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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

White House Community Leaders Briefing Gallery

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

Tune in to see The Arc at the White House!

Television image

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

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

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

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

Welcoming Amy Goodman to The Arc

Amy GoodmanBy Amy Goodman, Co-Director, The Autism NOW Center

Hello, my name is Amy Goodman and I joined the Autism NOW team in November as the new co-director. I live in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, and I am on the Autism Spectrum. I learned about my disability at a later stage in life, actually at the age of 33. My brother’s friend suggested that I try to get diagnosed. My brother claims it all started with the Grateful Dead. If it weren’t for Dead Net Central, he wouldn’t have ever met this friend. I finally found what I was looking for, answers to my questions and a diagnosis.

I was relieved to finally have a diagnosis and a name for some of the issues I was having. With that diagnosis, I was finally able to put my life in perspective and focus on who I am. It was because of this new found information that I went to graduate school and got my degree in Special Education with a focus on Autism at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia. I was accepted into a separate program at the Autism Training Center (ATC), at Marshall for students with Asperger’s syndrome/High Functioning Autism (HFA), which gave me academic support, individual support, and social skills I needed to live independently in my own apartment. I was the first graduate student, the first female, and the first individual to graduate from the ATC.

After graduate school, I worked as a Service Coordinator for Birth to Three. I had that job for about four years and I decided I needed to change my focus and get a job that applied my talents in a different way and helped to support me as an individual. I applied and looked for a job for more than a year and a half, and then I finally tried something I thought I would never do, networking. It paid off and I got a job at The Arc as co-director of Autism NOW. I have been at this job for about two and half months and I love it and everything about it.

The job at the Arc has given me my independence in many ways. I now am self-sufficient, I am an advocate for myself and I am empowered to be who I want to be. I have proven once again that individuals with ASD can and should be hired to work to the best of their ability.

The Arc’s Reaction to the Department of Justice and Commonwealth of Virginia Settlement Regarding Institutions

Washington, DC – The Arc, the nation’s largest and oldest human rights organization for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) serving more than a million individuals and their families, issued the following statement on the news that the Commonwealth of Virginia has reached a deal with the U.S. Department of Justice regarding four of its institutions for people with I/DD.

“This settlement is a big step forward in bringing people with intellectual and developmental disabilities out of the shadows and into communities across Virginia, where they belong.  The Department of Justice’s commitment to monitoring and oversight of the implementation of this agreement will be key to ensuring that the shift to community based services away from institutions will be successful for people with I/DD in Virginia.

“The Arc of Virginia and the network of chapters across the state have been instrumental in putting this agreement in place.  They will continue their work at the state capitol to advocate for additional resources for people with disabilities so that they can move off of waiting lists and begin receiving the supports they need to live independent lives in the community,” said Peter V. Berns, CEO of The Arc.

Site Issues with thearc.org

As of 10 a.m. Tuesday, January 24, The Arc’s main website – www.thearc.org – is experiencing ongoing problems with the following functionality:

  • logging into your online community profile.
  • logging into secure areas.
  • viewing some content, like our Find a Chapter Directory.

We are working hard to correct the problems, and appreciate your patience.

We’ll post updates here as we work through the issues.

Update: 11 a.m., January 25, 2012 – We’re continuing to experience issues with our main website, resulting in limited functionality for many users. We apologize for the inconvenience, and appreciate your patience.

Martha and Me

By Nancy Webster, Vice President of the Board of Directors of The Arc of the United States.

Nancy and Martha Webster

“Martha inspires me in many ways and we are a wonderful and strong team.” – Nancy Webster, sister of Martha and Vice President of the Board of Directors of The Arc of the United States.

Being a sibling of a person with an intellectual or developmental disability (I/DD) is interesting, funny, frustrating, proud, challenging, loving and respectful.  A long-lasting relationship that adapts and evolves, it’s a partnership that not everyone understands.  But other siblings do.

In any family, brothers and sisters often think of themselves and each other very differently from the ways parents do.  Even when we were young, I could usually convince my parents to let Martha try something they were worried that she could not do by telling them that I would do it with her.  It was my belief in her that gave her the courage to learn how to swim, climb up the slide and care for her prosthesis.  Today, when Martha wants to try something, we team up to figure out how to tell and show others, “here’s how it can work.”   We know we’re stronger together, and so together we have learned advocacy.  Martha calls us “the sister team.”

“Martha inspires me in many ways and we are a wonderful and strong team.”

I often think how wonderful it would have been for us to grow up knowing other siblings.  How amazing it would have been to hear another sibling’s stories – to learn how to manage something differently, to share anger, to boast of an achievement that to my friends might seem trivial, but another sibling knows the triumph.

Frequently I talk with adult siblings whose parents are aging and are now facing the challenge of learning all of the intricacies of supporting his or her sibling.  In the interest of “protecting” them, their parents have not shared information.   Where can they turn for guidance and support?  The Arc’s National Sibling Council is a welcoming network that identifies with siblings and helps them connect with other siblings to share information and experience.  It is exciting to think that I can call someone and ask “how did you know how to….?” “What can we do about…?”

This is an opportunity to connect and improve the lives of future siblings and make their paths less daunting. I’m thrilled to share Martha’s and my story, and I hope you join me on The Arc’s National Sibling Council.

2011: The Year in Review

Board Visit November 2011

The Arc's Board of Directors visits the new office in November, 2011.

The Arc has achieved great things in 2011. We had a busy year in 2010 too. With your support, we:

Thank you for your continued support of us in everything we do. We’re looking forward to what we can do together in 2012.

Tuning In

Old RadioThese days, there’s a lot of talking going on. In the disability world, if you turn the radio dial, you can switch the stations from diagnosis, early intervention, and how to manage the new identity of being a family connected to a child with an intellectual and developmental disability. A few clicks up and the voices are talking about friends, inclusion, transition, and a few words on jobs and post-secondary education. Self-advocacy is heard, in some coverage areas. Turn the dial even further and words about community living, placements, institutions, sheltered workshops, supported jobs and community-based employment fade in and out. Futures planning, special needs trusts, and what to do now that Mom and Dad are old themselves. Siblings. Family support. And through it all, you hear: where are the resources to help us…

In the middle of the audible voices is a lot of static. White noise relating, perhaps, to the day-to-day survival, the daze of home to school to work to home to family in any given day; the disconnect between that and the sharp always unanticipated disruption of when the supports fall away. In some places, there is no noise at all.

The Arc is Listening

I wonder who is listening. I wonder what families are going to do.

The answer comes to me: The Arc is listening. The Arc helps families help themselves, as we’ve been doing for more than 61 years. From the listening sessions at our Annual Convention where people were given open access to a microphone in front of the Board, to hear what they wanted to say…. To our Autism NOW Center that reflects an array of information resources for people with autism and other developmental disabilities and their families… to the opportunities we give to the nation to get families involved in advocacy, in membership, participation or leadership at local, state and national levels, in working with us to advance better options for people with I/DD and their families. Our 50 Chapters that are involved in designing customized School to Transition Programs to help young adults adapt to life after high school. Through all of these, there is a listening process occurring, and we are collectively learning from all of you. Only if we listen, can we learn and grow. Only if others express their thoughts, their preferences, will there be something to learn from and something to share.

Get Involved

The Arc has always been about supporting families, and supporting those they are connected to: people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. If you are a family member and haven’t gotten involved in The Arc, think about it. If you’ve thought about creating a new Chapter, go for it. Yes, YOU. If you’ve thought about honoring us with your time, we’d love to have you with us. Now, more than ever, tuning in and getting involved in the dialogue is so important; our country is going through monumental changes that have every possibility of affecting the daily options that we have to choose from.

We’re here. We’re listening. Tune in, wherever you are, any place on the dial.