The Arc’s Peter V. Berns on the White House Blog

One thing I have learned in my 3 ½ years as CEO of The Arc is that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), their parents, siblings and family members are a passionate lot.   So when the White House invited us to bring in 150 of The Arc’s chapter leaders, including people with I/DD, I knew we would have an enthusiastic response.  Yet little did I expect the extraordinary energy that erupted when President Obama entered the room to speak to the group.  Our leaders from throughout the country were quick to their feet with a rousing welcome, rising again when the President concluded his remarks telling the disability community “I’ve got your back.”

– The Arc’s CEO Peter Berns pens a guest post for the The White House blog with thoughts on The Arc’s White House visit during the Community Leaders Briefing (which included a surprise visit from President Barack Obama).

In case you missed President’s Obama’s remarks, you can view them below:

The Arc Brings Issues Facing People with Disabilities to the White House, President Obama Tells Disability Community “I’ve Got Your Back”

Washington, DC – Today, 150 leaders of The Arc from across the country met with a variety of senior White House officials at a Community Leaders Briefing to ask questions and discuss issues facing people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). The session, held just for The Arc, included an unannounced visit from President Barack Obama. The President spoke of his commitment to people with disabilities saying, “I’ve got your back.”

This surprise appearance by the President of the United States was the highlight of the day for many attendees, along with the opportunity to interact with high level government officials about how they can support people with I/DD to live in the community. Over the course of the day, leaders of chapters of The Arc were briefed on topics ranging from Medicaid to education to community living and employment for people with I/DD. Many of the speakers, including President Obama, referenced the impact advocates made during budget negotiations to protect Medicaid, and encouraged The Arc and others to continue these efforts.

Another unannounced speaker was White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew, who reiterated the President’s opposition to turning Medicaid into a block grant. He also took questions from the audience, including Barbara Coppens, a member of the national board of directors of The Arc and a self-advocate who took the opportunity to speak about the importance of self-advocacy by people with disabilities.

“I tell other self-advocates – you’ve got to get out there and advocate for yourself because you can’t rely on other people to make change for you,” said Coppens to Chief of Staff Jack Lew.

The day was organized by Kareem Dale, Special Assistant to the President for Disability Policy, who kicked off the agenda by welcoming guests and speaking about employment issues. The Arc heard from Cecilia Muñoz, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, who spoke of their commitment to providing services and supports to all in need. Other speakers included Carol Galante, Acting Assistant Secretary – Federal Housing Administration Commissioner, Department of Housing and Urban Development; Cindy Mann, Deputy Administrator, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services; Robert Gordon, Executive Associate Director, Office of Management and Budget; and Tom Perez, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Department of Justice.

Assistant Attorney General Perez discussed the recent Department of Justice settlement with the Commonwealth of Virginia regarding people with I/DD who live in any of its five institutions who could live in the community. He spoke about the bipartisan work going on across the country to implement the Olmstead decision, which states that under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), unnecessarily institutionalizing a person with a disability who, with proper support, is capable of and who wants to live in the community can amount to discrimination.

After a tour of the East Wing of the White House, advocates from The Arc took part in policy breakout sessions that allowed for more detailed discussions on certain issue areas, like community living, family caregiving, education, and Medicaid. The purpose of these briefings was to allow White House and administration officials to engage in a dialogue with leaders of The Arc about how government policies affect the lives of people with I/DD and impact their ability to live full, independent lives. Given the Department of Education’s announcement yesterday to allow ten states waivers from some of the No Child Left Behind law requirements, the education session with Alexa Posny, Assistant Secretary, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services, was incredibly timely, as were meetings with representatives from the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Justice, Administration on Aging, and the White House Domestic Policy Council.

“This unique, face-to-face opportunity to speak directly to people in positions to make change from within the government allowed leaders of The Arc to make the voices of the millions of people with I/DD heard at the White House. Our network seized on this opportunity, and we left the White House feeling a sense of accomplishment and inspiration for continued advocacy that we will take back to our communities to help grow our movement,” said Peter V. Berns, CEO of The Arc.

White House Community Leaders Briefing Gallery

A collection of photos from The Arc, taken at the White House for the Community Leaders Briefing February 10, 2012.

Tune in to see The Arc at the White House!

Television image

Tomorrow, 150 leaders of The Arc from across the country will attend a White House Community Leaders Briefing just for The Arc. Over the course of the day, leaders of chapters of The Arc , including people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), will be briefed by high level White House and Administration officials on topics ranging from Medicaid to education to community living for people with I/DD, and have the chance to engage with and ask questions of these officials.

You are invited to tune in online. The opening session of the day will be streamed live, courtesy of The White House live feed at www.whitehouse.gov/live from 8:00 to 11:00 AM ET. Participants will also be live-tweeting from the event so feel free to join in by following the #AtTheWH hashtag on Twitter.

You can also share your thoughts by tweeting at @TheArcUS or leaving a comment on our Facebook page.

We hope you are able to tune in and watch this exciting opportunity for The Arc!

The Arc’s Leaders Invited to the White House for High Level Briefings and to Advocate for People with Disabilities

Washington, DC – Tomorrow, 150 leaders of The Arc from across the country will attend a White House Community Leaders Briefing. Over the course of the day, leaders of chapters of The Arc, including people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), will be briefed by high level White House and Administration officials on topics ranging from Medicaid to education to community living and employment for people with I/DD, and have the chance to engage with and ask questions of these officials.

“This opportunity comes at a pivotal time for The Arc in our work to advocate for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  Our chapter leaders will add an invaluable perspective, from the front lines of our movement, in our ongoing conversations with senior officials at the White House.  I’m looking forward to The Arc’s network flooding the halls of the White House and listening to advocates from across the country tell their stories,” said Peter V. Berns, CEO of The Arc.

During the day-long event, participants will hear from senior White House and administration officials.  Additionally, there will be a series of policy breakout sessions that will allow for more detailed discussions on certain issue areas, like community living, education, and Medicaid. The purpose of these briefings is to allow White House and administration officials to hear from leaders of The Arc about how government policies affect the lives of people with I/DD and impact their ability to live full, independent lives.  This unique, face-to-face opportunity to speak directly to people in positions to make change from within the government will allow leaders of The Arc to make the voices of the millions of people with I/DD heard at the White House.  As The Arc gears up to raise awareness of I/DD during Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month in March , chapter leaders can take home new tools to help individuals in their communities utilize programs of the federal government.

“The Arc, as one of the largest organizations working with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, brings a wealth of experience and insight to discuss today’s most important concerns facing persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities. We’re looking forward to having them here at the White House to deepen our partnership, and to discuss the issues we care about most,” Jon Carson, the Director of the Office of Public Engagement at the White House.