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.

Execution of Warren Hill “Shakes the Foundation of our Legal System for People with Intellectual Disabilities”

Washington, DC – This evening, the state of Georgia executed Warren Hill, a man who experts unanimously determined to have intellectual disability, which should have ruled out the death penalty per a 2002 Supreme Court ruling, Atkins v. Virginia, and a 2014 Supreme Court ruling, Hall v. Florida. There was a stay motion and a petition for a writ of certiorari filed to the U.S. Supreme Court which was denied this evening. Justice Stephen Breyer and Justice Sonia Sotomayor voted to stay the execution.

“Georgia’s ability 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. Just last year, the Supreme Court reaffirmed its commitment to ensuring justice for individuals with intellectual disability, with their ruling in Hall v. Florida, and it is extremely disappointing that following this decision justice did not prevail in Georgia.

“The facts in this case are clear – experts unanimously agreed that Mr. Hill had intellectual disability, yet the appeals at the state and federal levels were ignored.  The state’s actions in this case are unconscionable,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

Warren Lee Hill, was found by a state court judge to have an IQ of approximately 70 and to meet the criteria for intellectual disability overall by a preponderance of the evidence. Georgia’s “beyond a reasonable doubt” legal standard for proving intellectual disability claims prevents Mr. Hill from being protected by Georgia and federal law prohibiting the execution of people with intellectual disability.

“This is a sad day for our community, and a shameful one for the courts that allowed this unconstitutional execution to take place. Our thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Hill’s family and his legal team.  The Arc will continue fighting for the rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and in the aftermath of this case we will only increase our legal advocacy efforts to ensure that the Supreme Court’s decisions are upheld and justice is appropriately served,” said Berns.

The Arc has been involved in this case for years. Nationally The Arc has participated in an amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court and written multiple letters urging clemency on behalf of Mr. Hill.

In its 2002 Atkins decision, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the special risk of wrongful execution faced by persons with intellectual disability (formerly referred to as “mental retardation”) and banned the execution of persons with intellectual disability as cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. In its more recent 2014 Hall decision, the U.S. Supreme Court again reinforced its earlier decision that people with intellectual disabilities not be executed, requiring that consideration of evidence beyond IQ tests be taken into account when determining intellectual disability.

The Arc Responds to Denial of Clemency for Warren Hill

Washington, DC – This morning, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles voted to deny clemency in the case of Warren Hill, a man who has an intellectual disability (ID). Mr. Hill’s diagnosis of intellectual disability allows for protections found within the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions in Atkins v. Virginia and Hall v. Florida. There is a stay motion and a petition for a writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court. They can still intervene and stay the execution, sparing Mr. Hill’s life.

“A gross miscarriage of justice has been committed in Georgia today. It is extremely disappointing that the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles failed to listen to pleas from The Arc, other organizations and experts to commute Mr. Hill’s sentence to life in prison without possibility of parole.  The facts in this case are clear – and the state’s action clearly goes against the U.S. Supreme Court’s previous decisions in Atkins v. Virginia and Hall v. Florida. We hope that the Supreme Court will intervene and stay the execution, they are the last and only chance for justice in this case,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

Warren Lee Hill, was found by a state court judge to have an IQ of approximately 70 and to meet the criteria for intellectual disability overall by a preponderance of the evidence. Georgia’s “beyond a reasonable doubt” legal standard for proving intellectual disability claims prevents Mr. Hill from being protected by Georgia and federal law prohibiting the execution of people with intellectual disability.

The Arc has been involved in this case for years. Nationally The Arc has participated in an amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court and written multiple letters urging clemency on behalf of Mr. Hill.

In its 2002 Atkins decision, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the special risk of wrongful execution faced by persons with intellectual disability (formerly referred to as “mental retardation”) and banned the execution of persons with intellectual disability as cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. In its more recent 2014 Hall decision, the U.S. Supreme Court again reinforced its earlier decision that people with intellectual disabilities not be executed, requiring that consideration of evidence beyond IQ tests be taken into account when determining intellectual disability.

The Arc Calls on Governor McAuliffe to Grant a Conditional Pardon for Neli Latson Immediately

Stafford, VA – Today was another day in court for Neli Latson, a young man with autism who has spent a significant amount of time in solitary confinement. His case has become the symbol for dysfunction in our national justice system for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).  As Latson entered a guilty plea today to charges of assault, The Arc is calling on Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, who now has the legal authority to take action, to promptly grant a conditional pardon so that Latson can be transferred from the criminal justice system to the developmental disability system, where he will receive the services he needs.

“Mr. Latson is caught in a recurring cycle of prosecution and punishment due to factors related to his disabilities. He is not a criminal. He is a person with autism and intellectual disability whose behaviors can be aggressive, often in an attempt to communicate. Prison is not where Mr. Latson belongs,” wrote Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc, to Governor McAuliffe in early December requesting a conditional pardon.

Latson, who is 22, has been incarcerated since August 2013 as a result of behavior connected to his disability.  He has been held in solitary confinement for most of that time and is presently at a Virginia state prison.  His tragic situation is the result of events surrounding his initial detention which occurred while waiting for the public library to open, and from subsequent mental health crises resulting from his confinement.  A conditional pardon would allow Latson to be moved immediately to a facility in Florida that will provide the support necessary to help him move on from these events.

Advocates from The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability (NCCJD) and The Arc of Virginia have been involved in this case for months, advocating alongside Latson’s legal team.  NCCJD is operated by The Arc and 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 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.  Currently, NCCJD is developing training for law enforcement, victim service providers and legal professionals that will support police departments, prosecutor’s offices, and other professionals in the criminal justice system to effectively and fairly administer justice for people with disabilities.

The Arc Marks Senate Passage of ABLE Act

Washington, DC – Today, as the U.S. Senate passed the Achieving a Better Life Act (ABLE Act), The Arc, the nation’s largest organization for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), released the following statement:

“We are pleased that the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act has been approved by both the U.S. House of Representatives and now the U.S. Senate.  With the clock winding down on this session of Congress, now this important legislation can move to President Obama’s desk.  We appreciate the untiring work of the chief sponsors of the bill and the support of a large and broad representation in both chambers of Congress.

“While the legislation was narrowed due to the constraints from the cost analysis, the approved bill will provide a vehicle for some families and people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to save for the future, depending on their own circumstances.  Our efforts will not be finished if President Obama signs this bill – The Arc will continue to work with the leadership and chief sponsors in Congress to expand this program in the future to ensure that everyone in need can get the maximum benefit from this legislation.  We remain disappointed that certain pay-fors remain in the bill,” said Peter V. Berns, CEO of The Arc.

The ABLE Act aims to change the tax code to allow for tax advantaged savings accounts for individuals with disabilities for certain expenses, like education, housing, and transportation.  Similar to existing “Section 529” education savings accounts, ABLE accounts would let families save for disability-related expenses on behalf of qualified beneficiaries with disabilities that will supplement, but not replace, benefits provided through the Medicaid program, the Supplemental Security Income program, the beneficiary’s employment, and other sources.  If properly managed, funds in the ABLE accounts would not jeopardize eligibility for critical federal benefits.  With full understanding of its features, individuals and families could use the ABLE accounts as another tool in planning for the lifetime needs of an individual with long term disabilities.  The version of the bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives includes age limitations and a cap on contributions, added in July by the Committee on Ways and Means to reduce the costs of the bill.  If the President signs the ABLE Act into law, The Arc will issue a fact sheet including the details on the bill as it has been revised through the legislative process.  Further details would come through the regulatory process.

Federal Hiring of People with Disabilities Continues to Disappoint

Washington, DC – The federal government’s Office of Personnel Management (OPM) recently released Fiscal Year 2013 data on the hiring of people with disabilities in the government’s workforce. Once again, the report demonstrates that hiring of people with targeted disabilities, including intellectual disability (ID), continues to lag, and the federal government is missing an opportunity to be a model employer of people with disabilities.

“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. The federal government should implement the strategies the Department of Labor has laid out to meet their goal, and that should involve working with organizations like The Arc, with our nearly 700 chapters across the country, to proactively fill job openings with people with disabilities qualified for a variety of positions open in our government,” said Peter V. Berns, Chief Executive Officer of The Arc.

The federal government, through the Department of Labor, has initiated a new effort to increase the number of people with disabilities employed by entities that contract with the government, asking contractors to aspire to a goal of 7 percent of their workforce with disabilities. In explaining why there is a need to step up hiring of people with disabilities, the Department of Labor has stated: “A substantial disparity in the employment rate of individuals with disabilities continues to persist despite years of technological advancements that have made it possible for people with disabilities to apply for and successfully perform a broad array of jobs.” Meanwhile, in Fiscal Year 2013, the federal government only hired 1,389 people with targeted disabilities, representing 1.32 percent of new hires overall. The category of targeted disabilities includes people with intellectual disability (ID).

One factor in the federal hiring picture is the congressionally mandated budget cuts known as sequestration. These cuts forced federal agencies to put in place furloughs, hiring freezes, and reduce overtime. These budget cuts have trickled down to impact hiring of all new employees, including people with disabilities. Several federal agencies, however, have used their Schedule A hiring authority to make hiring people with disabilities a priority. The Schedule A process is a non-competitive hiring method that provides people with disabilities a path to federal employment.

“The numbers demonstrate that successful employment for people with disabilities is doable with the Schedule A process. Agencies that haven’t used this tool in their toolbox should look to their peers for guidance on how to improve their outreach, in addition to utilizing the competitive process to reach people with disabilities that match the skill sets needed for job opportunities,” said Berns.

The agencies that have demonstrated willingness to hire via with Schedule A include the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Labor, the Office of Personnel Management, and the Treasury Department. However, 14 agencies hired no people using this hiring authority in 2013, including the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Federal Trade Commission, and Department of Housing and Urban Development, which each made over 100 new hires but none through Schedule A.

One federal agency that The Arc has recently partnered with to boost the number of people with intellectual disability employed is the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). They have hired five individuals at GS3 and GS4 levels with the opportunity to be promoted to a GS5.

In July, The Arc submitted comments to the 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 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 persists. Agencies can act now to step up their efforts,” 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 percent of FINDS survey respondents reported that their family member with an intellectual and/or developmental disability was employed.

The Arc Raises Questions in Case of Shocking Abuse and Neglect against Teenager in Anderson, Indiana

Indianapolis, IN – Fifteen years old and weighing less than 40 pounds.  Covered in feces and locked in a room, alone and for an unknown amount of time, by her grandfather.  The police reports released in Anderson, Indiana about the shocking abuse against a teenager with a disability raise significant questions about how this situation could go unnoticed in the community and unmonitored by a litany of state agencies which allowed this child to fall off the radar.

It has been reported the girl was removed from school to be home schooled – Indiana law does not require ongoing involvement from public schools when a family removes a child to be home schooled. Indiana’s Department of Children’s Services (DCS) had contact with the family at one time, but the case was closed.  The police have learned that the child lost access to Medicaid which helped cover nutritional supplements, but as there is no requirement for Medicaid case workers to follow up in such cases, this loss of coverage went unnoticed.

“This is a tragic situation that should never have happened.  The question now is, what can we as a community of advocates, state agencies, and individuals do to learn what went so terribly wrong for this young girl, and how can we all seek and act on ways to keep others safe and free from harm,” said John Dickerson, Executive Director of The Arc of Indiana.

“This is a shameful case of abuse and neglect that should force the system and society to think about how this young girl was hidden in plain sight, starving and without access to medical care, and to force action to prevent something like this from ever happening again.  People with disabilities are far too often victimized, without regard for their basic human rights.  And now this teenager is fighting for her life,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

The National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability (NCCJD) is operated by The Arc and 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 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.  Currently, NCCJD is developing training for law enforcement, victim service providers and legal professionals that will support police departments, prosecutor’s offices, and other professionals in the criminal justice system to effectively and fairly administer justice for people with disabilities.

NCCJD is a much needed resource for the Anderson, Indiana police force and local prosecutors as they pursue this case and will continue to be a resource for many other communities facing similar tragedies. Persons with disabilities are nearly three times more likely to be victimized – people with cognitive disabilities have the highest rate of victimization.  Children with intellectual disabilities are at twice the risk of physical and sexual abuse compared to children without disabilities.

The Arc Advocacy Network in Indiana can provide information, referral and advocacy to assist and guide individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families in understanding and applying for government programs, including Medicaid and home and community based services through the Medicaid Waiver program.  It can also serve as a resource to schools and local public and private agencies serving children and adults with disabilities.

Finally, The Arc has launched an online pledge to generate support to end acts of violence, abuse, and bullying of people I/DD.  The Arc and The Arc of Indiana encourage members of the public to sign this pledge to show their support.

Another Congressional Session Poised to End without Ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons of Persons with Disabilities

CRPDWashington, DC – As the clock winds down on the 114th Congress, U.S. Senate leaders have informed disability advocates that the Convention on the Rights of Persons of Persons with Disabilities will not be put to a vote because the treaty doesn’t have enough support in the chamber.

“It’s pitiful that once again, the U.S. Senate can’t come together and support a disability rights treaty that simply affirms our nation’s support for people across the globe who seek the same rights we enjoy here in the United States. Over 800 disability, civil rights, and faith groups support ratification of the treaty, representing countless people across the country. But this tidal wave of support has not swayed those in the Senate whose objections to this treaty have been proven false to support this cause. The Arc will continue our advocacy on this issue when Congress reconvenes in January,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

The Arc has been working with numerous other disability advocacy groups and U.S. Senators to garner support for the ratification of this treaty, which will promote, protect, and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities. The treaty is modeled after the Americans with Disabilities Act, which affirms the rights of American citizens with disabilities by prohibiting discrimination in employment, public services, public accommodations and services operated by private entities. For years, The Arc’s Public Policy team and grassroots advocates across the country have been working to promote the CRPD and ensure ratification.

The United States signed the CRPD on July 30, 2009, joining the 141 other signing nations. Today, the Convention has 151 ratifications and 159 signatures. On May 17, 2012, following almost three years of thorough review, the Obama Administration submitted its treaty package to the U.S. Senate for its advice and consent for ratification. Senator Bob Dole, who was a champion of the Americans with Disabilities Act, was present for the last attempt to vote on the treaty in December 2012 and urged his fellow Republicans to support it. Unfortunately, his plea along with strong Congressional and disability community support was not enough to overcome the unfounded fears raised by the opposition.

The Arc Marks House Passage of ABLE Act

Washington, DC – Today, as the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (ABLE Act), The Arc, the nation’s largest organization for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), released the following statement:

“We are pleased that the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act, H.R. 647, has been approved by the U.S. House of Representatives, and is one step closer to reaching President Obama’s desk.  We appreciate the untiring work of the chief sponsors of the bill and the support of a large and broad representation in Congress.  The ABLE Act is a good example of how members of both political parties can work together to craft legislation that benefits people with disabilities, as disability knows no political, geographic, gender, or ethnic boundaries.

“While the legislation was narrowed due to the constraints from the cost analysis, the approved bill will provide a vehicle for some families and people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to save for the future.  The Arc will continue to work with the leadership and chief sponsors of this effort in Congress to expand this program in the future to ensure that everyone in need can get the maximum benefit from this legislation.  Our goal is to ensure that people with disabilities get the full use of the ABLE Act.   We still have concerns about certain pay-fors in the bill, and hope that the House and Senate can resolve these issues,” said Peter V. Berns, CEO of The Arc.

The ABLE Act aims to change the tax code to allow for tax advantaged savings accounts for individuals with disabilities for certain expenses, like education, housing, and transportation.  Similar to existing “Section 529” education savings accounts, ABLE accounts would let families save for disability-related expenses on behalf of qualified beneficiaries with disabilities that will supplement, but not replace, benefits provided through the Medicaid program, the Supplemental Security Income program, the beneficiary’s employment, and other sources.  If properly managed, funds in the ABLE accounts would not jeopardize eligibility for critical federal benefits.  With full understanding of its features, individuals and families could use the ABLE accounts as another tool in planning for the lifetime needs of an individual with long term disabilities.  The version of the bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives includes age limitations and a cap on contributions, added in July by the Committee on Ways and Means to reduce the costs of the bill.