The Arc’s Statement on Overturning of Brendan Dassey’s Murder Conviction 

Washington, DC – The Arc, the nation’s largest civil rights organization for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and their families, released the following statement on the news that a judge has overturned the murder conviction of Brendan Dassey:

“This must be a bittersweet ruling for Brendan Dassey and his family. Brendan’s experience has been unique, thanks to Making a Murderer. The documentary revealed to the masses just how easy it is to force a confession from people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“My hope is that those following this case will come to realize that our jails and prisons are full of Brendan Dasseys, that false confessions are much more common among those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and that there is something we can do about it to prevent future injustice.

“Police officers, investigators, attorneys, correctional officers, and others are not adequately trained to identify people who may have an intellectual disability or how to accommodate their needs, and this is especially critical during interrogations. We still have a long way to go to bend the arc of justice when it comes to fair and just treatment of people with disabilities in the criminal justice system. The Arc is committed to revealing the many forms injustice takes in their lives, and working with those in the system to fix it,” said Leigh Ann Davis, Director, Criminal Justice Initiatives.

While people with intellectual and developmental disabilities comprise 2% to 3% of the general population, they represent 4% to 10% of the prison population. Those accused of crimes they did not commit often face the greatest injustice of all, some losing their lives when coerced into giving false confessions. Long before Brendan Dassey’s case hit mainstream media, Robert Perske, respected author, advocate and long-time supporter of The Arc, compiled a list of people with intellectual disability who gave false confessions to begin documenting these otherwise hidden-away cases.

The Arc runs the National Center for Criminal Justice and Disability (NCCJD), the first national effort of its kind to bring together both victim and suspect/offender issues involving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (or I/DD) under one roof.

NCCJD is a national clearinghouse for information and training on the topic of people with I/DD as victims, witnesses and suspects or offenders of crime. The Center provides training and technical assistance, an online resource library, white papers, and more. The Center created Pathways to Justice,® a comprehensive training program facilitated through chapters of The Arc, which assists officers to both identify disability, and know how to respond in ways that keep all parties as safe as possible. NCCJD is building the capacity of the criminal justice system to respond to gaps in existing services for people with disabilities, focusing on people with I/DD who remain a hidden population within the criminal justice system with little or no access to advocacy supports or services.

Read more about The Arc’s take on criminal justice reform and people with I/DD in our recent blog in the Huffington Post.

The Arc advocates for and serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), including Down syndrome, autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, cerebral palsy and other diagnoses. The Arc has a network of more than 650 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with I/DD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes and without regard to diagnosis.

Senate Acts on Zika Funding; The Arc Urges House to Step Up

Washington, DC – With a new public health threat on the horizon for our country, yesterday the U.S. Senate finally acted to provide some of the funding necessary to address the Zika virus. With repurposed funding running out and summer quickly approaching, The Arc and our national network of advocates are urging the House to step up and pass a bill that provides funding to address this issue.

“The clock is ticking, and with every passing day, we are less and less prepared to face this impending public health crisis. We have the ability to mitigate the impact of this mosquito- carried virus, with an investment in mosquito reduction, accelerated vaccine development, and better testing. But Congress has been wasting time, playing politics with public health. Thankfully, the Senate’s action yesterday to approve a down payment on addressing this issue is a step in the right direction. We urge the House to follow suit quickly,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

In February, the White House asked for $1.9 billion for Zika vaccine development, better testing, and mosquito reduction. With no action taken by Congress, in April the White House transferred $589 million from money set aside to fight Ebola and other problems to work on Zika prevention efforts. But that’s far short of the amount health officials say they need to be effective and that funding will run out at the end of June. Yesterday, the Senate approved $1.1 billion to combat Zika this year and next year.

While Zika is usually harmless to adults, some women infected with Zika while pregnant give birth to babies with severely disabling brain injury, including microcephaly. Many of The Arc’s more than 650 chapters provide supports and services to families and people with a range of disabilities, including severe disabilities.

The Arc has long held a position on the prevention of intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), supporting our national efforts to continue to investigate the causes, reduce the incidence and limit the consequences of I/DD through education, clinical and applied research, advocacy, and appropriate supports. We firmly believe that prevention activities do not diminish the value of any individual, but rather strive to maximize independence and enhance quality of life for people with I/DD.

The Arc advocates for and serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), including Down syndrome, autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, cerebral palsy and other diagnoses. The Arc has a network of more than 650 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with I/DD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes and without regard to diagnosis.

The Arc’s Heart Breaks for Victims in San Bernardino

Washington, DC – The Arc, the nation’s largest civil rights organization for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and their families, released the following statement on the tragic shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California:

“Our deepest condolences go out to the families and friends of those who lost their lives in this tragedy, the people suffering injuries, and the families impacted by this senseless act. The Arc’s collective heart is broken.

“The Inland Regional Center is one of thousands of service systems across the country for people with I/DD and their families. It’s a place where people with disabilities, their families, caregivers, and dedicated staff gather to access services, learn how to navigate the service delivery system, and enjoy functions like the holiday party that took place the day before the shooting. It’s not a place you would ever expect such violence.

“Today, and every day after, people with disabilities, parents, siblings, caregivers, and staff will walk into the Inland Regional Center. When will they feel safe again? They will live with this trauma, feel the pain like anyone else, and they must have access to services to support them to overcome it. Far too often in our society, the abilities of people with I/DD are underestimated. Appropriate supports must be available to them to process and heal after this tragedy, otherwise it will be an open wound. We owe all of those touched by this tragedy the dignity of healing,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

Read The Arc of California’s statement.

The Arc advocates for and serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), including Down syndrome, autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, cerebral palsy and other diagnoses. The Arc has a network of more than 665 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with I/DD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes and without regard to diagnosis.

Relias Learning and The Arc Announce New Partnership to Benefit State and Local Chapters Nationwide

Washington, DCRelias Learning, the leader in online training and compliance solutions for the healthcare market, announced today that it is partnering with The Arc, the largest national community-based organization advocating for and serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and their families.

Relias Learning will offer Chapters of The Arc specialized rates on its Intellectual and Developmental Disability Training Library, which contains over 200 courses designed to improve competency and performance in community-based support, positive behavior support, autism support, customized employment, health and safety, and more. Relias Learning’s Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and Autism Library provides courses approved by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) for continuing education needs for Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) and to meet training requirements for the RBT certification.

“We are honored to announce our partnership with The Arc,” said Jim Triandiflou, CEO of Relias Learning. “Relias Learning is dedicated to providing tools necessary to build competencies and confidence in the Direct Support Workforce supporting those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Delivering quality care begins with a skilled and trained workforce. Partnering with The Arc will put training in the hands of more people nationwide and help us to continue developing and delivering the best programs available.”

“Relias Learning has been a longtime friend to The Arc and we are thrilled to be entering into this partnership. This agreement will enable more members of The Arc’s network to utilize all of the high quality materials that Relias Learning has to offer. Continuing education courses, like the ones available, are essential to making sure employees are on the cutting edge of their respective fields. Working together The Arc and Relias Learning will be able to better serve individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and improve outcomes for them and their families,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

In addition to online training libraries, courses are offered through an individual course-by course purchase option via www.academy.reliaslearning.com.

Through the new partnership, The Arc member chapters are eligible for exclusive discounts on learning management library subscriptions and Relias Academy courses.

The Arc Launches TalentScout – Guide for Employers on How to Successfully Employ People with Autism

TalentScoutWashington, DC – One in 68 children today are being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs).  The unemployment rate of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), including ASDs, is 85 percent.  This appalling statistic coupled with the increase in prevalence of kids being diagnosed demands action from all sectors of our economy to ensure that people with ASDs are finding appropriate employment at a fair wage, and retaining that job with the proper supports to be successful and have a career of their choosing, just like people without disabilities.
With nearly 65 years of experience working with and serving people with I/DD, including autism, The Arc is launching an exciting new resource called TalentScout for employers to unlock the talents of people with autism in the workplace.  TalentScout is a first of its kind resource toolkit that gives employers essential insight and tools that harnesses their employees with autism fullest potential and leads to higher levels of productivity in the workplace.

“People with autism have a lot to contribute in all aspects of our society.  In the workplace, their individual unique talents need to be maximized to benefit both the goals of their employer, and their personal desire to have and keep a job that adds meaning to their life.  Far too many people with autism are left on the sidelines of our workforce, and entities that have recognized the benefits of hiring someone with autism are reaping the rewards.  Whether it’s the loyalty that someone with a disability may bring to their employer, or their unique skill set that gets the job done, people with autism are ready for hire,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

TalentScout is a valuable resource for government agencies that are working to implement President Obama’s initiative (EO 13548) to hire 100,000 people with disabilities into the federal government workforce, and for federal government contractors who need to bring their companies in compliance with the new 503 regulations on employment of people with disabilities.  These new regulations require federal contractors to conduct targeted outreach to the disability community, establish a 7% workforce utilization goal; implement data collection mechanisms to measure effectiveness of affirmative action, provide invitation to applicants and existing employees to voluntarily self-identify, and to perform an annual evaluation to measure outcomes.

The Arc is providing a unique resource for employers in that TalentScout’s content has been vetted by people with autism, and it includes their first-hand accounts and insights as job applicants and employees. It is backed by the years of nationwide experience of The Arc’s vast chapter network, and by Autism Now: National Autism Resource and Information Center.

“TalentScout is an extremely valuable guide. This sets the bar high for employers,” Jose Velasco, SAP, Head, Autism at Work Program.

“The personal stories and insights took this document to another level,” Kristie King, Comcast/NBC Universal, Manager, Diversity Recruitment.

TalentScout is one component of TheArc@Work, which is leading the way in developing innovative workforce solutions for the government and private sector by connecting employers with talented employees with I/DD and supporting the recruitment, on-boarding, and retention process.

The Arc Celebrates Release of Richard Lapointe on Bond, Urges Prosecutors to Drop Case

Washington, DC – The Arc is thrilled to see the release today of Richard Lapointe, who has been in prison since 1987 for a rape and murder he did not commit. After a lengthy, coercive interview with the police, Lapointe falsely confessed to the crime, which was committed against his then-wife’s grandmother. Since then, his legal team and advocates have been fighting for his case to be reconsidered, because of his intellectual disability.

Last week, the Connecticut state Supreme Court raised concerns about the circumstances of the interrogation and the truthfulness of the alleged confessions, and ordered that he be released or given a new trial. Then this week, prosecutors agreed not to pursue the means to keep him in prison while they decide whether to challenge the state Supreme Court decision.

“This nightmare has gone on far too long for Richard. Finally, the state Supreme Court has recognized how the police treated Richard, and for the first time in more than 27 years, he will step outside of prison a free man. The prosecutors should now take the next and final step to end this and dismiss the charges, once and for all,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc, who attended the oral argument of the case when it was heard by the Connecticut Supreme Court.

The Arc runs the National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability (NCCJD), 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. NCCJD is a national clearinghouse for research, information, evaluation, training and technical assistance for criminal 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.

“Far too many Richards are living in prisons, without the level of support Richard had from advocates and his attorneys – and it took more than 27 years for this injustice to be uncovered. How many more Richards are out there? False imprisonment of anyone, including people with I/DD, is an ugly mark on our nation’s conscience. The National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability is working every day to ensure justice for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” said Berns.

Those accused of crimes they did not commit often face the greatest injustice of all, some losing their lives when coerced into giving false confessions. Since 1983, over 60 people with intellectual disabilities have been executed based on false confessions. Robert Perske, respected author, advocate and long-time supporter of The Arc, compiled a list of people with intellectual disabilities who gave false confessions to begin documenting these otherwise hidden-away cases. Lapointe is on Perske’s list.

“It’s been a tough road – all the things Richard had to go through to get to this point are unfathomable. I’m feeling very good about all the troops that have stood by Richard all these years. Richard’s situation needs to teach everyone in the system,” said Perske.

“This is an extraordinary day. Richard never gave up hope and neither did his supporters. The truest form of justice is being served today!” Leslie Simoes, Executive Director, The Arc of Connecticut.

House and Senate 2016 Budget Resolutions are an Affront to the Disability Community

The Senate passed its Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 Budget Resolution early this morning, following the House’s approval of its own resolution earlier this week. Budget resolutions set the boundaries for federal spending and tax priorities for the fiscal year and the implications are very scary for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and their families this year.

The House resolution seeks to balance the budget within nine years by cutting $5.5 trillion, while the Senate resolution would balance it in ten years by cutting $5.1 trillion, reflecting differences that could well be resolved in a conference committee. Substantial portions of these cuts come from block granting the Medicaid program (called “flexible state allotments”) and privatizing the Medicare program.   Should a conference agreement pass in both chambers, a process known as budget reconciliation could be triggered to make the proposed changes in the entitlement programs and the tax code alike. This process would likely unravel the social insurance and safety net for our nation’s most vulnerable citizens while simultaneously reducing taxes for those who least need it.

“Bake sales and car washes are simply not an option. Our social insurance and safety net programs require appropriate levels of funding that can only come from the taxes that we pay and from a bipartisan commitment to people with disabilities,” stated Peter V. Berns, CEO of The Arc.   “Most Americans support a balanced approach to deficit reduction, and disability is a bipartisan issue. But the budgets approved in Congress don’t reflect that reality with a ‘cuts only’ approach. Creating even larger wealth inequality in this country through the spending and tax policies promoted in these budgets is an affront to people with I/DD, many of whom are already at the bottom rung of the economic ladder. Our government policies should be lifting people up, not pushing them further down.”

To get involved in protecting the rights of people with I/DD, sign up for The Arc’s Action List.

Advances in Affordable Housing – The Arc Applauds $150 Million in New Funding for States

Washington, DC – The Arc released the following statement in response to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) announcement of awards totaling $150 million to 24 states and the District of Columbia to develop an estimated 4,584 units of inclusive, affordable supportive housing in the community for people with significant disabilities and extremely low incomes. HUD awarded the funds through the recently-modernized Section 811 Supportive Housing for Persons with Disabilities Project Rental Assistance (PRA) program. The Section 811 PRA program is designed to assist state housing agencies to expand integrated, supportive housing opportunities for people with the most significant and long term disabilities, and was the centerpiece of the Frank Melville Supportive Housing Investment Act of 2010.

“Like all Americans, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities deserve the opportunity to live independently in the community with their peers. Unfortunately, across our nation low-income people with disabilities face a severe shortage of accessible and affordable housing. The money being awarded by HUD will continue the progress and promise of the Melville Act, allowing thousands of individuals to live in the community, where they belong. For many, this announcement is the difference between life in an institution and inclusion in their communities,” said Peter V. Berns, CEO of The Arc.

Section 811 is the only HUD program dedicated to producing affordable, accessible housing for non-elderly, very low-income people with significant disabilities. The Frank Melville Supportive Housing Investment Act of 2010 modernized Section 811 to make the program more efficient and effective. Today’s awards are the second round of funding under the new Section 811 PRA program, which will create integrated housing linked with community-based services for low-income adults with significant disabilities.

Along with the District of Columbia, states receiving awards are: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, and Wisconsin.

The Arc Applauds Federal Agencies for Standing Up for Rights of Massachusetts Mother with Disability

Washington, DC – Recently, the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Health and Human Services found that the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) violated the rights of a mother with developmental disabilities. The mother was denied the opportunity to benefit from supports and services following the removal of her two-day-old infant, and over the next two years as she was seeking to reunite with her daughter.  Unfortunately, despite research that affirms the ability of parents with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (I/DD) to raise a child successfully with appropriate and effective supports, access to these supports continues to be limited, fragmented and uncertain.  The Arc is a strong proponent of the right of parents with I/DD to raise children with supports, as needed, from family, agencies and the community.

“Plain and simple, this is a case of discrimination against a person with a disability and a clear violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This mother has rights that the state ignored and the outcome is appalling. The situation easily could have been resolved when she was pregnant, not two days after she gave birth. Had the situation been dealt with earlier, a plan could have been crafted and mother and daughter could be together receiving the supports they needed from family and the community. We are grateful to the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services for standing up for the rights of this mother and for parents with I/DD across the country,” said Peter Berns CEO of The Arc.

The Arc of Massachusetts is supporting state legislation to prohibit discrimination against adults with disabilities in family and juvenile court proceedings.  Parents with disabilities are more likely to lose custody of their children after divorce.  According to the National Council on Disability, removal rates of children from parents with psychiatric or intellectual disability is as high as 70—80%. Parents with sensory or physical disabilities also experience extremely high removal rates and loss of their parental rights.

“We hope that caseworkers and leadership at DCF learn from this decision,” said Leo V. Sarkissian, Executive Director of The Arc of Massachusetts.  “Some DCF offices do recognize that persons with disabilities can be effective parents and have shown that in partnering with chapters and other disability support agencies.”

In Massachusetts two local chapters (EMArc and the United Arc) collaborate with DCF in order to provide high quality, curriculum founded, home-based intensive services for parents with I/DD  and have provided these services and supports for over 15 years.

For further information see the recent report of the National Council on Disability: “Rocking the Cradle: Ensuring the Rights of Parents with Disabilities and Their Children,” which can be found at: http://www.ncd.gov/publications/2012/Sep272012/.

The Arc Receives Support from Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation for Employment Program

Washington, DC – The Arc is pleased to announce that it has received $105,000 over three years from the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation to support its Specialisterne Replication project.  The Specialisterne program creates inclusive employment opportunities for youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), including Asperger’s Syndrome, in the information technology (IT) field.
The Arc has a partnership with Specialisterne USA,  a 501(c)(3) charitable organization established by The Specialist People Foundation, a Danish nonprofit 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.  The program engages top companies with IT needs interested in hiring youth with ASD and pairs them with chapters of The Arc that provide short-term intensive training and on-the-job support for youth with ASD.  At the end of training, companies may hire program participants as developers, programmers, analysts, and administrators.  Employers also receive training on supporting employees with ASD.  Chapters of The Arc in Philadelphia and New York, working in collaboration with Specialisterne USA, began replicating the Specialisterne program in 2014.  The 2015-2016 grant will allow The Arc to expand this crucial program to the Washington, DC area.
The program emphasizes that many youth with ASD are qualified to work in highly skilled positions, and with employer commitment and support they can be successful in community-based jobs of their choosing.
“There are many young people with ASD that possess the skills that are in high demand in the tech industry.  This program plays matchmaker, and through our chapter network, we can not only connect a population we serve with employment in the community, we are raising awareness in a major industry about what people with disabilities can do.  It’s an exciting initiative and we are thrilled to have the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation’s support,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.
Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation has released  $1,539,600 in new and continuing grants, as part of its national M>PWR Initiative designed to empower youth and young people with disabilities to lead productive lives through increased employment.