and their families who will continue to be served by The Arc.  To discuss a gift of life insurance or another special gift, please contact Bob Bennett, Director of Major Gifts & Planned Giving at (202) 600-3495 or by email: bennett@thearc.org.

 

The Arc Reacts to Announcement of No Social Security Increase for 2016

Yesterday, the Social Security Administration announced that inflation as calculated under the Social Security Act did not increase last year, and that as a result, monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income benefits will not increase in 2016.

“Nearly 65 million Americans, including over 14 million people with disabilities and their families, will see no cost-of-living adjustment in their Social Security and Supplemental Security Income benefits in 2016,” said Marty Ford, Senior Executive Officer, Public Policy.

“While the official measure of inflation did not change in 2015, at The Arc we know that many beneficiaries, including people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, are struggling to make ends meet. Their Social Security and Supplemental Security Income benefits won’t increase in 2016, but their rent, out-of-pocket medical expenses, and other daily living costs may.

“What’s hard to imagine is that some in Congress think that no cost-of-living adjustment is too much, and want to cut our Social Security lifeline. Shockingly, there’s still talk in Congress of adopting an even lower inflation formula in the Social Security Act, so there would be smaller, and fewer, annual benefit increases. And some in Congress are holding hostage 11 million Social Security Disability Insurance beneficiaries who will face a 20 percent benefit cut at the end of 2016 if Congress fails to act. The Arc calls on Congress to strengthen our Social Security and Supplemental Security Income systems, and to reject any cuts to this lifeline for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” said Ford. 

The Arc Wants to Hear about Your Experience Applying for Jobs Online

If you are an individual with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (I/DD) (or someone who provides assistance to an individual with I/DD), The Arc wants to hear about your experience applying for jobs online!

Over 85% of individuals with I/DD are unemployed and rely solely on family and/or government supports to get by.  The lack of employment options for people with I/DD reduces opportunities for them to interact with their peers in an integrated setting and reinforces the harmful stereotype that people with I/DD are not productive members of their communities.  The Arc works in a myriad of ways to improve the employment outcomes for individuals with I/DD to ensure they are able to lead independent, meaningful lives in the community in competitively paid jobs.

As businesses increasingly shift to online platforms, a major concern within the disability community over the last decade has been the accessibility of websites for individuals with disabilities.  In an age where more than half of new hires are sourced from the web, it is vital to ensure that individuals with I/DD are able to utilize all of the available tools to gain meaningful community-based employment and stay out of poverty.  Great strides have been made in recent years towards improving the accessibility of various websites for individuals with visual and hearing disabilities through methods such as closed-captioning and compatibility with screen-reading software.  In allowing individuals to fully experience the web, such tools are as fundamental as ramps for wheelchair users.

Unfortunately, very little progress has been made on this front for those with I/DD.  The Arc seeks to ensure that individuals with I/DD do not get left behind and become a web underclass.  Like everyone else, individuals with I/DD desire to learn, socialize, and shop online as well as access job opportunities in this forum. Towards this goal, The Arc wants to find out about YOUR experience with applying for jobs online to assess how accessible (or inaccessible) these mechanisms are for you.  We have developed two surveys – one intended for individuals with I/DD and the other for those who assist individuals with I/DD such as job coaches or family members – to find out more about your experiences applying for jobs online.

Our community’s ability to access these applications is vital to The Arc’s continued efforts to expand integrated, competitive, and community-based employment opportunities for individuals with I/DD and ensure that the integration mandates of state and federal disability rights laws are meaningfully fulfilled.

Do You Know the Health Conditions Commonly Associated with Down Syndrome?

peopleOne in about every 700 babies is born with Down syndrome. Most people with Down syndrome are able to live a full and healthy life, with many individuals living well into their 50’s and some even their 60’s. Our knowledge of health conditions that are commonly associated with Down syndrome has increased drastically over the years, providing these individuals that are living longer with improved health care and more comfort. Not all individuals with Down syndrome will have or develop these conditions, and many can live their entire life without any. However, being aware of these conditions and getting yearly preventative check-ups will help to improve quality of live and prevent smaller issues from developing into larger and more complicated ones.

A few of the health issues that are frequently seen in individuals with Down syndrome include:

  1. Heart Defects – Congenital heart disease is found in about half of babies born with Down syndrome. Ensuring that proper steps are taken when they are an infant—such as getting an echocardiogram and follow-up evaluations—will help to determine if a defect is present and what steps will need to be taken for treatment. Yearly check-ups are recommended to make sure no further problems exist.
  2. Thyroid Disorders – Symptoms of thyroid disorders in infants are very similar to those symptoms commonly associated with Down syndrome, so these cues can easily be overlooked. Babies born with Down syndrome are recommended to have their thyroid checked at birth, 6 months, 1 year of age, and annually every year after. Hypothyroidism, the most common disorder found, can develop at any age and can lead to weight gain, fatigue, and constipation. Effective treatment can easily be prescribed though once diagnosed.
  3. Hearing Issues – About 70% of individuals with Down syndrome will experience some hearing loss. Early detection of hearing loss is essential, as children mainly learn to speak from hearing words and sounds around them. Poor hearing could affect speech development, learning, and social skills or cues. Excessive ear wax build-up is common in adults and could be confused with behavior issues such as stubbornness or confusion.
  4. Vision Impairments – Poor vision can have an effect on an individual’s balance and increase the risk of falling. Luckily though, most eye issues are able to be fixed with corrective lenses. Other common eye problems that can occur include cataracts (clouding of the eyes), strabismus, crossed eyes, and rapid involuntary eye movements. Eye exams are recommended to start annually when individuals are infants.
  5. Infections – Individuals with Down syndrome have a much higher risk of developing an infection, especially respiratory infections. Defects in the immune system make it harder to fight off bacteria and viruses. Any infection should be treated immediately and monitored thereafter to ensure it does not get any worse. Obtaining all recommended immunizations will help to prevent and reduce infections.

Even though not all individuals with Down syndrome will encounter all of these issues, it’s good to be mindful of them and take precautions to get yearly check-ups to help prevent any future health concerns. Learn more about how to stay healthy and active through The Arc’s HealthMeet project.