The Arc Reacts to Startling New Bureau of Justice Statistics on Crimes against People with Cognitive and Other Disabilities

This week, The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) released a report on Crime Against Persons with Disabilities, 2009–2012 – Statistical Tables.  Disabilities are classified according to six limitations: hearing, vision, cognitive, ambulatory, self-care, and independent living.  Among persons with disabilities, those with cognitive disabilities experienced the highest rate of violent victimization (63 per 1,000).  Violent crime against persons with disabilities was nearly three times higher than the rate for persons without disabilities.  The rate of serious violent crime—rape or other sexual assault, robbery and aggravated assault—against persons with disabilities was nearly four times higher than that for persons without disabilities in 2012.

The Arc, which is running the new National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability with a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance, released the following statement on the data:

“This startling data illustrates what we are hearing from self-advocates, parents, caregivers, and others within our chapter network and the disability community – people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are at particular risk of being victims of crimes of all kinds.  It’s a serious problem that we must no longer ignore or treat as a peripheral issue.  In order to effectively address this silent epidemic of unaddressed abuse and victimization among people with disabilities in the U.S., we must have support from all levels of the community – disability advocates, law enforcement, victim advocates, legal professionals, elected leaders, community advocates, and people with disabilities themselves who know all too well the trauma of victimization and the devastation of receiving little or no support.

“The Arc’s new Center on Criminal Justice and Disability aims to be a comprehensive resource to help turn these statistics around so that people with disabilities can lead safer lives in their community and access support and begin to heal when victimization occurs,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

The Arc’s new National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability is the first national effort of its kind to bring together both victim and suspect/offender issues involving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) under one roof.  The Center launched its new website earlier this week.

Comcast NBCUniversal & The Arc Launch Multi-Million Dollar National Partnership to Enhance Technology Access and Education for People with Disabilities

Comcast NBCUniversal LogoWASHINGTON, D.C. (February 25, 2014) – The Arc, an advocate for the rights of the disabilities community, and Comcast Corporation (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) today announced they have formed an exciting new national partnership to support and expand digital technology opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).

Through a three-year commitment, Comcast and NBCUniversal will provide The Arc with $3.7 million in cash and in-kind support, including airtime, to promote The Arc’s public service announcements on cable and broadcast channels and xfinity.com. The Comcast Foundation is also providing $400,000 to support The Arc’s national digital training program and improve technology access and services by launching up to 12 Comcast and NBCUniversal Digital Literacy Learning Labs in major metropolitan U.S. cities.

The Arc will use the new funding to design an online resource center for cataloguing and rating apps, software and other digital resources. The 700 local chapters of The Arc nationwide will participate in designing and contributing resources to the online resource center.

“Thanks to Comcast and NBCUniversal, The Arc has a tremendous opportunity to raise awareness across the country about The Arc and the population we work with, and this partnership affords us the ability to launch an exciting new program that could change the lives of people with I/DD. By learning how to get online, people with I/DD are in a better position to gain employment, expand their social circle, and be a part of the increasingly growing community that exists online,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

“We believe that technology, and the doors it opens, can be a game changer for the disabilities community,” said Charisse R. Lillie, Vice President of Community Investment for Comcast Corporation and President of the Comcast Foundation. “Through this new partnership with The Arc, we hope to connect and empower this community with technology that can improve their lives.”

Digital literacy is an important area of focus for the disabilities community and The Arc in this increasingly digital and online world. The majority of people with I/DD have limited or no access to contemporary and comprehensible information and communication technologies. In The Arc’s nationwide survey, Family and Individual Needs for Disability Supports (“FINDS”) in 2010, only 32 percent of people with I/DD were reported to be using computers; 13 percent communication devices; 4 percent GPS; and 6 percent video communications. This partnership will focus on assisting people with I/DD to gain access to and make effective and safe use of the Internet, including social media.

“Online safety is a big issue for all of us, and as more people with I/DD get online, it’s incredibly important that they learn to do so in a manner that protects them while allowing them the freedom to explore the online world. Our chapters are poised to provide this opportunity to people with I/DD, and I’m looking forward to witnessing how this program impacts their lives,” said Berns.

In early 2014, The Arc will be adding a new staff member to lead this new initiative. Look for updates on The Arc’s website, www.thearc.org, throughout the year as we build this resource.

The Arc Reacts to Department of Justice’s Inspector General Beginning Investigation into Storefront Sting Operations Involving People with Disabilities

Washington, DC – In response to the news that the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Inspector General will be investigating storefront stings in four of the cities that used people with intellectual disability (ID) to facilitate operations without their knowledge, The Arc released the following statement:

“We are pleased that the Inspector General is taking this important step, as we requested in our letter to the agency, to find out how these operations that used people with intellectual disability could have occurred, and we hope that the results of this inquiry are the end to this practice across all operations conducted by the Department of Justice.  Because of the unique challenges people with intellectual and developmental disabilities face in the criminal justice system, as either suspects, offenders, or victims, they should not be used as pawns or informants by ATF agents or other law enforcement officials. We are working with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to determine how The Arc can help train federal agents to recognize intellectual disability and keep this population out of their operations,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.  “Many people needing help in the criminal justice system have disabilities that are not easily recognizable, and we hope to raise awareness among law enforcement nationwide about ‘hidden disabilities’ to increase the safety and protect the rights of people with I/DD.”

When The Arc first learned that storefront sting operations were entrapping and exploiting people with ID and then charging some for the crimes ATF agents asked them to commit, we reached out to the U.S. Department of Justice expressing our concerns.  Since then, The Arc has met with high-level officials within the DOJ and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to discuss these cases and offer assistance with training of federal law enforcement officials.

The Arc Reacts to President’s Executive Order Raising Minimum Wage for Federal Contract Workers, Including People with Disabilities

This week, President Obama signed an executive order raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour for federal contract workers, including people with disabilities.  This order applies to new contracts beginning January 1, 2015, and will apply to replacements for expiring contracts as well as new agreements.

“The Arc is pleased that President Obama took this step for federal contract workers, including people with disabilities.  This wage boost is an important step forward and will benefit the lives of many people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, helping them achieve their goals of greater financial independence.  We will be communicating with the Administration to ensure a smooth phase-in of this change and to encourage the Administration to put in place the infrastructure, safeguards, and supports for people who need more significant accommodations to succeed in the workplace,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

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.”