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.

The Arc in Nevada and People First of Nevada Announce a New Joint Venture

Reno, NV – The Arc in Nevada and People First of Nevada are proud to announce a new joint venture funded by the Nevada Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities (DD).  This exciting project aims to provide people with developmental disabilities living in the state of Nevada with information and skills necessary to participate in advocacy and policy making decisions through expanding an effective statewide self-advocacy organization – People First of Nevada – that is led by people with developmental disabilities.

The Arc has years of experience creating movements of social change, and training people with DD in ways that supports their lives. In 2011, The Arc created the National Council of Self Advocates in response to the need to fully include people with DD to guide The Arc’s direction and to provide self-advocacy training, leadership development, and opportunities to be part of a national self-advocacy movement that is grounded in local and state grassroots efforts.  This effort in Nevada is a natural extension of those efforts.

“People First is excited to join forces with The Arc in Nevada and to start new ventures together,” said Santa Perez, Self-Advocacy Coordinator for The Arc in Nevada.

People First of Nevada is a self-advocacy group run by and for individuals with developmental differences throughout Nevada. People First works to support the reality that people with developmental disabilities have the right to make their own decisions and to live self-determined lives.

This joint project will include efforts to recruit and engage new people with DD to the Nevada self-advocacy movement. Participants will be provided with leadership training and have opportunities to develop new self-advocacy skills and be among the upcoming generation of new leaders. This training will provide information on how to grow an organization in financial terms, and also in terms of solid leadership and governance strategies.

For more information about this project, visit either The Arc in Nevada’s website at www.thearcnevada.org, or People First of Nevada’s website at www.peoplefirstofnv.org.

The Arc in Nevada is funded by the Nevada Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities to support expanding the capacity of People First of Nevada as a strong, sustainable organization able to expand the leadership and impact of self-advocates (people with developmental disabilities) in their communities across Nevada.

The Arc Responds to Warren Hill’s Appeal Denial by the Supreme Court

The Arc released the following statement following news that the United States Supreme Court declined to consider Warren Hill’s appeal to halt his execution because he has intellectual disability (ID). Hill’s lawyers filed the petition directly to the Supreme Court, stating that they had evidence proving Hill has ID. In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled in the Atkins v. Virginia case that executing inmates with ID is unconstitutional. However, in Georgia (where Hill is on trial), ID must be proven by the defendant “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the strictest standard in the country.

“We are extremely disappointed that the Supreme Court has chosen not to accept Warren Hill’s appeal. The high court was the last chance for a man unjustly sentenced to death, and their inaction will cost Mr. Hill his life.  They failed to order a halt to the execution despite their prior ruling in Atkins v. Virginia that established that it is unconstitutional to execute an inmate with intellectual disability,” said Peter V. Berns, CEO of The Arc.

The Arc, the nation’s largest civil rights organization for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), has been involved in this case through filing an amicus brief before the Supreme Court in earlier proceedings, and supporting Hill’s defense team through letters to the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles and the District Attorney urging his sentence be commuted to life without parole.

 

Reject Piecemeal End to the Government Shutdown and Protect People with Disabilities

Washington, DC – The Arc calls on Congress to reject the piecemeal approach to ending the government shutdown and urges lawmakers to put an end to the Federal Government shutdown immediately for all Americans.

“People with intellectual and developmental disabilities rely on numerous federal government programs to live, learn, and work in their communities.   We cannot allow Congress to cherry pick which federal programs continue operations based on arbitrary criteria.  We are all in this together,” said Marty Ford, Senior Executive Officer, Public Policy, The Arc.  “Congress must adopt appropriations legislation now that does not lock in the harmful, low spending levels from the sequester or defund or delay the Affordable Care Act.”

The Arc Endorses the Declaration on the Rights of People with Cognitive Disabilities to Technology and Information Access

People with cognitive disabilities have an equal right to technology and information access. A formal declaration on this right was officially unveiled at the Thirteenth Annual Coleman Institute National Conference on Cognitive Disability and Technology, held October 2, 2013, in Broomfield, Colorado. The Rights of People with Cognitive Disabilities to Technology and Information Access is a statement of principles: the rights of ALL people to inclusion and choice in relation to technology and information access.

“Cognitive disabilities” include intellectual disability, autism spectrum disorders, severe and persistent mental illness, brain injury, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. People with cognitive disabilities are estimated to comprise over 60% of the world’s total population of people with disabilities. The vast majority of people with cognitive disabilities have limited or no access to comprehensible information and usable communications technologies.

“The formal declaration is being presented at a time when the pace of the digital age is accelerating rapidly. Access to technology and information access is essential for community and social participation, employment, education, health, and general communication. Advocates for people with cognitive disabilities may use this declaration to stimulate greater attention nationally and worldwide to the possibilities now at hand for people with cognitive disabilities through technology while promoting their rights as citizens to access to it,” said David Braddock, Professor of Psychiatry and Executive Director of The Coleman Institute on Cognitive Disabilities at the University of Colorado.

“Technology can expose individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities as well as those with cognitive disabilities to a new world. The advantages of technology are something that every individual deserves to have equal access to, which is why The Arc supports the Declaration on the Rights of People with Cognitive Disabilities to Technology and Information Access. Technology can be particularly beneficial to individuals with disabilities as it can serve as a communication device, assist in education, and overall promote independence,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

To read the complete declaration, and to personally endorse it, visit the Coleman Institute website, at: http://www.colemaninstitute.org/declaration

The Arc Launches New National Resource Center on Justice and Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

Office of Justice Programs SealWashington, DC – The Arc is pleased to announce it has been awarded a two-year grant for $400,000 by the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) to develop a national center on justice and intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).  This is the first national effort of its kind to bring together both victim and offender issues involving people with I/DD under one roof.  According to the National Crime Victim Survey of 2010, the victimization rate is twice as high for individuals with disabilities as compared to those without disabilities.  And we don’t have to look far for examples where law enforcement and people with I/DD could have benefited from this kind of work, including the tragic death of Robert Ethan Saylor in Frederick, Maryland, who died earlier this year after three off-duty deputies attempted to remove him from a movie theater over a misunderstanding over a ticket.

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 offenders.

“When individuals with I/DD become involved in the criminal justice system as suspects or victims, they often face miscommunication, fear, confusion and prejudice. This new center will play a critical role in improving first response and communication between people with I/DD and the justice system.  No similar center on this topic exists, nor are there sufficient resources to address the gap in expertise in the field, and so this effort is long overdue,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

The Arc will work closely with several other national partners within the criminal justice, legal and victim advocacy communities to research, analyze and replicate evidence-based solutions to the problems of injustice and victimization that have gone on for far too long within the I/DD community.  For example, people with I/DD are often unable to report crimes or are not seen as credible witnesses. They are also vulnerable to becoming perpetrators of crime, including sex offenses, and used by other criminals to assist in law-breaking activities. And with many forms of mild I/DD not being easily identifiable, justice personnel may not recognize that someone has a disability or know how to work effectively with the individual. Although organized training is available for criminal justice professionals on mental illness, few resources on I/DD exist. Many law enforcement and other justice professionals do not know the difference between mental illness and I/DD and often think they are synonymous.

“When our chapters work with their local law enforcement agencies, they hear time and time again that training is provided for mental health issues, yet that doesn’t encompass millions of people with I/DD living in our communities.  Through this grant, The Arc’s center will become a national focal point for the collection and dissemination of resources and serve as a bridge between the justice and disability communities,” said Berns.

The center will consist of a resource library, directories of expert witnesses, attorneys, forensic interviewers, and victim advocates, a database of relevant state laws, and hands-on technical assistance and training.  Additionally, The Arc will create a Justice and I/DD Certification program using training curriculum authored by Leigh Ann Davis, M.S.S.W., M.P.A., and hold five trainings around the country and web-based trainings.