Mislabeled a Sex Offender: The Kelmar Family’s Fight for Justice

My name is Brian Kelmar, and I am the father of a 24 year old son who has autism and auditory and sensory processing disabilities. Our nightmare began almost six years ago, right after my son graduated high school. It’s a case of the “perfect storm” that resulted in my son being punished and treated as an outcast in our community and in society.

Do words like “trusting, bullied, eager to please, and not understanding social situations” sound familiar? These words describe my son and how he interacts and/or experiences the world around him.  Like others with autism, he had few friends growing up, let alone a girlfriend.  That core need for friendship hasn’t changed. He continues to long to fit in and feel included, and have friends in his life that he can talk to. So, when a female friend of my younger son started texting my son, he was so happy that he found someone nice to talk to.

The girl’s texts started innocently enough with just small talk.  The communication began when he was away at a college summer orientation where he was learning about the autism program he was to begin in the fall. The texting from her soon became very sexually aggressive, and he did not understand what the texts were about. He answered her questions with short words or answers, such as “like”, “what”, “ok”, and “huh”? She pointed out to him, “you really don’t understand what I am talking about” in regards to her sexual statements like “friends with benefits” and “hooking up,” along with more graphic content which he did not understand. When reading the back and forth texting, it’s clear to anyone reading these messages that they were going right over my son’s head.

After he returned from orientation, she repeatedly began asking him to meet with her. He had no idea of how to handle her sexually aggressive messages, and he certainly didn’t foresee what would happen next. When he met her in person, she became very sexually aggressive.  Like other people with autism and sensory issues, he can easily become overwhelmed and shut down, similar to a computer that has too many programs open at the same time.  This is exactly what happened during her sexual advances. When his mind “rebooted” and his thought process reengaged, he told her to stop.  She did and he took her home.

That same evening the police came to our house in the middle of the night. Since the front door is closest to my son’s room, he answered it.  Not understanding the situation and thinking the girl was in trouble because she was the aggressive one, he answered their questions before I got to the door.  The police took him to jail for two days until I could get him released on $100,000 bail.

In an instant, my son’s life was changed forever.

My son and our family entered a criminal justice system that we had no idea how to maneuver, and a system that had no idea about autism. Our lawyer had no experience with autism or working with people with disabilities. We were told by the attorney that the only option was to plea bargain. Later I discovered that is how most cases are resolved, through plea bargaining (experts estimate that 90 to 95 percent of both federal and state cases are resolved through plea bargaining).

 

During the sentencing phase, the judge heard testimony from the court appointed forensic psychologist with comments like:

“It was the alleged victim that was grooming him for a sexual encounter”
“He did not understand the situation”
“She was the aggressor”

These statements were all true based on the evidence of the text messages.  The judge understood the situation, and gave my son a ten year suspended sentence.  We never had any written plea bargain agreement. Then he was sentenced to 10 years probation. What we did not find out until after the sentencing was that due to the way the law was written, he would not only be on the sex offender registry, but he would be put on the violent sexual predator list for life.

This was absolutely devastating and the consequences last a lifetime.  This punishment will limit his ability to be employed, where he or our family can live, where he can travel to visit family members or even his future family (if they are under 18).  He can’t even travel to see his own grandmothers now because of the laws affecting travel between states.  This whole experience has been like a slow, agonizing psychological death sentence for him, and for our entire family.

Our hope is that other people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and their families can learn from our experience. Here are some lessons learned:

1. Never let your child (regardless of age) speak to authorities without you or another advocate and a lawyer present – no matter what.  While there are various organizations like The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability® (NCCJD) and some state agencies which can step in and mitigate the situation, the best scenario is to ensure the person’s rights are protected during questioning.

2. Contact NCCJD which can provide assistance in cases like this, and can also provide quality, effective training for criminal justice professionals in your state.  You will often find that many law enforcement, attorneys and other criminal justice professionals in the criminal justice system have had no training on I/DD. Through NCCJD’s information and referral and technical assistance services, their staff can work with your local chapter of The Arc and other community or state agencies to provide practical solutions that avoid destroying people’s lives before the snowball effect of the criminal justice system starts rolling.

3. If at all possible, hire a lawyer who is has experience/expertise in both the specific crime specialty (i.e., sex offenses) and defending people with I/DD. Since few attorneys have this experience, at the very least, he or she should be open to learning more about disabilities and working with NCCJD and other advocacy organizations to provide the best defense possible.

4. Finally, never agree to a plea bargain until it is written down for your approval and you know all of its consequences before you agree to it.

The sex offender registry laws must take into account a person’s disability so that true justice is served. If you or your family has experienced a similar situation, and are willing to share it, please send your story to NCCJD at NCCJDinfo@thearc.org. It’s time to bring this issue to light, and reveal the real life implications these laws have on people with I/DD and their families. We are well aware that ours is only one story of many, but together – our collective stories have the potential to become the catalyst for nationwide change. If we don’t speak out, who will?

The Arc Reacts to Newly Released CDC Autism Report Showing No Increase in Prevalence in Two Years

Washington, DC – Today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new data showing the prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) remains unchanged;   1 in 68 children have been identified as having a diagnosis on the autism spectrum between 2010 and 2012.  

“While the data does not indicate an increase in autism prevalence, this does not mean that the numbers have stabilized. Previously, we have seen periods in which prevalence has remained unchanged. Between 2000 and 2002, the prevalence rate of 1 in 150 held steady, but was then followed by a dramatic rise that continued for a decade. 

“The most important thing to take away from this report is the need for early diagnosis and intervention. It is concerning that minorities, specifically black and Hispanic populations, continue to be more likely to receive a diagnosis years after their white peers. The earlier a developmental evaluation takes place, the sooner individuals and their families can begin receiving early intervention supports. Another area for improvement is access to high-quality, affordable developmental services in the community. The Arc strongly believes that all children who have been identified with autism or other disabilities deserve this access to appropriate services.

“The numbers may not have changed, but this report gives us much to think about and data to strengthen our calls to action for more resources and earlier intervention,” said Peter V. Berns, CEO of The Arc.

ASDs are a group of developmental disabilities that are often diagnosed in early childhood and can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges over a lifetime.  Chapters of The Arc across the country provide services and supports for people with autism and their families.

The Arc’s national office has several programs for persons with ASD: Autism Now: The National Autism Resource and Information Center; Wings for Autism, a national airport rehearsal program for people with autism or other developmental disabilities, and their families; and The Arc@Work, a program that develops innovative workforce solutions for the government and private sector by connecting employers with talented employees with autism or other disabilities and supporting the recruitment, on-boarding, and retention process.

 

Editor’s Note: The Arc is not an acronym; always refer to us as The Arc, not The ARC and never ARC. The Arc should be considered as a title or a phrase. 

Everyone’s Right to Reach your Unimaginable Heights

By: Nicole Jorwic, Director of Rights Policy, The Arc of the United States, and oldest of four.

There is a saying that goes, “the two greatest gifts that a parent can give a child are roots and wings.” These are gifts that I have been lucky enough to receive, along with my siblings, including my brother Chris who has autism. My brother Chris is nonverbal, and it wasn’t until he was in his late teens that we appreciated his true intellectual capacity. Before that he was “locked away,” his words, “by autism.” My parents, even before we knew Chris’ true level of intelligence, presumed his competence and pushed his teachers, therapists and service providers to think beyond his disability.  It is with that perspective that I read the recent New York Times Magazine Article “Should Parents of Children With Severe Disabilities Be Allowed to Stop Their Growth?”

The article highlights the incidents of parents of children with severe physical and cognitive disabilities unnaturally stunting the growth of their children, in order to make it easier to care for them at home throughout their lifetime. This decision, I can imagine, is not come to without a great deal of deliberation and trepidation. However, it should not be the parent’s choice to make. The Arc’s Health Position Statement is clear:

“Treatments for persons with I/DD that are proposed primarily for the convenience of the caregiver (such as medical procedures that interfere with typical growth and development) must be denied.”

The decision making process, outlined in this piece, is based on the needs and desires of the caregivers, and completely removes the voice and rights of that child with a disability.

The parents are also making the decision based on information that they have received from doctors about their child’s developmental age and potential. This is science that is imperfect at best. As noted in the article, there is “a significant body of research shows that the intellects of people with severe motor impairments can be grossly underestimated.”

With this incomplete information decisions are made, despite the reality that many individuals, including my brother’s, intellectual capacities are not known or can evolve over their lifetimes, especially when they find a means to communicate. This is proven true with the child who is featured in the story. Ricky has “shown signs of purposeful movement, an important developmental milestone, by using a head-motion-activated assistive-communication device to stop and start videos at his school for the visually impaired.” This development is, I am sure, treasured by the family, but it also shows that Ricky’s right to self determination was eliminated by the decision to stunt his growth. As is clearly stated in The Arc’s Rights Position Statement regarding self determination:

“People with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities have the same right to self-determina­tion as all people. They must have opportunities and experiences that enable them to exert con­trol in their lives and to advocate on their own behalf.”

The ability to assert control in their lives was violated by the decision to stunt their growth, and the rights of these children were breached. There is a dignity of risk for all of us, including individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities. That includes the right to grow, make mistakes, and to thrive. Perhaps what these families should be advocating for is not the ability to stop their child’s growth, but, what should be advocated for is better technology to help the children communicate their wants and needs, as well as technology and better supports that will make it easier for their children, as they grow into adults, to stay at home. That growth will come from roots, planted in the belief that every person has a right to reach their full physical stature and their full potential. All of us grow in ways we couldn’t have imagined as children, and all people with disabilities must be afforded the right to achieve those “unimaginable” heights.

Vote!

“Vote as if your life depends on it,” Justin Dart, Jr., the disability rights pioneer often known as the father of the Americans with Disabilities Act, implored us, “Because it does.”

Our core values call us to focus on voting during Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month in this critical election year.  The Arc’s core value of community underscores that “people with intellectual and developmental disabilities . . . have fundamental moral, civil and constitutional rights to be fully included and actively participate in all aspects of society.” Our core value of self-determination provides, “People with intellectual and developmental disabilities, with appropriate resources and supports, can make decisions about their own lives and must be heard on issues that affect their well-being.”

Voting is the most fundamental civil right.  By exercising the right to vote, people have a say in how our democracy moves forward.  As we advocate together for the full inclusion of people with disabilities in our communities, people with disabilities must have an equal say in how our society operates.  Through voting, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) exercise that voice equally with all members of their communities.

By advocating on the issues they care about and supporting candidates who will fight for their agendas, people with I/DD exercise their right to self-determination.  The disability community gains power by showing candidates that it will support those who advocate with us.

Unfortunately, some – but not all – states automatically deprive people with disabilities who are under guardianship of the right to vote. In other states, people with I/DD with guardians retain the right to vote unless a court specifically finds the person ineligible to vote. Self-Advocates Becoming Empowered (SABE) provides guidance on knowing your right to vote if you have a guardian: http://www.sabeusa.org/voting-and-guardianship/. Voting is a core civil right, and people with disabilities should not automatically lose that right if they are under guardianship.  We must fight to change these laws.

The implications of guardianship are far reaching.  It has long been The Arc’s position that most people with I/DD can manage their own affairs with assistance and guidance from others, and that if guardianship is necessary it should be limited and tailored.  Before considering guardianship, people with I/DD and their families should explore the many less restrictive ways that people with I/DD can receive support to make decisions.  The individual and his or her family should understand all of the implications of limiting the person’s autonomy and transferring his or her rights to a guardian, including the possibility that the person will be deprived of the right to vote. For more information on informal and formal ways to support people with I/DD to make their own decisions, visit The Arc’s Center for Future Planning: https://futureplanning.thearc.org/pages/learn/where-to-start/supporting-daily-and-major-life-decisions.

Even if a person has been deprived of the right to vote, he or she can still actively participate during this election season by supporting candidates and advocating on issues.  Let’s make sure the voices of people with I/DD are heard and that the candidates understand our messages.  And, let’s fight to change laws that deprive people with I/DD of their civil rights.

“The Times, They Are a-Changin”… But Will Criminal Justice Reform Measures Leave Some People Out?

By Leigh Ann Davis, Program Manager, NCCJD

A recent Huffington Post article stated: “America must turn the page on its over-dependence on the criminal justice system. In order to break arrest cycles and end inappropriate criminalization of people with mental illness, we must support community based behavioral health care. We need…systems dedicated to recovery for adults, resiliency for children and self-determination for people with intellectual disabilities. It is a new year, a time for reflection and new resolve. America needs a new approach to mental health care – it is a matter of life and death.”

It’s becoming increasingly apparent to those outside of the disability community just how often people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) are suffering at the hands of a criminal justice system that struggles both to identify their disability or, once identified, respond effectively to them as either victims, suspects or offenders.  For example, the popular Netflix documentary “Making A Murderer” showcasing Brendan Dassey’s coerced confession provided a view into how a person with a disability can be easily manipulated in the criminal justice system, and people with little or no direct involvement in disability and justice issues are witnessing how hard it can be for suspects with I/DD to experience a fair system of justice.

No matter what your opinion on the guilt or innocence of Brendan or his uncle, watching the episode where Brendan “confessed,” and seeing the techniques used to force the so-called confession, may cause some sleepless nights. Yes, it’s that disturbing. People new to this issue who are learning about forced confessions for the first time become outraged when they discover just how often this is going on. The hard reality is that there are countless other Brendans who are stuck in a criminal justice system that often doesn’t recognize their disability and isn’t equipped to serve them.

Bob Dylan wrote the hit song “The Times, They Are a-Changin” in the mid-60’s as a deliberate attempt to create an anthem of change for his time. Thankfully, criminal justice reform is in the air as evidenced by the President’s Task force on 21st Century Policing, which addresses “mental health” issues. There are bipartisan coalitions working together to achieve some level of success in reducing mass incarceration through sentencing reform and other measures. President Obama also emphasized criminal justice reform in his State of the Union address.  But the question remains, will people with intellectual and developmental disabilities – who are overrepresented in the criminal justice system – be left out? Even if “the times are a-changin” with regard to criminal justice reform, how will people with disabilities be included in this conversation, or will they even be invited to the table? When the President’s report mentions “mental health” does that include people with I/DD too? If we are to effectively change our criminal justice system, how do we take into account people with I/DD who are overrepresented in the system (both as victims and suspects), and at the same time, often invisible as well (since their disability is often not immediately recognizable)? NCCJD is researching this issue, diving deep into these difficult questions and seeking achievable solutions. We are on the front-lines, actively working to support policy that will:

  • Create systemic protocols to better identify individuals with I/DD in all stages of the criminal justice system, whether victim or suspect/offender
  • Support quality training for law enforcement, attorneys and victim service providers so that individuals with I/DD are appropriately identified as having a disability, and are provided with critical supports/accommodations that enable full access to justice
  • Ensure individuals with I/DD are included in key criminal justice reform programs, such as pre-trial diversion and sentencing reduction initiatives

 

NCCJD’s mission is to bridge the gap between the criminal justice and disability worlds. Over the next two years, with the continued support of DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, we will be addressing timely issues like competency to stand trial, and the intersection of race and disability in policing in white papers, media interviews, infographics, and other publications. We are expanding our Pathways to Justice™ training program to include an elective module for Crisis Intervention Teams (CITs) that will bring targeted attention and training to the issue of I/DD for law enforcement nationwide. We will continue to offer much needed support through our information and referral and technical assistance services to a broad audience of criminal justice professionals, as well as chapters of The Arc, advocates and family members.

Few would argue it’s become clear America needs a new approach when it comes to criminal justice issues. Whether professional, family member or other advocate, we must do all that is in our power to ensure citizens with intellectual and developmental disabilities are not left behind in this new era of criminal justice reform.

Munch Into March: It’s National Nutrition Month!

March is National Nutrition Month and balanced nutritious eating habits are the corner stone of a healthy and happy life. However, according to a 2014 Disability Scoop article people with disabilities may be slipping below the daily nutritional recommendations. It is difficult to know exactly why, but it may be due to a combination of things, such as how different medications a person takes interacts with one another. People with disabilities may also struggle to afford healthy foods.

According to the National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD), even finding accurate information on nutrition and disability can be a real challenge  because each person metabolizes foods differently based upon their genes, medications they take, and any medical conditions they have. So, it is very difficult to make nutritional recommendations that apply to everyone. There are some things that you, as a caregiver, or someone you care for can do to adapt healthy eating habits.

 

  • Familiarize yourself with nutritional risks and signs of poor nutrition and then find ways to deal with them.
  • Check out this resource from NCHPAD to find ways to adapt healthy eating practices, such as focusing on eating different types and quantities of foods in each meal. Healthy eating patterns also include cutting back on foods with excess sugars and saturated fats, as well as eating less salty foods.
  • Visit Self-Advocacy Online’s Healthy Plate This training, which was developed with input from people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (I/DD), uses instructional videos and learning exercises to help people with I/DD learn how to eat healthier.
  • Learn about MyPlate. This resource, developed by the United States Department of Agriculture, aims to build healthy eating habits through the lifetime by offering ideas and tips to help you create a healthier eating style that meets your individual needs.
  • Watch two recorded webinars 1) What’s For Dinner? Planning for Success in Healthy Eating and 2) Putting Nutrition on Your Radar for suggestions on how to improve healthy eating habits for people with I/DD.
  • Check out this video series from NCHPAD to learn how to think creatively when trying to stick to nutritional guidelines or special diets.

Remember, eating healthier doesn’t happen all in one day, but making small changes over time can make a big difference in improving overall health.

Chapters Commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr., Day of Service and Improve Disability Inclusion Across America

Many of our chapters spent the past two months executing service projects made possible by a grant from The Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency that leads national Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service.

Many perceive people with disabilities as the ones in need of service – but in reality, they are often a part of civic engagement at the state, local, and national level. Chapters executed great projects, including food drives and food delivery events. Check out our new Facebook album or each chapter’s Facebook page below for highlights and pictures from each event. Thank you for participating in this wonderful opportunity with us!

  • TARC: Our local chapter in Tulsa, Oklahoma, kicked off their MLK Day of Service at a University of Tulsa basketball game. Volunteers with developmental disabilities from TARC worked with university students to accept canned food donation and transport food to the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma. In February, volunteers from the chapter also packaged food at the Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma; served meals at the Kendall Whittier Elementary School; and conducted a month-long food drive at the University of Tulsa and at the True Blue Neighbors office.
  • The Arc Big Bend: On February 15th, this Madison, Florida, chapter hosted a “free lunch” for 250 people who experience food insecurity at a local park. Volunteers with and without disabilities from the local Kiwanis club, Aktion Club, local health department, and nursing school hosted a variety of activities, including free health screenings, fire rescue demonstrations, and performances from a local boys choir.
  • The Arc of Greater Twin Cities: Our Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota, chapter worked with Second Harvest Heartland Food Bank to deliver emergency food aid to at least 180 people in need. During the weekend before MLK Day, thrift stores operated by The Arc of Greater Twin Cities engaged volunteers to work at their thrift stores to collect canned food and sort clothing to be sold (the proceeds of which supported the work of The Arc of the Greater Twin Cities).
  • The Arc of the Glades: The Arc of The Glades in Belle Glade, Florida, began a joint adventure with The Church of The Harvest and Lighthouse Food Pantry to help provide food to those in need in our local community. As of February 10th, 40 volunteers with and without disabilities have given 385 hours of their time, served 2,468 meals, and distributed 5,686 bags of food to those in need.
  • The Arc of Luzerne County: Our chapter in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, partnered with the Wilkes Barre Kiwanis and Pittston Rotary Club to box food for over 150 low-income seniors at the Commission on Economic Opportunity,  a local community organization that serves people suffering from poverty on MLK Day. Since this initial event, volunteers with disabilities have been serving in the kitchen at the Commission on Economic Opportunity to help prepare 800-1000 lunches daily for low-income children in the area.
  • The Arc Nature Coast: Throughout February, volunteers with and without disabilities in Brooksville, Florida, delivered and distributed fresh fruits and veggies to nearly 300 families at four food banks in the community.
  • The Arc of the Midlands: Working with community partners, this South Carolina chapter fed close to 200 people at an event that included live music, a basketball scrimmage, and special guests including state representative Chip Huggins and Indianapolis Colts football player Kelcy Quarles.
  • The Arc of Virginia: On February 19th, volunteers and chapter staff assembled 230 meals for distribution to people in Richmond who experience food insecurity. This effort was supported by Virginia Delegate Kaye Kory, members of the Virginia General Assembly, and assembly staff.
  • The Arc of Walton County: The Arc of Walton County partnered with their local Anchor Club and The Matrix Community Outreach Center to provide food to those in need in northwest Florida.
  • Genesee Arc: This New York chapter supported volunteers with and without disabilities to conduct food drives throughout the month at twelve different community locations. The food collected was donated to 200 children in need at the United Way of Genesee County’s Backpack Program, which provides food to school-age children who experience food insecurity on the weekends.

The Arc Awarded Contribution for New Center for Special Education Advocacy

Washington, DC – The Arc is pleased to announce that it has been awarded a contribution from AT&T to create a new Center for Special Education Advocacy called TheArc@School. The center will support students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) to graduate from high school and pursue post-secondary education and employment by improving the quality and availability of trained lay advocates to support the development and implementation of Individualized Education Programs (IEPs).

All students who qualify for special education services are legally required to have an IEP to ensure they are receiving the support and guidance necessary to successfully pursue their educational goals. The IEP process requires an annual meeting between teachers, administrators, parents and students. In the meeting, attendees discuss everything from students’ present levels of academic achievement to their future goals and any accommodations or modifications they need in the classroom.

“These discussions can be overwhelming and intimidating for parents – many parents in The Arc’s network have shared that they are hesitant to express their opinions, they feel they do not have the expertise to participate, or that they are not encouraged to participate. As a result, plans often set low expectations or lack personalization, making it difficult for students to stay on track to achieve their full potential. TheArc@School aims to improve the process,”
said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

Currently, in order to make the process more manageable, some families choose to work with professional advocates. These advocates can be incredibly knowledgeable and can act as an excellent resource for parents and students, but many receive no formal training; they often become experts through their own personal experience navigating the special education system, usually as parents or teachers.

This contribution will allow The Arc to start by collecting data about current methods and practices, as little information about effective practices exists at this time. After analyzing this data to identify best practices, The Arc will disseminate this information through a comprehensive online resource center, making it easily available to parents, students, advocates, chapters of The Arc, and school administrators. The Arc will use this data on effective practices to inform planning to develop a comprehensive training effort aimed at lay advocates.

“AT&T is thrilled to collaborate with The Arc to provide a more comprehensive support system for students along with the resources they need for success,” said Nicole Anderson, executive director of philanthropy at AT&T. “The Center for Special Education Advocacy will be a key voice in making education accessible to more students.”

The Arc advocates for and serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), including Down syndrome, autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, cerebral palsy and other diagnoses. The Arc has a network of more than 665 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with I/DD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes and without regard to diagnosis.

 

Editor’s Note: The Arc is not an acronym; always refer to us as The Arc, not The ARC and never ARC. The Arc should be considered as a title or a phrase.

About Philanthropy and Social Innovation at AT&T

AT&T Inc. is committed to advancing education, strengthening communities and improving lives. Through its community initiatives, AT&T has a long history of investing in projects that create learning opportunities; promote academic and economic achievement; or address community needs. AT&T Aspire is AT&T’s signature philanthropic initiative that drives innovation in education by bringing diverse resources to bear on the issue including funding, technology, employee volunteerism, and mentoring. Through Aspire, we’ve passed the $250 million mark on our plan to invest $350 million in education from 2008-2017.

Focus on Flossing this February : It’s National Children’s Dental Health Month!

toothbrushAlthough February is technically National Children’s Dental Health Month, oral health is important for people of all ages!

Did you know people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) are more likely to have dental and oral health problems than the general population? A study conducted by Tufts University indicates that people with disabilities have a higher prevalence of oral disease such as dental cavities, gum disease, and missing teeth.

Caregivers play a key support role in helping people with I/DD make sure they have good oral hygiene practices like brushing teeth twice a day flossing regularly. However, only 6.4% of family caregivers have received any formal training to help their loved one keep his or her teeth clean

Fortunately, there are several resources out there for caregivers who want to learn how to help their family member improve his or her oral health. Here are a few that you may find interesting:

Reflections on the State of the Union Address

By: T.J. Sutcliffe, Director of Income and Housing Policy for The Arc

Last night, Americans across the nation, including people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and their families, tuned in for President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union address.

The Arc live Tweeted, and I had the honor of representing The Arc at the White House for the State of the Union Social live-viewing.

Here are five highlights that people with I/DD and their families will want to know about:

  • Remembering San Bernardino — One of President Obama’s guests at ‪SOTU was Ryan Reese, partner to Larry “Daniel” Kaufman who was one of the 14 victims of the December 2 attack at Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, CA. Daniel was a job coach for people with disabilities who lost his life after saving four people. As we tuned in to SOTU, our hearts were with Ryan, Daniel, and all of the victims in San Bernardino, their families, loved ones, and community.
  • Disability affects us all, and we are stronger together — At the White House, Vice President Joe Biden kicked off the SOTU watch party. In his remarks, the Vice President shared an inspiring story about the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) highlighting the need for us all to work together. After now-deceased Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC) rejected a precursor of the ADA, then-Senator Biden was very angry with Senator Helms and thought the worst of him. But then he learned that Senator Helms and his wife had adopted a child with a disability. The Vice President summed up, “It’s always appropriate to question another man or woman’s judgment, but it’s never appropriate to question their motive,” because you just don’t know.
  • Our lifeline: Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare and SSI — We couldn’t agree more with President Obama about this: “That’s why Social Security and Medicare are more important than ever; we shouldn’t weaken them, we should strengthen them.”
  • Lois Curtis, a disability rights champion — One of the “voices of fairness and vision, of grit and good humor and kindness that have helped America travel so far” highlighted on video as President Obama spoke was Lois Curtis, one of two named plaintiffs in the landmark ADA case Olmstead v. L.C. It was amazing to see Lois, a fierce advocate for people with disabilities, featured along with civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., Alice Paul, and Cesar Chavez.
  • A SOTU for everyone — We thank the White House for making this the most accessible SOTU ever for people with disabilities.

What were your thoughts about the State of the Union? Share them with us on social media (Twitter & Facebook).