The Arc Weighs In on Dr. Phil Shows on the Case of Kelly Stapleton

Dr. Phil logoWashington, DC – Last week, Dr. Phil aired two shows about the case of Kelly Stapleton, a mother from Michigan who attempted to take the life of her daughter, Issy, who has autism, and herself last year. The Arc released the following statement in response to the reporting done by the Dr. Phil Show.

“Kelly Stapleton’s failed attempt to take the life of her daughter, Issy, must be understood for exactly what it is – a crime of the worst magnitude – and her attempt to take her own life illustrates that likely she was experiencing a significant crisis in her own mental health. The act of a parent to kill or attempt to kill her own child is not a rational act, regardless of whether the child has a disability or how challenging the circumstances, and is never acceptable and offends our deepest values and sensibilities.

“There are, though, other lessons to be learned here. Unfortunately, the horrific story of the Stapletons shows what too many families across the country are facing – a failing system of supports and services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The Stapletons were in a challenging situation and seeking help for their daughter so that she could continue to be with her family, attend school, and be a part of her community. If the system – in the end, the school district that rejected Issy’s inclusion for the school year – had not failed them, this family’s reality could have turned out very differently.

“Kelly’s actions are indefensible, and sensationalizing this family’s tragic story only hurts the public’s perception of autism. Issy’s voice, or the voice of a peer on the autism spectrum, should have been heard by the millions who tune in to Dr. Phil. His audience should have had the opportunity to learn from an individual with autism what it’s like to live with autism, and how services and supports can make a huge difference in their daily life. America needs to be woken up to this national crisis – the lack of access to services and supports for people with disabilities is an unacceptable reality and Issy and millions like her deserve much, much better,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

The Arc Calls on Cuyahoga County Prosecutor to Pursue Ice Bucket Challenge Assault Perpetrators to Fullest Extent of the Law

Washington, DC – As the nation has reacted with outrage to the incident in Bay Village, Ohio where a teenager with autism was doused with urine instead of ice water in a fake Ice Bucket Challenge, The Arc is calling on the Cuyahoga County prosecutor’s office to charge the five teenagers identified in the case to the fullest extent of the law.

“The perpetrators of this horrific act, who reportedly were neighborhood friends of the victim, need to be held accountable for their behavior.  While some seek to characterize what was done to this teen as an innocent prank, it is anything but.  Call it what it is – it was an assault and abuse.  These kinds of acts are an outright attack on the humanity of people with autism and other intellectual or developmental disabilities in Ohio and nationwide.  There is no possible excuse for this type of assault and the perpetrators should be prosecuted,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

“Unfortunately, people with disabilities experience violence and abuse at high rates, often at the hands of abusers who are known to them.  Many have a strong need to feel accepted and fit in which can, at times, lead them into places and situations with people who they think are their friends, but who are anything but.  When abuse or other violent acts are committed, whether by friends or complete strangers, our legal system must respond.  In this case, the Cuyahoga County prosecutor’s office must send a message that will stop future perpetrators in their tracks – it is not okay to attack a person with a disability,” Berns added.

The Arc has a long history of standing up for the rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), and supporting them to do the same, when they find themselves in dangerous situations and in our legal system.  Most recently, last year, 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 (NCCJD).  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.  NCCJD is 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.  Currently, NCCJD is developing training and technical assistance for law enforcement agencies that will support police departments like Bay Village’s force, as well as prosecutor’s offices,  such as the office in Cuyahoga County, to administer justice for people with disabilities.  And The Arc supports people with I/DD to be prepared for situations like these, connect them with other survivors of abuse and bullying, and find a collective voice to stand up against it.

The Arc also runs the Autism NOW Center, an online resource center that helps people weed through the volumes of information found online about autism spectrum disorders and provide high-quality, vetted resources and information to people with autism and other developmental disabilities, their family, friends, colleagues, teachers, employers and others.

“Never should a human have to endure such needless acts of abuse. It is never justified and it is never the victim’s fault for they may not even know why they were treated the way they were, but there are people who do. The ones who do know why this kind of abuse is so wrong are the ones who stand together, like The Arc and our chapters, which stand united to push for these random acts of abuse to be punished by law.   Random acts of kindness make a better person. Be good to those in need and one day the favor will be returned twofold,” Amy Goodman, Co-Director of the Autism NOW Center.

“We cannot stand by and accept this horrific act- the prosecutors know what they must do and they must do it swiftly to send the message that attacks on people with disabilities will not be tolerated and will be punished,” Cindy Norwood, Executive Director, The Arc of Greater Cleveland.

The Arc Calls on the Federal Government to Hire More People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

Washington, DC – Yesterday, The Arc submitted comments to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) calling on the federal government to become a model employer of people with disabilities, including individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).

“While the last few years have seen some modest increases in the numbers of people with disabilities employed by the federal government, The Arc remains deeply concerned that many people with the most significant disabilities, including jobseekers with intellectual and developmental disabilities, are being left behind,” said Peter V. Berns, Chief Executive Officer of The Arc.

Data obtained by The Arc from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) reveal that in fiscal year 2012, the federal government employed only 813 non-seasonal, full time permanent employees with intellectual disability (ID), representing 0.044% of all federal employees.   Only 28 people, or 3/100ths of one-percent of total new hires, were people with ID.  That same year, the federal government employed only 118 part-time employees with ID.  Only 17 people with ID were hired as part-time employees, about 9/100ths of one-percent of new hires.

“While we are pleased that the EEOC is moving forward with strengthening federal regulations, the shockingly low rate of federal employment of people with intellectual disability is unacceptable. The Arc calls on the federal government to act immediately to remove barriers to employment for people with disabilities in the federal workforce, establish strong goals for hiring of people with disabilities, including people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and hold agencies accountable for meeting those goals.

“There is no need for OPM to wait for the EEOC to complete the rulemaking process before it takes action to address this problem.  OPM already has authority under existing law and under Executive Order 13548 to take action now,” Berns said.

Issued by President Obama on July 26, 2010, E.O. 13548, titled “Increasing Federal Employment of Individuals with Disabilities,” calls on the Federal Government to hire 100,000 people with disabilities over five years.

“As a first step, OPM should direct federal agencies to update and revise the “agency-specific plans for promoting employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities” required under the Executive Order so that they specifically address employment of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. There are other steps that can be taken today.   The Federal Communications Commission has already embarked on an initiative to hire people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in that agency.  Other agencies should get started too.

“Across the United States, The Arc has nearly 700 state and local chapters in 49 states and DC that stand ready to assist the federal government in identifying people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who are ready to work and whose abilities will be an asset to federal agencies. The federal government can and should be a model employer of people with disabilities. The Arc will continue to closely monitor annual reports on the federal employment of people with disabilities to ensure progress and accountability,” said Berns.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics regularly reports that the percentage of working-age people with disabilities in the labor force is about one-third that of persons with no disability. On average, workers with disabilities face significant gaps in pay and compensation, compared to workers with no disability. Additionally, about one in three employment discrimination charges filed with the EEOC allege discrimination on the basis of disability (often, in combination with charges of other types of discrimination).

The Arc’s own research suggests that the employment picture for people with I/DD may be even bleaker. In 2010, The Arc conducted a national online survey, called the FINDS Survey, to obtain perceptions of people with I/DD and their families on a range of life-span issues. Over 5,000 people participated. Only 15% of FINDS survey respondents reported that their family member with an intellectual and/or developmental disability was employed.

PBATS and The Arc Join Forces to Promote Inclusion

Peter Berns with Gene Gieselmann, David Phelps, Neil Romano

Gene Gieselmann, Founding Member, PBATS/Head Athletic Trainer, St. Louis Cardinals (1969 – 1997); Peter V. Berns, Chief Executive Officer, The Arc; David Phelps, Pitcher, New York Yankees; Neil Romano, Former Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy
Photo credit: New York Yankees. All rights reserved.

BRONX, NY (May 30, 2014) – The Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society (PBATS) and The Arc announced today at Yankee Stadium a partnership to promote the inclusion of people with disabilities in sporting activities nationwide.

In 2014, The Arc – a nonprofit organization that aims to promote and protect the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities – will contribute through the involvement of their local chapters and children with disabilities at PBATS’ PLAY (Promoting a Lifetime of Activity for Youth) Campaign events nationwide.

“We are thrilled about this partnership with The Arc,” PBATS President Mark O’Neal said. “This is a great platform to spread the message of inclusion and to afford children with disabilities the opportunity to participate in the PLAY Campaign and spend a day at their favorite Major League ballpark.”

Representing PBATS at Yankee Stadium Friday were founding members Gene Monahan (New York Yankees Head Athletic Trainer, 1973-2011) and Gene Gieselmann (St. Louis Cardinals Head Athletic Trainer, 1969-1997); Senior Advisor Neil Romano (former Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy); and Head Athletic Trainers Steve Donohue (Yankees) and Dave Pruemer (Minnesota Twins).

Said Peter V. Berns, Chief Executive Officer of The Arc: “We are excited to be a part of the PLAY Campaign this year because we know these events will be a lot of fun for kids associated with our chapters, will teach them about the importance of health and wellness in their lives, and will raise awareness of The Arc and the population we serve in the baseball world.”

The PLAY Campaign – conducted at all 30 Major League Baseball stadiums each season – is a public awareness campaign of PBATS. The campaign is designed to help combat childhood obesity and promote a healthy and active lifestyle by promoting fun activities and good decision making. Originally developed in 2004, PLAY is now the longest running health campaign in professional sports directed specifically at young people.

The PLAY Campaign events are typically two hours in length and include stations hosted by experts from across the United States. This year, for the first time, children with intellectual and developmental disabilities from chapters of The Arc will participate alongside children without disabilities at these events.

The campaign event stations include the Henry Schein Cares Foundation’s presentation on oral hygiene, the Taylor Hooton Foundation’s presentation on appearance and performance enhancing drug education, baseball specific activity stations with Major League Baseball athletic trainers, an educational session with regard to nutrition tips and a question and answer session with a Major League player from the hosting team.

PBATS members will host the PLAY Campaign events in all 30 Major League Stadiums in 2014 where they will educate over 2,000 young people and their parents.

The Arc Applauds Stay of Execution of Robert Campbell, Vows to Continue Legal Advocacy Efforts

Washington, DC – Today, the state of Texas was scheduled to execute Robert Campbell, a man who has an intellectual disability (ID), which should have ruled out the death penalty per a 2002 Supreme Court ruling, Atkins v. Virginia.  But this evening, a federal appeals court halted his execution, mere hours before he was scheduled to receive a lethal injection. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit delayed his execution to allow more time to pursue his legal team’s argument that he is not eligible for the death penalty due to his ID.

“We are grateful that the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Supreme Court’s ruling, saving Robert Campbell’s life. While we can appreciate justice being served, we were far too close to witnessing a grave miscarriage of justice. There are still many questions surrounding this trial, and we hope to hear answers as to why evidence regarding Mr. Campbell’s IQ was withheld until very recently. In a life or death situation, it is disturbing that all the facts were not being presented.

“As a family-based organization, we have great sympathy for the family and friends of the victim.  However, in the case of a defendant with intellectual disability, the death penalty is not an acceptable or fair sentence. The Arc is committed to fighting for the rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and we will continue our legal advocacy work to make sure that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on this issue is followed in jurisdictions across the country,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

Through a two-year grant for $400,000 from the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), The Arc is developing the National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability. This project is creating 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 intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), whose disability often goes unrecognized. Providing accurate, effective and consistent training for criminal justice professionals is critical.

President Obama Re-Appoints The Arc’s CEO Peter Berns to the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities

Peter Berns

Peter V. Berns, CEO of The Arc

Washington, DC – Last week, President Barack Obama announced appointments to the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities, which included The Arc’s CEO Peter Berns.  This expert group will provide advice and assistance to President Obama and the Secretary of Health and Human Services on a broad range of topics that impact people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and their families.

“I’m honored to continue my role on this panel advising the Obama Administration on matters related to the inclusion of people with I/DD in their communities.  We are facing enormous challenges right now with education, employment, community living and basic income supports for individuals with disabilities; it is clear we need to increase our efforts. There has been great progress since this committee was first convened in 1961, but we still have much work to do before we have a truly inclusive society.  It is a critical time for the disability community, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to find real results for individuals with disabilities,” said Berns.

The President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities has a rich history, dating back to October 1961, when President John F. Kennedy appointed the first panel to advise him on a broad range of topics relating to people with I/DD.  This was a turning point for the I/DD community, as President Kennedy shined a spotlight on the deplorable living conditions in institutions and limited opportunities for people with I/DD across the country.  The panel produced a report with more than 100 recommendations for research into the causes and prevention of I/DD and for expanding opportunities for education, employment and community living and participation.  President Kennedy pushed and signed into law major pieces of legislation that established the foundation for current civil rights protections and programs and services for people with I/DD.

A nationally recognized nonprofit sector leader and public interest lawyer, Berns joined The Arc in 2008. Previously, he was Executive Director of the Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations from 1992 to 2008.  He was CEO of the Standards for Excellence Institute from 2004 to 2008.  Earlier in his career, he held positions in the Maryland Attorney General’s Office, including Assistant Attorney General and Deputy Chief of Consumer Protection.  Mr. Berns was first appointed to the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities in 2011.  He has been named to The Nonprofit Times’ Power and Influence Top 50 list five times over the past decade.  Mr. Berns received a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania, a J.D. from Harvard Law School, and an L.L.M. from Georgetown University Law Center.

The Arc Responds to the Scheduled Execution of Robert Campbell

Washington, DC – The Arc released the following statement about the scheduled execution of Robert Campbell, an individual with intellectual disability (ID). Campbell is scheduled to be executed tomorrow (Tuesday, May 13) at 6 pm in Texas, despite evidence showing he has ID. It has been reported that the state of Texas and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice withheld two prior IQ tests within the range for ID, showing an IQ of 68 from a test during elementary school, and 71 from his prison records. In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled in the Atkins v. Virginia case that executing inmates with ID is unconstitutional because it violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

“We are extremely disappointed that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied Robert Campbell’s appeal despite clear evidence showing that he has intellectual disability. To ignore experts and cross the line drawn by a more than decade-old Supreme Court ruling shakes the foundation of our legal system for people with intellectual disabilities.  It is unconscionable that key evidence about Mr. Campbell’s IQ was withheld in this life or death situation. The Arc asks the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to take up this case immediately to ensure that Mr. Campbell’s disability is taken into account and justice can truly be served.

“The Arc is committed to fighting for the rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and will continue our legal advocacy work to make sure the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on this issue is abided by in jurisdictions across the country,” said Peter V. Berns, CEO of The Arc.

Through a two-year grant for $400,000 from the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), The Arc is developing the National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability. This project is creating 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 intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), whose disability often goes unrecognized. Providing accurate, effective and consistent training for criminal justice professionals is critical.

The Arc Responds to Offensive Use of R-Word on Fox News Program

Washington, DC – This week, on Fox News’ The Sean Hannity Show, a guest named Gavin McInnes made highly offensive comments, ridiculing civil rights leader Al Sharpton “as  retarded.”  Host Hannity interrupted McInnes chiming in, “you’re not allowed to say that word, it is politically incorrect,” at which point McInnes described Sharpton as, “seemingly similar to someone with Down syndrome.”   To make matters worse, in a later comment posted on YouTube, McInnes attempted to explain that he didn’t intend to demean people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) stating, “I was trying to say retards aren’t qualified to have their own news show.”  Referring to himself as “pro-retard,” he advised the mom of a child with Down syndrome to “get over that word soon.”

“It’s Gavin McInnes who needs to ‘get over’ outdated language that perpetuates stereotypes and fuels hatred in society.  The r-word is being banished from our lexicon because it’s hurtful to people with disabilities and their families, so why use it?

“McInnes’ assertion that people with I/DD don’t understand enough to be offended by language that is used in their presence is absolutely absurd.   Clearly, he has never met or talked with the many self-advocates who have led the fight to get the ‘r-word’ out of state and federal laws, let alone the many individuals with I/DD who recount stories about how they are taunted and bullied.  Language does matter.

“His assertion that people with low IQ can’t host a news show ignores their abilities.  Perhaps McInnes has never heard of Jason Kingsley, Chris Burke, or more recently, Lauren Potter on the hit show, Glee.  People with I/DD are a part of all our communities, going to school, working alongside people without disabilities, and living life to the fullest.  They are in the media, starring on hit television shows and in movies, and doing more to contribute to society than those that spread hate with their words.

“While McInnes, a self-styled provocateur, may aspire to be a regular on the Fox News network – clearly he failed the audition.  Hopefully, Fox News will know better than to give him a platform to spread the ignorance and disrespect he has for millions of people with disabilities and their families,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

The Arc Reacts to Newest Autism Prevalence Data Showing 30% Increase in Two Years

Washington, DC – Today, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new data showing the prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) continues to rise.  The new rate of 1 in 68 reflects a 30% increase from two years ago when the CDC released data that 1 in 88 children has autism.

“The numbers are staggering – in 2008, the CDC reported 1 in 125 children had autism and related disorders.  Today’s data showing nearly double the prevalence since then emphasizes the immediate need for better services and supports for people with autism and their families.   Autism is clearly part of the human condition and people with autism live in all of our communities.  While we have made progress in recent years to raise awareness and improve services and supports for individuals with autism, it’s simply not enough.

“From protecting the Medicaid program – the single largest funding source of services and support for people with autism and their families – to reauthorizing the Combating Autism Act before it expires in September, we have a lot work ahead of us on Capitol Hill to ensure that people with ASD are fully included in society and that ASD prevention, surveillance, public education, and professional training continue apace.  And as a grassroots organization with nearly 700 chapters across the country, The Arc will continue to lead the way and work with people with autism to support their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes,” said Peter V. Berns, CEO of The Arc.

ASDs are a group of developmental disabilities that are often diagnosed in early childhood and can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges over a lifetime.  The Arc is the largest provider organization for people with autism in the United States. Chapters of The Arc provide services and supports for people with autism, their families, and service providers.

The Arc runs Autism NOW: The National Autism Resource and Information Center, a federally funded resource for people with ASDs and their families.  The online center aims to help people separate fact from fiction when it comes to autism.  In addition, Autism NOW provides trainings and information and referral services.

The Arc is also running a national airport rehearsal program for people with autism, other developmental disabilities, and their families called Wings for Autism.  Based on a program launched by one of our local chapters in Massachusetts responding to the needs of a family looking to take a trip to a theme park, the program is a full dress rehearsal for air travel, including the process of ticketing, security clearance, boarding, and at some locations, taxiing on the runway.

And earlier this year, The Arc announced a new partnership with Specialisterne, a Danish nonprofit, to replicate its successful model for recruiting, assessing, training, placing and supporting people with autism in jobs in the tech industry in the United States.  Specialisterne creates meaningful employment for people with autism by building relationships with technology companies that need employees whose skill sets match the characteristics of many people on the autism spectrum.  Chapters of The Arc are working with Specialisterne to serve tech companies, such as SAP and CAI, which are eager to employ people with autism as software testers, programmers, data quality assurance specialists and other technology positions.

The Arc Launches New Diversity Initiative

Washington, DC – The Arc is pleased to announce it has been awarded a grant for $100,000 from the MetLife Foundation to make the programs, services and supports offered by chapters of The Arc nationwide more accessible to culturally diverse populations with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and their family members, and to ensure that the chapters are addressing the needs of the different cultures in their communities.  To achieve these goals, The Arc will conduct a comprehensive assessment of the cultural competence within the network of 700 chapters.

This assessment will include substantial input from The Arc’s chapters as well as from current and potential stakeholders in ethnically and culturally diverse communities across the country.   In the course of the assessment, The Arc will collect information about best practices in serving a culturally diverse population drawn from the disability field, as well as health care, social services and other non-profit and for-profit industry segments.  As a result of the assessment, The Arc will develop a report that identifies the challenges developmental disability providers face when serving people with I/DD who come from diverse backgrounds and recommends solutions. Based on the report, The Arc will develop an action plan defining specific actions that can be taken by chapters of The Arc to achieve greater cultural competence.

“Organizations like the MetLife Foundation enable us to continue our work to promote inclusion and civil rights for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and with their generous support we will be able to better serve communities across the country. The Arc has a network of 700 chapters and those chapters represent a spectrum of cultural diversity. We recognize that for The Arc to be successful, we must find ways to support our organization’s growth to include more diverse populations,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.