Meet The Arc Audi Racing Team

By Heidi Reinberg

When I first read about The Arc Audi Racing Program, it seemed like a perfect, organic melding of individual moxie, nonprofit derring-do, and corporate social initiative.  Here was a race-car driver – Don Istook – who was inspired to share his love of racing with those with I/DD, and The Arc and Audi came along for the ride.

And what a ride it was!  The roar of the engines, the thrum of activity in the pit and on the sidelines, the colorful blur of the cars as they sped past at lightning speed– the excitement of my first day at the races was equally matched by the sheer exuberance of our Arc Audi crew.

Though I’m currently making documentaries, I’ve been involved in nonprofit and volunteering my entire life – since I was 13, I’ve believed that, whether it’s over a day or over the course of several years, each of us has the capacity to make a difference in someone else’s life.   That belief has been borne out time and time again in my work with such terrific organizations as City Cares of America, The Fresh Air Fund, The Bronx Documentary Center, and, now, with The Arc and The Arc Audi Racing Program.

A very special thanks to Trudy Jacobson and Kristen McKiernan from The Arc’s national headquarters and to Marti Sullivan, Meredith Manning, and Pat Napoliello of The Arc San Francisco for their assistance in making this film happen.

Heidi Reinberg

Heidi Reinberg

About Heidi Reinberg:
A lifelong organizational wonk, Heidi Reinberg has consulted for a wide variety of charitable organizations, advising on topics ranging from nonprofit startup to board development and fundraising to volunteer management and corporate partnerships. Her work covers a broad swath of issues: animal welfare, foster care, reproductive rights, public health, human rights, and developmental disabilities.

In the late ‘90s Heidi decided to put her skills to creative use and began producing social-issue films for HBO, PBS, and LOGO, among others. At present, Heidi is partnering with Oscar winner Ross Kauffman (Born Into Brothels) as Executive Producers of a series about conflict photographers; the project is currently in development as a fictional series at NBCUniversal. She recently founded Heidi Reinberg Big Idea, LLC to support visionary social entrepreneurs by providing project management services.

Meet Teddy: Self-Advocate, Entrepreneur and Inspiration

By: Annette Downey, Director of Community Living Services of Oakland County in Ferndale, Michigan

Teddy Fitzmaurice is a 28 year old energetic entrepreneur with Down Syndrome who promotes human rights and disability advocacy.  Teddy lives in his own apartment and loves to play his music loud and watch TV whenever he wants. He enjoys taking care of his bunnies, Chloe and Amy, walking, running, biking, swimming, and hanging out with his many friends.

Teddy began his own business, Teddy’s Ts, in 2006. He sells T-shirts that come in many sizes, along with a multitude of buttons. Teddy has taken his business around the country including Washington DC, Chicago, New York, San Juan, St. Louis, and Columbus just to name a few of his stops. He also displays his shirts in several stores.

The logos displayed on Teddy’s t-shirts and buttons promote improved quality of life, social justice, and equality for all. Teddy promotes community living, self-determination, inclusive education, and people first language. His merchandise proudly displays messages such as “Label Jars, NOT People”, “Shred the word – R E T A R D E D” and “Disabled, Sexy, and Proud!”.  Teddy uses a variety of creative methods to share his vision and passion for advocacy.

Always the happy salesman, Teddy is eager to attend every conference he can to sell his shirts.  Teddy’s products are creative and inspirational, and they promote disability rights and social justice.  To check out his product line, please visit Teddy’s T’s website or register for The Arc’s 2012 National Convention & International Forum and purchase one of his t-shirts in Entrepreneur Alley!

Wings for Autism Workshop: A Parent’s View

By Tonia Ferguson, Director, National Initiatives at The Arc

Plane in Sky

Last month, I had the pleasure of attending Wings for Autism Workshop at Logan International Airport in Boston, MA.  As a parent of a child with autism I didn’t know what to expect, but was excited to participate. I can’t even begin to describe what a wonderful program this is and how much of a difference it can make to children on the spectrum and their families.

I’ve never travelled with my son, Jared because I have always had concerns about how he would deal with security and the excess of people and noise that fill airports on a daily basis.  Observing the way that Wings for Autism addressed the concerns I had, and went into further detail to prepare individuals for all the aspects of travel truly impressed me.

The daylong event gave parents and children a “test run”, where they went through every step of traveling on a major airline. With volunteers from JetBlue including flight attendants and pilots, officials from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), ticket counter agents, and collaboration with other airlines and their staffs the simulation truly prepares parents and children for what to expect when traveling. The simulation requires families to clear security, board the plane, fasten their seatbelts, and prepare for take-off.  A highlight for the kids was a tour of the cockpit given by a pilot.

For children that are having issues with the various parts of the simulation there are behavioral specialists on hand to help parents and children work through any problems they may be having.

While this event is intended to benefit the families participating, I was impressed to see the volunteers from TSA and JetBlue benefiting from the experience as well.

The Arc’s national office plans to work with The Charles River Center (a chapter of The Arc) to expand Wings for Autism. If you are interested in the program and want to find out how to bring a workshop an airport near you please do not hesitate to email me.

This experience opens up a world of possibilities for my family and other families with children on the spectrum, the sky’s the limit. I look forward to working with Wings for Autism as they expand this innovative program and I hope to take Jared to a simulation at our local airport in the near future.

To view a video about the event visit The Charles River Center’s website.

Celebrating National Sibling Day with My Brother

By Kim Keprios, member of The Arc’s National Sibling Council and the Sibling Leadership Network

Kim Keprios and Family

Kim Keprios and her family share a day out on the water.

My brother Mike, “Kep” as I affectionately call him, is a man of tradition. As a family we are bound together by Kep’s desire to celebrate every Hallmark Greeting Card holiday ever invented. Add the National Sibling Day to our list of gatherings on the calendar that we will joyfully honor as a family this spring! National Sibling Day celebrates the unique bond between people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their brothers and sisters.

The Anchor

Mike has always brought our family together. He keeps us laughing, grounded, grateful and humble. Although he has a significant disability, Kep has been the anchor in our family. On rare occasions I have felt like he is a weight that ties me down when I yearn for the freedom to “leave home,” but mostly he is an anchor in the best sense of the word.

Kep led me to a career path I may otherwise never have pursued, or been afforded the opportunities I have had through my 30 years with The Arc Greater Twin Cities. At the core he is behind the passion and sense of urgency I bring to my work in advocacy with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families.

Mike’s Little Sister

Now my beloved brother and I are on the official AARP membership rolls. Together we are experiencing the painful realities of getting older. Our dad died last September. The hole in my heart is huge, but it is magnified as I watch Kep struggle with the loss of “Daddy George.” At times he says quite calmly, “Daddy George is not here — he is in heaven.” But then there are the times when Kep is anxious, sad and announces “Oh, I miss Daddy so much.” As usual, he says it like it is — his grief is front and center.

For 55 years as Mike’s “little sister,” he has been teaching me how to live life — all of it. Our April family gatherings will reflect the joys and sorrows that come with a rich life – missing dad at our traditional Easter brunch, and celebrating National Sibling Day. My big brother will guide me through both with a grateful heart!

About Kim

Kim Keprios is a member of The Arc’s National Sibling Council and the Sibling Leadership Network. She has developed and implemented programs for kids and adults who are sibling of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities at The Arc Greater Twin Cities since 1990. Her brother, Michael George (Kep) Keprios, was born in 1955 without eyes with a diagnosis of severe intellectual and developmental disabilities. Advised by doctors to institutionalize Mike, his parents George and Dodie ignored the counsel and brought Mike home to be raised with his siblings. Today, the man who doctors said “would likely never walk or talk” loves to dance, works at Old Chicago Pizza, volunteers at The Arc’s Value Village Thrift Stores, enjoys going to church and loves Country Western concerts.

Why I Got Involved with The Arc’s National Council of Self-Advocates

By Kevin Smith, one of the founding members of The Arc’s National Council of Self-Advocates

The Arc: For People with intellectual and developmental disabilities

I got involved in the self-advocacy movement because it promoted things that I believed in, both as a person with a disability and as just a person.  When I got involved in self-advocacy in the early 90s, people with disabilities were segregated from the rest of the community.  We were categorized as poor, pitiful, and helpless.

I wanted to join The Arc’s National Council of Self-Advocates because this movement has had a huge impact on my life and I want to share it with as many people as possible.  I hope this Council accomplishes two things: To tell people that they have the right to be included in their community and not be shut behind closed doors. The second would be that together, as a national group, the government will hear our needs and make a difference in someone’s life. I want to leave people with disabilities in better shape than when I started.

About The Arc’s National Council of Self-Advocates

The NCSA was developed to foster the active involvement of individuals with I/DD in the work of The Arc. Its primary purpose is to empower persons with I/DD to voice their opinions about what is important to them and to ensure that they are afforded the same opportunities as everyone else to have a meaningful life in the community. In joining the Council, members will be able to network with others who are involved in advocacy work, educate the public about the issues that are important to people with I/DD, and become active leaders in their communities.

Half a World Away But So Close

By Amberley Romo, sibling of an individual with I/DD and student in China

Amberley and Caroline Romo

Amberley and Caroline Romo

I’m currently halfway across the world from my sister Caroline studying the Chinese language in Beijing. But I’ve never felt closer to understanding her than I do right now; I can’t believe I had to come all the way to China to understand just a little bit better what every day is like for her.

Incredibly Unique

My sister is incredibly unique; She is almost always infectiously excited and happy, and has a dynamic personality that lights up any room. She is obsessed with dogs, adores babies and her favorite thing in the world is cooking with our mom. She also has a genetic disorder called Angelman Syndrome. Caroline is essentially nonverbal, but like most people with Angelman Syndrome, her intelligence and understanding of what’s going on far surpasses her ability to communicate about it. She is astoundingly emotionally attuned.

Outside of our family and close friends, who understand Caroline’s modified sign language and body language, Caroline has never been able to effectively communicate with strangers without the aid of a communication device. It’s gotten better through the years: We’ve gone from Boardmaker laminated squares with Velcro on the back, to a dinosaur-sized DynaVox augmentative communication device, to the Proloquo2Go app on an IPad.

A New Perspective

I began to see things from Caroline’s perspective when I signed a pledge to speak only Chinese from Monday through Friday for my language immersion program.

I’ll be frank: I’m not exactly fluent. (I started learning eight months ago.)  All of a sudden day-to-day interactions such as ordering from a menu and asking directions can induce a panic attack. I’m very aware of how much attention and help I need, especially when there is a line of people behind me waiting for something; I feel guilty. And the pressure of the expectant look on the face of the person who’s waiting for me to ‘get it’ only makes me shut down more.

“I have an Easy Button”

And that’s just the beginning. What’s most frustrating about being limited to only Chinese isn’t that Chinese is difficult (although it certainly is!), it’s suddenly having difficulty expressing the deeper thoughts and complex feelings and needs with the ease to which I am accustomed in English. Every thought-expression is a conscious process, if not always a linguistic battle.

The first time I felt the ‘shut down’ moment I was trying to have a conversation in Chinese with my roommate. I got to the point where I just wanted to put my face in my hands and block her out. At that moment, I had an extreme sense of déjà vu. With Caroline, if something got too hard or too frustrating, she would put her face in her hands to shut us out. The realization felt like being backhanded; before I even realized the connection I had made, I felt like crying.

But ultimately, I do have an “easy-button.” I can simply opt-out of the language pledge. For Caroline, there is no “opting out.” Even though I have a deeper understanding, I can never know what it’s like to not have that escape hatch, and I have so much more appreciation for her efforts.

Amberley Romo, 21, is a recent graduate of American University and worked for The Arc’s Washington, D.C. office as an intern and brand coordinator. She is currently enrolled in a language immersion program in Beijing, China. She is also a member of The Arc as a sibling and a supporter of the movement for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The Arc recently launched a National Sibling Council and has partnered with the Sibling Leadership Network to engage people like Amberley as they face the unique challenges and rewards that come from being a sibling of someone with I/DD.

Welcoming Amy Goodman to The Arc

Amy GoodmanBy Amy Goodman, Co-Director, The Autism NOW Center

Hello, my name is Amy Goodman and I joined the Autism NOW team in November as the new co-director. I live in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, and I am on the Autism Spectrum. I learned about my disability at a later stage in life, actually at the age of 33. My brother’s friend suggested that I try to get diagnosed. My brother claims it all started with the Grateful Dead. If it weren’t for Dead Net Central, he wouldn’t have ever met this friend. I finally found what I was looking for, answers to my questions and a diagnosis.

I was relieved to finally have a diagnosis and a name for some of the issues I was having. With that diagnosis, I was finally able to put my life in perspective and focus on who I am. It was because of this new found information that I went to graduate school and got my degree in Special Education with a focus on Autism at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia. I was accepted into a separate program at the Autism Training Center (ATC), at Marshall for students with Asperger’s syndrome/High Functioning Autism (HFA), which gave me academic support, individual support, and social skills I needed to live independently in my own apartment. I was the first graduate student, the first female, and the first individual to graduate from the ATC.

After graduate school, I worked as a Service Coordinator for Birth to Three. I had that job for about four years and I decided I needed to change my focus and get a job that applied my talents in a different way and helped to support me as an individual. I applied and looked for a job for more than a year and a half, and then I finally tried something I thought I would never do, networking. It paid off and I got a job at The Arc as co-director of Autism NOW. I have been at this job for about two and half months and I love it and everything about it.

The job at the Arc has given me my independence in many ways. I now am self-sufficient, I am an advocate for myself and I am empowered to be who I want to be. I have proven once again that individuals with ASD can and should be hired to work to the best of their ability.

Apostrophe Magazine Cancels “Can’t”

By: Jim Tracy, Editor of Apostrophe Magazine

Can’t and shouldn’t. Too often those words turn into “could have” and “should have” — regrets about lost opportunities. Apostrophe magazine helps turn “can’t” and “shouldn’t” into “can” and “should.”

The name comes from a song by the late rocker Frank Zappa about a man talking to his dog. We all can relate to that, but in Zappa’s song, the dog talks back.

“You can’t say that!” the man tells the dog in disbelief. “I do it all the time,” the dog replies. He talks, he says, even with all the apostrophes thrown his way: can’t, won’t, don’t and shouldn’t.

People with disabilities face the same apostrophes. Too often they’re told what they can’t do. Apostrophe magazine emphasizes what they can do. Every issue features stories about people living productive lives and achieving success at home, at work and at play.

Lissie Clark, a 34-year old businesswoman from Great Falls, Mont., is a good example. Lissie has overcome fetal alcohol syndrome and other obstacles to start a successful business. Today, she operates Lissie’s Luv Yums, baking and selling all-natural dog biscuits to customers across the United States. At the same time, Lissie uses her business to educate people about the dangers of alcohol consumption when you’re pregnant.

Apostrophe also gives readers practical information they can use every day. A staple of the magazine are how-to features. In past issues we’ve explained, using words, graphics and photos, how to make a hearty clam chowder, how to paint a room and clean up afterward, how to plant a vegetable garden, how to build a birdhouse, how to shop wisely for groceries, how to file a tax return, and how (and where) to vote.

In “It’s the Law,” Disability Rights lawyers have written about guardianship, end of life issues and the Olmstead Decision.  We tell our readers about websites worth visiting and books worth reading. A recent issue included a review of The Everyday Guide to Special Education Law and the companion workbook.

Every issue includes a column by a writer from People First. Contributors have explained to Apostrophe readers the marriage penalty, self-advocacy and the campaign to end the use of the “R” word. The Winter 2012 issue introduces “Jigsaw,” a cartoon strip created by Tess Langston, a young woman with autism.

Like The Arc, Apostrophe believes in promoting and protecting the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community as long as they live. We share The Arc’s core values of people first, equity, community, self-determination and diversity.

We believe the power of the pen (and the camera) can help make that philosophy a reality. Our stories and photos show people achieving independence, contributing to their communities and enjoying life. We emphasize human dignity and take pains to use people first language.

A subscription to Apostrophe (4 issues for $19.99) will help us deliver our most important message: “Forget Can’t and Don’t — We Can and Do.”

NOTE: The Arc has established a relationship with Apostrophe Magazine to bring you a valuable new resource and a refreshing perspective on what a publication for people with disabilities can be. You’ll find guest columns from The Arc in the pages of Apostrophe and on their blog in the coming months and below is a guest post from the editor of the magazine.

Martha and Me

By Nancy Webster, Vice President of the Board of Directors of The Arc of the United States.

Nancy and Martha Webster

“Martha inspires me in many ways and we are a wonderful and strong team.” – Nancy Webster, sister of Martha and Vice President of the Board of Directors of The Arc of the United States.

Being a sibling of a person with an intellectual or developmental disability (I/DD) is interesting, funny, frustrating, proud, challenging, loving and respectful.  A long-lasting relationship that adapts and evolves, it’s a partnership that not everyone understands.  But other siblings do.

In any family, brothers and sisters often think of themselves and each other very differently from the ways parents do.  Even when we were young, I could usually convince my parents to let Martha try something they were worried that she could not do by telling them that I would do it with her.  It was my belief in her that gave her the courage to learn how to swim, climb up the slide and care for her prosthesis.  Today, when Martha wants to try something, we team up to figure out how to tell and show others, “here’s how it can work.”   We know we’re stronger together, and so together we have learned advocacy.  Martha calls us “the sister team.”

“Martha inspires me in many ways and we are a wonderful and strong team.”

I often think how wonderful it would have been for us to grow up knowing other siblings.  How amazing it would have been to hear another sibling’s stories – to learn how to manage something differently, to share anger, to boast of an achievement that to my friends might seem trivial, but another sibling knows the triumph.

Frequently I talk with adult siblings whose parents are aging and are now facing the challenge of learning all of the intricacies of supporting his or her sibling.  In the interest of “protecting” them, their parents have not shared information.   Where can they turn for guidance and support?  The Arc’s National Sibling Council is a welcoming network that identifies with siblings and helps them connect with other siblings to share information and experience.  It is exciting to think that I can call someone and ask “how did you know how to….?” “What can we do about…?”

This is an opportunity to connect and improve the lives of future siblings and make their paths less daunting. I’m thrilled to share Martha’s and my story, and I hope you join me on The Arc’s National Sibling Council.

My Trip to the White House as a Champion for Change

Champions of Change in Washington, DC

Champions of Change at the Embassy of Tribal Nations in Washington, D.C.

By Morgan Fawcett, Self Advocate

I am Lingít, from the Wolf Moiety and Kaagwaantaan from Kook Hít, the Box House. My Lingít name is Sheens and my English name is Morgan Fawcett. I am 19 years old and I live with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). On December 1st, eleven indigenous youth were recognized as Champions of Change at an event at the White House for their work in each of their respective communities. The Champions came from different backgrounds, hometowns, Tribal Nations, and fought for their communities in different ways but they each worked toward the same goal; change, a small word with a huge connotation.  I would like to recognize 10 of the Champions before continuing:

Teressa Baldwin: Native Village of Kiana, LeVon Thomas: Navajo, Madeline Sayet: Mohegan, Desiree Vea: Native Hawaiian, Iko’tsimiskimaki “Ekoo” Beck: Blackfeet, Emmet Yepa: Jemez Pueblo, Lorna Her Many Horses: Rosebud, Tiffany Calabaza: Kewa (Santo Domingo Pueblo), Cassandra Steele: Pomo, and Dallas Duplessis: Alaskan Native.

I was selected as one of the Champions of Change for my family’s efforts to raise awareness and understanding of FASD.  I’m a member of the “Self-Advocates with FASD in Action” network, run by The Arc and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration FASD Center for Excellence.  I and the other Champions were brought to Washington, D.C. to be honored for our work and to gain a better understanding of the many ways of leadership. December 1st, the Champions of Change were taken to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building and organized into discussion panels to present our causes to Tribal Leaders and U.S. Government Officials alike. After the panels were completed, we were taken to the West Wing of the White House for a Twitter Question & Answer session. The day was wrapped up with a bus tour of D.C. and a reception, and the events ended after 8 in the evening.

December 2nd, however, was the big day. This day started early in the morning with a trip to the Department of the Interior, to participate in the opening and closing session of the Tribal Leaders Conference put on by the White House. Not only did we get to listen to current legislation and laws that positively affect Tribal Nations and have a basic overview of discussions between the U.S. Government and Tribal Nations, the Champions were able to meet, shake the hand of or hug and take a picture with The President of the United States. Waiting was the hardest part; time seemed to come to a standstill, as time passed, our anticipation grew. But the in the end it was worth the wait. To add to the excitement, President Obama mentioned 3 of the 11 champions in his address to the Tribal Leaders.

To sum up this experience in a few short paragraphs is next to impossible, but in closing I have to say this trip was a wonderful opportunity to grow as a youth leader as well as meet other young people that share a common goal. I wish the best of luck to the other Champions in all of their endeavors. I would like to thank everyone who has helped and supported all of us as we fight to bring about change.

We, as indigenous youth, are riding the winds of change, and we are knocking at your door, but who is willing to answer?

Gunalchéesh ax x’éit yee sa.aaxí (thank you for listening),

Morgan Fawcett