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.

The Arc Reacts to Department of Justice’s Inspector General Beginning Investigation into Storefront Sting Operations Involving People with Disabilities

Washington, DC – In response to the news that the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Inspector General will be investigating storefront stings in four of the cities that used people with intellectual disability (ID) to facilitate operations without their knowledge, The Arc released the following statement:

“We are pleased that the Inspector General is taking this important step, as we requested in our letter to the agency, to find out how these operations that used people with intellectual disability could have occurred, and we hope that the results of this inquiry are the end to this practice across all operations conducted by the Department of Justice.  Because of the unique challenges people with intellectual and developmental disabilities face in the criminal justice system, as either suspects, offenders, or victims, they should not be used as pawns or informants by ATF agents or other law enforcement officials. We are working with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to determine how The Arc can help train federal agents to recognize intellectual disability and keep this population out of their operations,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.  “Many people needing help in the criminal justice system have disabilities that are not easily recognizable, and we hope to raise awareness among law enforcement nationwide about ‘hidden disabilities’ to increase the safety and protect the rights of people with I/DD.”

When The Arc first learned that storefront sting operations were entrapping and exploiting people with ID and then charging some for the crimes ATF agents asked them to commit, we reached out to the U.S. Department of Justice expressing our concerns.  Since then, The Arc has met with high-level officials within the DOJ and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to discuss these cases and offer assistance with training of federal law enforcement officials.

Wings for Autism™ Program Takes Off Nationally in Seattle

Wings for AutismSeattle, WA – Tomorrow, The Arc will hold its first Wings for Autism™ event at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport​ (Sea-Tac), in partnership with Alaska Airlines, the Port of Seattle, the Transportation Security Administration, and The Arc of King County. Wings for Autism™, one of The Arc’s newest national initiatives, is an airport “rehearsal” specially designed for individuals with autism spectrum disorders, their families and aviation professionals. Originated by the Charles River Center, a local chapter of The Arc in Massachusetts, and the Massachusetts Port Authority, Wings for Autism™ is designed to alleviate some of the stress that families who have a child with autism experience when traveling by air. The program provides families with the opportunity to practice entering the airport, obtain boarding passes, go through security, and board a plane.

Wings for Autism™ also gives airport, airline, TSA professionals and other personnel the opportunity to observe, interact and deliver their services in a structured, learning environment. This experience is equally useful for families that have a member with other intellectual or developmental disabilities (I/DD) that are concerned about the ability of their family member to travel.

Thirty one families from the Seattle area have signed up to benefit from this experience.  The day will kick off with families arriving at the airport at 11:20am. Upon arrival, event attendees will check in to receive their boarding pass, go through security, and be greeted at the gate prior to boarding the plane. A small reception will be held afterwards.

“We are excited to begin national expansion of Wings for Autism™ program in Seattle. For parents of children with autism spectrum disorders, everyday tasks can sometimes prove to be far more difficult for their child.  Air travel can prove particularly challenging between clearing security, the overwhelming noises, and harsh lights. This program will not only alleviate the stress children and their parents may feel, but help educate airport and airline professionals about how best to serve children with autism or other intellectual and developmental disabilities in the future.  We are grateful to our partners on the ground in Seattle – Alaska Airlines, the Port of Seattle, the Transportation Security Administration, and The Arc of King County – who are committed to making air travel possible for families with children with autism and other intellectual and developmental disabilities,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

“We’re honored to host Wings for Autism at Sea-Tac Airport,” said Mike Ehl, director of aviation operations for the Port of Seattle. “The program literally opens a window to the world for families with children with autism and other disabilities by demystifying the airport experience.”

“Our employees are trained to provide the highest level of security and customer service to all who pass through the security checkpoint,” said Jeff Holmgren, TSA Federal Security Director at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.   “TSA welcomes the opportunity to work with these families to demystify the aviation security screening process.”

“Everyone deserves a nice vacation with their loved ones. That’s why it breaks my heart to think of the families who have never been able to travel outside of the Pacific Northwest. Most families take airplane travel for granted, but families who care for children with autism often fear getting on a plane, or even going through security at the airport. Thanks to the support of our Wings for Autism partners and volunteers, our goal is to produce this event several times a year, enabling all families to travel with more confidence, making great vacation memories together,” said Sylvia Fuerstenberg, Executive Director of The Arc of King County.

The Arc and Specialisterne USA to Work Together on US Expansion of Model to Employ People with Autism in Tech Industry

Specialisterne logoWashington, DC – As the World Economic Forum kicks off in Davos, Switzerland, The Arc and Specialisterne USA are announcing a new agreement to help Specialisterne replicate its successful model of employing people with autism in the tech industry in the United States.  By utilizing The Arc’s strong network of chapters, Specialisterne USA and The Arc will expand the model to sites across the country with a goal of serving technology companies nationwide.

Specialisterne USA is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization established by The Specialist People Foundation, a not-for-profit Danish 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.  In 2013, The Specialist People Foundation entered into a partnership with technology company, SAP AG, while Specialisterne USA entered into a partnership with Computer Aid, Inc. (CAI), to provide employment opportunities for people with autism as software testers, programmers, data quality assurance specialists and other technology positions.  Specialisterne USA , with operations in the Midwest, Mid Atlantic and Southwest regions of the US, and The Arc’s New York City chapter, AHRC New York City, began working to pilot replication of the Specialisterne model late last year in New York City.

Participating chapters of The Arc will be trained by Specialisterne USA to recruit, assess and train people with autism to work in technology jobs at competitive wages alongside people without disabilities.  Within three years, Specialisterne USA aims to have Specialisterne operations in twelve regions of the United States, working with employers to expand their recruitment to include people with autism and similar challenges and providing a range of job coaching and mentorship services to employers and individuals with autism.

“This is a huge opportunity for individuals with autism to be trained for and employed in the high-tech sector where the career opportunities are promising.  We are excited to launch this partnership with Specialisterne USA because we know it has worked in European markets, and we have our work cut out for us here in the United States to close the huge unemployment gap facing people with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

Thorkil Sonne, Specialisterne Founder and President of Specialisterne USA, says that the partnership with The Arc will be a key step in spreading the Specialisterne model throughout the United States. “We consider this a very important step on our journey to enable 100,000 jobs in the USA. The Arc is a perfect partner as the largest organization in the US working with people with disabilities and we have already had a very positive experience working with the New York chapter of The Arc. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, I have the opportunity to discuss with business leaders how The Arc and Specialisterne can help the corporate sector in the US get access to a huge untapped pool of talent,” said Sonne.

About Specialisterne and The Specialist People Foundation

The Specialist People Foundation, which owns the Specialisterne concept and trademark, works to enable one million jobs for people with autism and similar challenges through social entrepreneurship, corporate sector engagement and a global change in mind-set. The foundation works with partners and stakeholders around the world to bring about a vision of a world where people are given equal opportunities in the labor market. Specialisterne, which translates from Danish as “The Specialists”, is a socially innovative company where the majority of employees have a diagnosis on the autism spectrum. Specialisterne harnesses the special characteristics and talents of people with autism and uses them as a competitive advantage. Employees work as business consultants on tasks such as software testing, programming and data-entry for the public and private sectors. To date, Specialisterne has operations in 12 countries around the world, including the US, Canada, the UK, Germany, Poland and Spain.

The Arc’s School-to-Community Transition Initiative Expands With the Help of The AT&T Foundation

Through funding from the AT&T Foundation, The Arc’s School-to-Community Transition Initiative will be supporting five additional chapters of The Arc with sub-grants for new transition projects through 2014. These projects will connect individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) with paid employment opportunities and/or a degree/certificate-earning postsecondary education program.

“We are thrilled to be expanding our School-to-Community Transition Initiative, and are grateful to The AT&T Foundation for their generous support.  For individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families, the transition from high school can be a scary and stressful time. Since our School-to-Community Transition Initiative launched in 2009, we have been able to support more than 1300 individuals as they approached this exciting milestone. We look forward to arming more individuals with the skills and confidence they need to succeed whether their next step is post-secondary education or employment,” said Peter V. Berns, CEO of The Arc.

Since 2009, over 50 Chapters in The Arc have participated in this initiative to further enhance their work with youth with I/DD, ages 12-23, that receive special education services and are preparing to transition from school to adult life. Outcomes for these programs include development of comprehensive transition plans while students are still in high school and connecting transitioning individuals with employment and post-secondary education opportunities. Projects include elements of inter-agency collaboration, a focus on enhancing community connections, and self-determination to help them successfully meet these objectives.

Recipients of the five new sub-grants are: