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.

From Small Towns to the White House – The Arc’s Interns Perspective on Celebrating 25 Years of the ADA

By Taylor Woodard and Mike Nagel

UnknownJuly 26, 2015 will mark the 25th anniversary of an important, but too often overlooked, moment in civil rights history: the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Arc’s Paul Marchand public policy interns, Taylor Woodard from Junction, Texas and Mike Nagel from Wyndmere, North Dakota, both of whom ventured into the nation’s capital determined to change disability policy, had front-row seats to the White House’s official ADA commemoration. Here is a description of that historical occasion though their eyes.

We were in awe as we were escorted through the halls of the epicenter of U.S. government by various members of the Armed Forces. Once at the celebration, we excitedly wandered through elegant corridors and ornate rooms, nibbled hors d’oeuvres, and mingled with disability community leaders and advocates as we waited for the President’s remarks. Photos and videos do not do justice to the elegance of this magnificent building.

After we had soaked in the scenery for a bit, we made our way to the East Room, where the main event was to be held. We were fortunate to snag front-row seats to hear President Obama’s address. From here, we could see so many prominent figures of the disability rights movement: former Senators Tom Harkin and Bob Dole, former Congressman Tony Coelho, as well as Representative Steny Hoyer, House Minority Whip. Finally, the big moment arrived: President Obama, followed by Vice President Joe Biden, stepped up to the podium and began.

With great passion, the President spoke of “tear[ing] down barriers externally, but…also…internally.”   He continued, proclaiming “That’s our responsibility as Americans and it’s our responsibility as fellow human beings.” For young advocates like us, the President’s words certainly ring true: attitudes in society can be, and often are, barriers in and of themselves. And we, as well as all advocates, must remember these truths as we strive for a more inclusive tomorrow.

In closing, President Obama poignantly outlined the accomplishments of the past 25 years as well as laid a path for the future. For us, this future would include ending unnecessary restraint and seclusion, assuring a high-quality education for all, creating supports and services for people with I/DD to live and work in the community, and protecting rights to self-determination and quality of life.

As the crowd applauded, a very different cheer erupted several thousand miles away in two of the nation’s tiniest rural communities, as our proud parents watched their son and daughter shake the hand of the President, a moment we will never forget.

Supreme Court Delivers a Major Victory against Housing Discrimination

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court issued several landmark decisions for all Americans, including people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families.

In a 6-3 opinion in King v. Burwell, the Supreme Court held that federal tax subsidies are being provided lawfully in those states that have decided not to run the marketplace exchanges for insurance coverage. This is a huge win for the Affordable Care Act and people with disabilities throughout the country.

Less prominent, but a tremendous victory for civil rights, is the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. – a ruling that will support the continued progress of people with disabilities and other minorities toward full inclusion in all aspects of American life.

In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that housing discrimination is illegal, even if it is not intentional. This decision upholds a longstanding principle under the Fair Housing Act, known as “disparate impact.” By finally settling the question of whether the language of the Fair Housing Act allows for claims based on disparate impact, as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does, the decision supports our nation’s progress toward integrated, inclusive communities that foster opportunities for all Americans.

In the case, a fair housing advocacy organization sued the state of Texas, alleging violations of the Fair Housing Act for awarding federal tax credits in a way that kept low-income housing out of predominantly white neighborhoods, thereby denying minorities access to affordable housing in communities where they might access better schools and greater economic opportunity. The state was not accused of intentionally excluding African-Americans from predominantly white neighborhoods, but of structuring its tax credit assignments in such a way that they had a discriminatory effect.

At stake in this case was not only the claims brought against the state of Texas, but also whether the key legal protections provided under disparate impact would continue to be available under the Fair Housing Act.

As noted in the Supreme Court’s majority opinion, Congress enacted the Fair Housing Act of 1968 following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “to eradicate discriminatory practices within a sector of the Nation’s economy.” As amended, today the Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of disability, race, national origin, religion, gender, and familial status.

Disparate impact is a legal doctrine that holds that the Fair Housing Act and other civil rights laws prohibit policies and practices that discriminate, whether or not the policies were motivated by the intent to harm a particular group.

For over 40 years, the disparate impact doctrine has been a key tool protecting the rights of people with disabilities, people of color, and other groups covered by the Fair Housing Act and other civil rights laws to have equal opportunity to live and work in the communities that that they choose. It has formed the basis for federal regulations and has been used extensively by the Department of Justice, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and civil rights organizations to fight housing and employment discrimination across the United States.

The ability to allege disparate impact under the Fair Housing Act has been upheld by 11 federal appeals courts, but the Supreme Court has never before issued an opinion in a fair housing disparate impact case.

Fortunately, a majority of the Supreme Court upheld the disparate impact standard, finding that recognition of disparate impact claims is consistent with the Fair Housing Act’s central purpose.

This week’s decision marks an important milestone in our nation’s path toward integration and inclusion. It’s a major victory that shores up the progress that people with disabilities and civil rights organizations have made over the last four decades, and strengthens our ongoing work to end discrimination in all its forms.

To learn more:

Calling it Modern Doesn’t Make It Good – No “Modern Asylum” Will Benefit This Generation of People with Disabilities

Recently, Dr. Christine Montross made what The Arc believes to be a deeply flawed argument in favor of institutionalization for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), or as she put it, “a modern asylum”. Dr. Montross failed to address a number of key factors in her piece, but what was most disturbing was the complete lack of reference to the desires of individuals with I/DD.

When The Arc was founded, nearly 65 years ago, it was all too common for doctors to tell parents that the best place for their child with I/DD was in an institution. Emboldened by their collective desire to raise their children as part of their families and communities, and their refusal to accept institutionalization as the only option, The Arc’s founders fought for inclusion. To this day, The Arc stands by the belief that all people, regardless of disability, deserve the opportunity for a full life in their community where they can live, learn, work and play through all stages of life.

The vast body of research on deinstitutionalization has established that moving from institutional settings and into smaller community-based ones leads to better outcomes for people with I/DD (Kim, Larson, & Lakin, 1999; Larson & Lakin, 1989, 2012). In fact, studies continue to show that people with I/DD benefit from moving to the community from an institutional setting. More powerful than any of the research are the stories from individuals who transitioned from institutions into the community. These stories breathe life into this research and The Arc’s mission.

Dr. Montross’ op-ed offended many readers, but it did highlight a systemic issue. Many health care providers will not accept people with I/DD as clients, or do not feel that they have the expertise to appropriately serve them. Furthermore, there are practitioners who will not accept clients who are reliant on Medicaid as their primary payer of health care services due to low reimbursement rates. Combined, these issues create a system that doesn’t always adequately serve all people with I/DD.

Weaknesses in the ability of some community-based mental health treatment systems to adequately meet the needs of clients does not necessitate the return of people to archaic institutional settings. Instead, it should lead to a public outcry for vast and immediate improvements in the capacity of communities to provide mental/behavioral health care to those who need it. The Arc strongly believes that the solution is not to move back to antiquated institutions. The way forward does not, as Dr. Montross states, “[include] a return to psychiatric asylums.” The way forward includes serving all citizens and demands an evolution in the attitudes of health care practitioners which includes the belief that all people, regardless of disability, deserve the same opportunities to enjoy full lives in their communities.

While there is no denying the issues she references, as often as possible the choice of where to live must be made by the individuals who will be impacted. And, as history has shown, the approach suggested by Dr. Montross has been attempted in the past and it resulted in Willowbrook and countless other atrocities in the name of “patient care.” While community supports for individuals with I/DD can benefit from improvement, we have come too far to take a step back towards segregated settings.

We welcome a discussion with Dr. Montross. Our hope is next time she has a national platform like the New York Times she chooses to consider the desires of individuals with I/DD and the history of isolation and oppression they faced in institutions before making suggestions about what is best for them.

Thank You! You Mean the World to The Arc

This year at The Arc’s National Convention we asked the over 800 attendees, “What Does The Arc Mean to You?” and the response blew us away! With Thanksgiving right around the corner, we here at The Arc have been contemplating the same question and our resounding answer is YOU!

The Arc is incomplete without you and your dedication to our mission to ensure that those with intellectual and developmental disabilities live a fully inclusive life. You breathe life into our mission and together we will be successful.

From the board and staff of the National office of The Arc, please accept our sincere and deep appreciation of YOU and your ongoing support of our cause nationally, statewide and locally.

We could not have accomplished all that we did this year without you, so this holiday season we wanted to THANK YOU for your commitment, support and generosity to The Arc.

From all of us here at The Arc, we wish you a safe and happy Thanksgiving.

Affordable Care Act Update: What You Need to Know About Open Enrollment

If you are uninsured or looking for affordable health insurance, now is the time for you to look! During “open enrollment” you can purchase private health insurance through the marketplace in each state. Depending on your income, you may be eligible for assistance with your health insurance costs.

If you currently have insurance through the marketplace, you should look at your current plan and determine if it will continue to meet your needs, or select a better plan. If you do not take action, you will be automatically re-enrolled in your current plan. Re-enrollment provides an important opportunity to report any changes to your income.

2015 Open Enrollment
November 15, 2014
Open enrollment begins

December 15, 2014
Enroll before this date to have coverage January 1, 2015

February 15, 2015
Open enrollment ends

Why you should check your coverage:

  • Even if you like your health plan, new plans may be available and premiums or cost sharing may have changed since last year.
  • Even if your income has not changed, you could be eligible for more financial assistance.

If you have a disability or a health condition, pay attention to possible changes:

  • Are a broad range of health care providers included in the health plan’s network of providers?
  • Are there enough medical specialists in the network to meet your needs?
  • Are needed medications included in the plan’s list of covered drugs?
  • Is there adequate access to non-clinical, disability-specific services and supports?
  • Does the plan have service limits, such as caps on the number of office visits for therapy services?
  • Are mental health services covered to the same extent that other “physical” health benefits are covered?

Where to get help?

Health insurance can be complicated. If you or your family member needs assistance with understanding the options, healthcare.gov can help. This website has information about seeking assistance in local communities, explanations of health insurance terms, enrollment information and much more. There is also a 24-hour phone line for consumer assistance at 1-800-318-2596 to call for help.

Social Security Announces 2015 Cost of Living Increase for Beneficiaries

Today the Social Security Administration (SSA) announced a 1.7 percent cost-of-living increase for 2015. This modest increase will help preserve the buying power of Social Security benefits for nearly 64 million Americans, including many people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who receive benefits under our nation’s Social Security system.

According to SSA, the average monthly Social Security retirement benefit will increase by $22, from $1,306 in 2014 to $1,328 in 2013. The average monthly benefit for a Social Security “disabled worker” beneficiary will increase by $19, from $1,146 in 2014 to $1,165 in 2015.

Higher Medicare premiums will offset some of this increase. Changes in Medicare premiums for 2015 are available at Medicare.gov.

Additionally, SSA today announced increases in important thresholds for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), including:

  • Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level – The SGA for SSDI and SSI will increase from $1,070 per month to $1,090 per month for non-blind beneficiaries, and from $1,800 per month to $1,820 per month for blind beneficiaries.
  • Trial Work Period (TWP) – The TWP for SSDI will increase from $770 per month to $780 per month.
  • SSI Federal Payment Standard – The SSI federal payment standard will increase for an individual from $721 per month to $733 per month, and for a couple from $1,082 per month to $1,100 per month.
  • SSI Student Earned Income Exclusion – The SSI student earned income exclusion monthly limit will increase from $1,750 to $1,780, and the exclusion’s annual limit will increase from $7,060 to $7,180.

Annual cost-of-living adjustments ensure that Social Security beneficiaries do not see their buying power eroded by inflation. SSDI and SSI benefits are modest, averaging only about $1,145 per month for SSDI beneficiaries in the “disabled worker” category and $535 per month for SSI beneficiaries. Every penny and every dollar counts for people who rely on these benefits to get by.

The Arc strongly supports ensuring adequate benefit levels, and has joined other national organizations to oppose proposals to reduce these much-needed annual cost-of living increases. Subscribe to The Arc’s Capitol Insider for updates to learn how you can help make sure that Social Security, SSI, and other vital supports are there for people with I/DD.