The Arc Supports The Keeping All Students Safe Act

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wings for Autism™ Program Takes Off Nationally in Seattle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Specialisterne and The Specialist People Foundation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Arc’s Statement on New CDC Autism Data on Minneapolis Somali Population

This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new project findings  on the prevalence rate of 1 in 32 Somali children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in Minneapolis.  While the report says that Somali children with ASD are more likely to have cognitive disabilities and more significant disabilities than all other racial groups, the data say that the rate of autism in the Somali population is about the same as in the white population (1 in 32 vs. 1 in 36).  The report also states that children who have autism aren’t identified as early as they could be.

“This new data from the CDC indicate potentially higher rates of autism spectrum disorders in distinct populations than the national numbers, clearly show that more research is needed to better understand autism, and again makes the case that additional funds must be made available for services and supports for children with autism and their families.

“The CDC continues to do important work in this area, shining a bright light on what families associated with The Arc and our chapters experience everyday – autism spectrum disorders touch so many people, of all cultures and backgrounds, and we must do more to support them to achieve their goals and to foster an inclusive society.  The Arc is committed to families of all backgrounds in our efforts to serve and support people with disabilities, through our network of 700 chapters across the country,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

“About a third of individuals and families using advocacy services from The Arc Greater Twin Cities are from multicultural families,” said Kim Keprios, The Arc Greater Twin Cities’ chief executive officer.  “We have been working hard to make connections in the Somali community because we know Somali children who have autism are not being diagnosed as early as they could be and therefore not getting critical services. Anyone who might benefit from The Arc’s assistance in getting a diagnosis, receiving help with special education issues and more, is encouraged to call us at 952-920-0855 or visit www.arcgreatertwincities.org.”

“These data provide further evidence of the need for organizations like The Arc to continue advocating for policies and funding to ensure the needs of children with ASD and their families are being met,” said Steve Larson, senior policy director for The Arc Minnesota, the state office of The Arc in Minnesota.  “We were pleased that state elected officials approved new funding in 2013 to help children with ASD improve their communication skills and increase their inclusion in their communities, and we strongly supported passage of legislation this year requiring health insurance plans to cover needed behavior therapies for these children.  We will continue to work to make further progress in serving all Minnesotans diagnosed with ASD.”

Amy Hewitt, director of the University of Minnesota Research and Training Center on Community Living and primary investigator on the project, is also a member of the board of directors of both The Arc Minnesota and The Arc Greater Twin Cities.

The Arc’s School-to-Community Transition Initiative Expands With the Help of The AT&T Foundation

Through funding from the AT&T Foundation, The Arc’s School-to-Community Transition Initiative will be supporting five additional chapters of The Arc with sub-grants for new transition projects through 2014. These projects will connect individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) with paid employment opportunities and/or a degree/certificate-earning postsecondary education program.

“We are thrilled to be expanding our School-to-Community Transition Initiative, and are grateful to The AT&T Foundation for their generous support.  For individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families, the transition from high school can be a scary and stressful time. Since our School-to-Community Transition Initiative launched in 2009, we have been able to support more than 1300 individuals as they approached this exciting milestone. We look forward to arming more individuals with the skills and confidence they need to succeed whether their next step is post-secondary education or employment,” said Peter V. Berns, CEO of The Arc.

Since 2009, over 50 Chapters in The Arc have participated in this initiative to further enhance their work with youth with I/DD, ages 12-23, that receive special education services and are preparing to transition from school to adult life. Outcomes for these programs include development of comprehensive transition plans while students are still in high school and connecting transitioning individuals with employment and post-secondary education opportunities. Projects include elements of inter-agency collaboration, a focus on enhancing community connections, and self-determination to help them successfully meet these objectives.

Recipients of the five new sub-grants are:

The Arc Calls on Department of Justice to End Tactics and Thoroughly Investigate Allegations that People with Disabilities Were Exploited in Sting Operations

After reading news reports of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) agents engaging in entrapment and exploitation designed to prey on the intellectual disability of individuals whom ATF agents sought to engage in their stings, some of whom have been prosecuted for their participation, The Arc is calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to take action.

In a letter sent to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder yesterday, The Arc outlined the following action items to take in the wake of the scandal:

  • Establish an immediate investigation into the ATF practices which led to the news reports;
  • Ensure an immediate halt to all practices which exploit people based on their intellectual and/or developmental disability (I/DD);
  • Require ATF to suspend any ongoing investigations that are targeting people known to have I/DD;
  • Develop and implement a training program for ATF agents nationwide that provides specific information on how to identify persons with I/DD, and establish protocols to ensure they are no longer targeted or sought out as informants due to having a disability;
  • Encourage the Inspector General to escalate the investigation to cover ATF more broadly and bring the investigation to conclusion sooner rather than later; and
  • Petition the courts for equitable redress where people with intellectual disabilities are serving time for crimes initiated or furthered by the actions of ATF agents.

“Without a firm repudiation of the reported behaviors by ATF agents, the public and the disability community, in particular, will lose faith in a department which it trusts to protect its rights, not to entice vulnerable people into legal trouble.  The Arc is committed to working closely with the appropriate federal agencies to inform protocol and training development for ATF agents, and be of assistance on this important matter as needed,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

The Arc has worked extensively over the years with many staff and officials in the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to ensure that the rights of people with I/DD are protected throughout mainstream community life and within the criminal justice system.  We have seen remarkable progress in implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the U.S. Supreme Court’s Olmstead decision, particularly in recent years.  DOJ has continued its commitment to these issues, most recently awarding The Arc a grant to create a National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability to bridge the gap between the disability and law enforcement communities, creating access to justice and safer lives for people with I/DD.

Below is the entire letter to Attorney General Holder.

 

The Honorable Eric Holder

Attorney General of the United States

U.S. Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20530-0001

 

December 12, 2013

 

Dear Mr. Attorney General:

The Arc of the United States has worked extensively over the years with many staff and officials in the U.S. Department of Justice to ensure that the rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) are protected throughout mainstream community life and within the criminal justice system.  We have known very competent, inspiring, and visionary DOJ employees working over many decades to ensure full participation for people who face significant barriers in everyday life.  We have seen remarkable progress in implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the U.S. Supreme Court’s Olmstead decision, particularly in recent years.  We are now looking forward as we begin an exciting new chapter with DOJ start-up funding of a new National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability.

With DOJ’s commitment to the protection of rights of people with disabilities, we were appalled to read news reports of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) agents engaging in entrapment and exploitation designed to prey on the intellectual disability of individuals whom ATF agents sought to engage in their stings, some of whom have been prosecuted for their participation.  The targeting and use of people in this way, exploiting their disabilities, flies in the face of the excellent work of the Civil Rights division in pursuing full implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Olmstead decision.  This reported behavior, if true, by a federal department charged with protecting the rights of people with disabilities must not be allowed to continue.

While this information is appalling, unfortunately, it is not surprising to The Arc.  This type of injustice against people with I/DD occurs more often than the general public realizes. Individuals with I/DD are over represented in the criminal justice system and often used by other criminals without I/DD to carry out criminal activity. They typically have limited, if any, understanding about their involvement in a crime or consequences of being involved in a crime.  With few options for or opportunities to build safe relationships, their strong need to be accepted by peers in their own communities can create a unique vulnerability that people without I/DD do not experience.

If the media stories about the ATF are based in truth at all, we believe that the harm done to individuals by agencies of their government is so egregious that the following actions are needed immediately:

  • Establish an immediate investigation into the ATF practices which led to the news reports;
  • Ensure an immediate halt to all practices which exploit people based on their intellectual and/or developmental disability;
  • Require ATF to suspend any ongoing investigations that are targeting people known to have I/DD;
  • Develop and implement a training program for ATF agents nationwide that provides specific information on how to identify persons with I/DD, and establish protocols to ensure they are no longer targeted or sought out as informants due to having a disability;
  • Encourage the Inspector General to escalate the investigation to cover ATF more broadly and bring the investigation to conclusion sooner rather than later; and
  • Petition the courts for equitable redress where people with intellectual disabilities are serving time for crimes initiated or furthered by the actions of ATF agents.

Without a firm repudiation of the reported behaviors by ATF agents, the public and the disability community, in particular, will lose faith in a department which it trusts to protect its rights, not to entice vulnerable people into legal trouble.  The Arc is committed to working closely with the appropriate federal agencies to inform protocol and training development for ATF agents, and be of assistance on this important matter as needed. The goal of The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability is to bridge the gap between the disability and law enforcement communities, creating access to justice and safer lives for people with I/DD.  We stand ready to assist you in addressing these issues.

 

Sincerely,

 

Peter V. Berns

Chief Executive Officer, The Arc

 

cc: Cecilia Munoz, Assistant to the President and Director of the Domestic Policy Council

 

 

The Arc’s Statement on The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013

The Arc released the following statement in response to Congressional leaders reaching a budget agreement negotiated by Senate Budget Chairman Patty Murray and House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan.  The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 would set discretionary spending for the current fiscal year at $1.012 trillion (about halfway between the Senate budget level of $1.058 trillion and the House budget level of $967 billion).

This agreement will help preserve programs that individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) rely on, restore order to the federal budget and appropriations process, and reduce the deficit by between $20 and $23 billion. Additionally the agreement provides $63 billion in sequester relief over two years, that will be split equally between defense and non-defense programs, which will prevent further cuts to important programs.

“While The Arc is pleased that the budget agreement did not make major changes to our lifeline programs including Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare, we are concerned about what appears to be the expansion of the state Medicaid agencies’ ability to recoup costs from settlements from Medicaid beneficiaries.  This could affect payments owed to individuals and families who have been harmed, received compensation, and depend on the compensation to pay for expenses beyond what Medicaid covers.  Allowing a state Medicaid agency to recover ‘any payments’ by a third party with legal liability (rather than just those payments for health care items and services, as under current law) would leave beneficiaries without coverage for other basic necessities,” said Peter V. Berns, CEO of The Arc.