Answering the Call to Service: Promoting Inclusion through Community Volunteering

For The Arc, the quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. – “Everybody can be great because everyone can serve” – has a special meaning. Many perceive people with disabilities as the ones in need of service – but in reality, they are an important part of civic engagement at the state, local, and national levels. That’s why we’re grateful to have been selected for a third year by the Corporation for National and Community Service to execute volunteer projects for the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service.

We issued grants to 12 of our chapters across the country to engage in events that addressed the problem of food insecurity in communities across the country. Events included sandwich-making competitions, donation cook-offs, food drives and delivery, and food bank volunteer events. Each chapter’s creative and engaging projects helped further our mission of community inclusion and participation for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

 “I think it is very important as citizens and self-advocates that we show we care about the needs of people around us by getting outside our own routines and giving our time and energy to the Martin Luther King projects… I was very happy to serve in whatever way I was able to such a good cause and project.” – Sean Lewis, President of Tulsa People First in Oklahoma

Our 2018 grantees included The Arc of the Glades (FL), The Arc of Nature Coast (FL), The Arc of South Carolina, The Arc of Northeastern Pennsylvania (PA), The Arc Rockland (NY), The Arc of Kent County (MI), The Arc of the Quad Cities Area (IL), The Arc of North Texas (TX), TARC (OK), The Arc of Davidson County and Greater Nashville (TN), The Arc of Lane County (OR), and Choices for Community Living – Delaware (a subsidiary of Liberty Arc (NY).

Inclusive volunteering gives people with and without I/DD the opportunity to meet new people in the community while helping those in need. These new connections can lead to long-lasting friendships that impact not only community members being served by the volunteers but the volunteers themselves. The projects also have led to building job skills and new community partnerships. Volunteering truly is a win-win for everyone involved! To date, chapters have collectively done 4,285 hours of service with 762 volunteers and helped 10,609 people. Congratulations to each chapter on their 2018 events so far – and stay tuned on each chapter’s social media as they continue to host events in their communities.

Martin Luther King, Jr. also said: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: what are you doing for others?” In our chapters, people with and without disabilities continue to answer this call to service year after year.

 

Learn more about The Arc’s volunteering efforts at thearc.org/inclusive-volunteering.

#HandsOff Supplemental Security Income – It’s the Difference Between Life in the Community or Life in Isolation

#HandsOff is a series on The Arc’s blog that features a new story each month from individuals and families across The Arc’s network about how some of today’s key policy issues impact their day to day lives.

By: Steve Grammer

Steve Grammer faces the camera and is wearing a red shirt and jeans. My name is Steve, I live in Roanoke, Virginia and I have cerebral palsy. I like to do the kinds of activities many people do — go out to the mall, restaurants, concerts, bars, and travel to places like the beach. I am an advocate with people with disabilities, I go to a lot of events to talk with members of the legislature and other government officials. I recently attended an event with U.S. Senator Kaine, and a Town Hall Meeting with Delegate Rasoul. I also serve on several state boards.

I have a lot of expenses due to my condition. In order to live in the community in my own apartment, I have to have caregivers assist me in daily activities that most people don’t think twice about. They help me with everything from healthcare, making phone calls, administering medications, meal prep and eating, housekeeping, and they accompany me to events in the community.

I receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to help me pay for food, but sometimes it’s not enough to cover my groceries. I also have Supplemental Security Income (SSI) that I use to pay for rent, transportation, personal hygiene, and other bills.

SSI helps me to have a decent life in the community — like everyone deserves.  As someone who lived in a nursing home for nine years, I know how important that is. Living in the community, I am more independent. I can set up my own schedule, I know I will get good care, as I get to choose who I want to take care of me through Consumer Directed Services. I’m able to choose what and when I want to eat versus not knowing when, what or if, I will get fed (not to mention being rushed to eat in the nursing home).

I’m able to use the restroom when I want without waiting an hour or more for someone to answer my call light.  I can sleep at night, go to bed when I want, versus having to use ear plugs every night because of other residents, or loud staff.  If I have transportation I can be out in the community as late as I want without having to sign in and out of the nursing home and having to be back before midnight.

SSI gives me this independence. That is my only income. If the government decreases it or takes it away from people with disabilities, we cannot survive. Without SSI, many people with disabilities — like me — would end up back in institutions.

I strongly encourage the government to think about this very carefully and not make any type of cuts to SSI. Please do not take our independence away from us.

 

 

The Arc Responds to Release of House Farm Bill, Proposed Cuts to Basic Food Assistance

Washington, DC – Yesterday, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (TX-11) released a draft of the 2018 Agriculture and Nutrition Act, also known as the “Farm Bill,” to reauthorize farm programs and policy as well as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The Arc released the following statement in response to the bill:

“The Arc is deeply concerned that if enacted, Chairman Conaway’s proposed Farm Bill would cut off basic food assistance for children, adults, and seniors who are struggling to put food on the table. We fundamentally disagree with the notion embedded throughout the proposed bill that some people are more “deserving” of basic food assistance than others.

“Approximately 11 million people with disabilities across the United States rely on SNAP to help them eat. Cutting off SNAP – including through new and harsher work and reporting requirements – would only make it harder for people with disabilities and their families to access the food they need to work and to survive. If policymakers are serious about employment, Congress needs to make major new investments in job training and supports and services for jobseekers with disabilities and their families.

“The Farm Bill has a long history of bipartisan collaboration and support. The Arc calls on Members of Congress to vote against this bill and to instead work together to develop a bipartisan proposal for reauthorizing the Farm Bill that strengthens and protects SNAP and provides supports to workers and job seekers,” said Peter V. Berns, CEO, The Arc of the United States.

On net, the Chairman’s draft bill proposes deep cuts to food assistance under SNAP: an estimated 2 million people would lose their SNAP food assistance or see their benefits reduced.

  • The bill would significantly expand SNAP’s existing work requirements, forcing SNAP beneficiaries age 18 to 59 to engage in work or job training activities for at least 20 hours per week. The bill’s exceptions for people raising children under the age of 6 or supporting a family member who is “incapacitated” (as stated in the bill) are likely to prove woefully inadequate and extremely difficult for people with disabilities to navigate. Ultimately, these new requirements would cause many people to lose their food assistance, making it harder for them to work, based on experience with existing work requirements in SNAP and other programs.
  • While the draft bill calls for greater access to job training programs, new federal investments would be funded in large part by cuts to SNAP food benefits, and analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities indicates that funding levels for job training would be highly insufficient.
  • The draft bill also includes extensive new reporting requirements with harsh consequences if a person misses a deadline. For example, a person who fails to provide a monthly utility bill on time could see their SNAP benefits cut.

 

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

50th Anniversary of the Fair Housing Act

by T.J. Sutcliffe, Senior Director, Income & Housing Policy

This April we mark the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act – a powerful law that fights housing discrimination and opens doors for people with disabilities across the U.S.

What is The Fair Housing Act?

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex (gender), familial status, and disability. The Fair Housing Act bars discrimination in any aspect of selling or renting housing or to deny a dwelling to a buyer or renter because of the disability of that person, a person associated with the buyer or renter, or a person who plans to live in the residence. For example:

  • The Fair Housing Act requires landlords to allow tenants with disabilities to make reasonable access-related modifications to their private living space and common spaces (landlords are not required to pay for the changes).
  • The Fair Housing Act requires landlords to make reasonable exceptions in their policies and operations to afford people with disabilities the opportunity to use and enjoy their housing. For example, a landlord with a “no pets” policy may be required to grant an exception for a tenant who uses a service animal.
  • The Fair Housing Act prohibits lenders from imposing different application or qualification criteria on people with disabilities, or inquiring about the nature or severity of a disability (except in limited circumstances).
  • The Fair Housing Act requires that new multifamily housing with 4 or more units be designed and built to allow access for people with disabilities.

Our work to advance fair housing goals continues

It’s been five decades since President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act into law. There’s much to celebrate, but also much work to do. People with disabilities want to live in the community in a home that they rent or own. However, far too many find that discrimination limits their options: over half of all Fair Housing Act complaints involve discrimination on the basis of a disability.

Unfortunately, in 2018 the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has delayed implementation of a new rule and tools to help local governments uphold the Fair Housing Act. We’ve also seen proposals in Congress to halt HUD’s implementation of this new Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule. And just last month, news outlets reported that HUD was considering eliminating references to “inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination” from its mission statement.

What can you do?

We must remain vigilant and active to ensure that the Fair Housing Act’s promise continues to advance for the next 50 years, and to fight against rollbacks of this vital law.

Sign up for alerts from The Arc to take action to protect fair housing and more.

If you suspect discrimination, you can file a complaint with HUD online or by calling 800-669-9777, or TTY 800-927-9275. You may also file a lawsuit in court. Contact your local fair housing agency for guidance and help filing a complaint.

 

The Stage is Set for the Next Threats to the Civil Rights of People with Disabilities with President Trump’s Latest Executive Order

Washington, DC – The Arc released the following statement in response to the Trump Administration’s “Executive Order on Economic Mobility”:

“Over the last year, people with disabilities, their families, and other advocates have fought again and again against overt attacks on access to health care and supports and services that make life in the community possible.

“After failing to decimate Medicaid, this Administration announced this week that it intends to open up a new front in this effort – one that aims right at those most in need, the poorest in our country, who have the most to lose.

“If you read between the lines of this executive order, it is a blueprint for sweeping changes that penalize people who are unemployed, across multiple programs. From Medicaid, to housing, to food assistance and other programs – this will result in new barriers to eligibility and denial of critical services. The call for increased economic opportunity is not backed up with provision of tools for individuals to succeed.

“We fundamentally disagree with the notion in here that some eligible people are more ‘deserving’ of benefits than others. This is also part of a pattern. From an Administration budget request that would have been devastating to people with disabilities, to a state by state effort to cut people off Medicaid, to a tax law that jeopardizes critical programs, we are still in the fight of our lives and remain ready to advocate for the civil rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.
The Arc advocates for and serves people wit­­h intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), including Down syndrome, autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, cerebral palsy and other diagnoses. The Arc has a network of over 650 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with I/DD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes and without regard to diagnosis.

Why I Support The Arc of the United States: Autism Acceptance and Inclusion in Action

By: Nicole Jorwic, Chris’ Sister, Director of Rights Policy, The Arc of the United States

Nicole and Chris JorwicMy home state of Illinois still has seven state-run institutions for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) open. In 2018, 37 states still have institutions where people with I/DD live institutional lives away from their families and communities. Some may recall the horrible investigative reports that showed the terrible conditions in institutions, but fail to realize that they still exist — and that state and federal government dollars are still funding them. The Arc of the United States was founded by families like mine trying to eliminate the need for those institutions, and to get their family members with disabilities back home and included in their communities. While we have come a long way, there is still much to do from state capitals to DC.

The families that started The Arc movement were the examples that my parents emulated when they fought to ensure that my brother Chris, who had been diagnosed with autism, was the first student with the diagnosis included in our school district in the early 90’s. The self-advocates — the beating heart of The Arc — are the ones who my brother is following in the footsteps of when he advocates in our state capital for better wages for Direct Support Professionals, or presents at local school districts about how to better support students with autism. The policy staff of The Arc of the United States, who I am honored to call colleagues, have been fighting this fight for decades — some since before my brother was even born.

The legacy of The Arc of the United States was just one part of the reason I was glad to join the team as Director of Rights Policy almost three years ago. But more than that, it was about being a part of a movement that was bigger than any one person, family, or diagnosis. Since January of 2017, I have truly seen the power of that movement. This past year has been a whirlwind. I stood in awe at every rally, event, presentation, hearing and protest, at those who were willing to put their bodies on the line —  screaming, shouting, and sharing their most personal stories about why Medicaid matters in their lives and the lives of their loved ones. With my brother’s permission to share his story, I was sometimes part of that large chorus that ultimately was able to stave off the attacks last fall and SAVE MEDICAID… for now.

The “for now” part is what keeps me up at night. As a family member and advocate, it is also why it is more important than ever that we grow the movement to ensure that the general public understands why inclusion and acceptance matters, and that they join the fight to ensure the progress that we have made in the disability community is not stalled by conversations of “cost savings” and “reductions.” We have to talk about the fact that institutions remain open, and how those dollars would be better spent in the community. We have to educate the general public about what Medicaid is and does. On the policy level, we have to talk to state and federal legislators about the fact that the Federal Medicaid law which we fought so hard to save needs a face lift. Right now, services in institutions, nursing homes, and other more segregated settings are mandatory — while home and community-based services (HCBS) are optional under the law. So, all those billions of dollars of cuts would have cut those community services — while those seven institutions in my home state of Illinois would have stayed open.

These are complex issues, but the basic fact remains that everybody benefits from people with disabilities being part of the fabric of their communities. That doesn’t come by keeping people locked away in institutions, or segregated into different classrooms. It comes through conversation, inclusion, and acceptance that we are all better together.

Since it is also Autism Acceptance month, I also want to talk about my brother Chris and why inclusion and acceptance matters in our lives. You see, it is my brother’s voice that I hear during every tense Capitol Hill meeting, frustrating debate, and late night in the office. This is a little ironic since my brother doesn’t use his voice to speak. Chris types to communicate, and this really only started when he was 21 years old — almost 20 years after he lost his speaking voice. At the time when he started sharing the “20 years of observations and opinions,” my grandpa asked him how he had learned to read and write. And Chris answered with his signature sarcasm, that he “learned to read in his classroom like everyone else”. That is why inclusion matters, that is why acceptance goes light-years beyond awareness. If my parents — like all the parents who started The Arc — hadn’t insisted that Chris be included with his peers, who knows if he would have ever found his ability to communicate. That would have been a loss to our family, our community, and the world.

Chris always says it better than I can. Here is something he wrote: “Every voice matters and deserves to be heard. I would like to say that autism is not a tragedy or a disaster, it is a challenge and I am lucky to have a family that is up to it. I would be happy to talk to political leaders about how they spend our money and why they should talk to leaders like me, who have the experience and history to understand where the money and resources should go and what awareness and acceptance really looks like. And to my brothers and sisters in autism, who have families who see only your diagnosis, I fight for you.”

Chris and I are fighting, and we hope you join our movement today, so that we can continue the fight that started The Arc of the United States over 65 years ago — the fight for acceptance and inclusion in all areas of life for people with disabilities.

Why a Federal Balanced Budget Amendment is Bad for People with Disabilities

Almost everyone agrees that they should have balanced budgets, that is, that they should not spend more money than they take in. It makes perfect sense for individuals, so why not for our federal government?

Actually, there are several reasons why requiring a balanced budget for the federal government would be a very bad idea. For starters, let’s consider the assumption about individuals having balanced budgets.  If this were really the case, we would not be able to get home mortgages, student loans, or finance the purchase of a car. We would not be able to borrow money for such sound investments in our future.  

Requiring a balanced budget makes no more sense for the federal government than it does for individuals. The federal government needs the flexibility to do things like respond to natural disasters, public health epidemics, military threats, demographic changes, and economic downturns, among other things. What appears to be a commonsense approach is actually very bad public policy.

What is a Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA)?

Balanced Budget ScaleA balanced budget amendment is a proposed federal constitutional rule requiring that the government not spend more than its income in a given year. Most state constitutions have balanced-budget provisions and most of these make an exception for times of war or national emergency, or allow the legislature to suspend the rule by a supermajority vote. The U.S. Constitution does not require a balanced budget. Some members of Congress are looking to change that by passing legislation to add an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Why is a BBA Harmful?

It will result in cuts to Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and other large programs. Programs like Medicaid, Medicare, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and Social Security are a large part of the federal budget. They are projected to grow in the next several years primarily due to the aging of the population. Since these are very popular and critical programs, Congress has been unable to make direct cuts to them and some Members are now looking to try less direct methods, including a BBA. 

Social Security and Medicare are particularly vulnerable to cuts because a BBA prohibits spending from exceeding revenues collected in that year. These programs operate with trust funds that collect dedicated payroll taxes designated for specific programs which are partially paid out in future years to meet projected population needs. For example, in years when Social Security collects more than it pays in benefits and other expenses (which it has done every year since 1984), the Treasury invests the surplus in interest-bearing Treasury bonds and other Treasury securities. These bonds can be redeemed whenever needed to pay benefits. The trust fund balances allow benefits to be paid when the Social Security program’s current income is insufficient by itself. Under a BBA, the $2.9 trillion in Treasury securities held in the Social Security Trust Fund would not be available to help pay benefits to the baby boomers for retirement or disability since almost all of it was collected in prior years.  

It would harm the economy.  A BBA would likely cause significant harm to the economy, making recessions both deeper and longer. In an economic slowdown, revenues (mostly taxes) fall while spending for unemployment and other benefits increases. A BBA would force policymakers to cut federal programs, raise taxes, or both when the economy is weak or already in recession, the exact opposite of what good economic policy would advise, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

It is extremely hard to change.  An amendment to the Constitution is a dramatic step that takes a lot of time to enact. Unlike typical legislation, once a constitutional amendment has passed, it is extremely difficult to undo. 

What is Happening in Congress?

There are two BBA bills that have been introduced in the House of Representatives by Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) – H.J. Res 1 and H.J. Res 2 – that Congress may vote on. While both versions are very harmful, H. J. Res 1 is the most drastic one since it essentially prohibits tax increases (by requiring a three-fifths vote in the House and the Senate) and limits spending to 20 percent of the economy (gross domestic product(GDP)). The House may vote on one of these bills as soon as next week.

Key Points for Advocates 

People with disabilities, their families, and advocates can:

  • Speak concretely about how their lives will be upended if the dramatic spending cuts forced by a BBA were to happen. What would happen if Medicaid, Social Security, and other programs were severely cut?
  • Call out the contrast – Question how Members of Congress can call for such drastic action to reduce deficits when they recently voted to add over $1 trillion over 10 years to the nation’s deficits in the tax law enacted on December 20, 2017.  See House votes here and Senate votes here.
  • Share what many leading economists believe – a BBA to the U.S. Constitution is very unsound economic policy. 

For more information, see:

The Arc of the Bay: Thinking Outside the Box to Improve their Chapter and Community

Ron Sharpe, Executive Director of The Arc of the Bay, stands smiling in front of a sign with the chapter's name on it.

The Arc of the Bay in Florida has had an exciting few months! In 2017, the chapter affiliated and branded with the national office – executed seamlessly by their executive director Ron Sharpe. This past month, the chapter participated in a summit focused on transitioning from facility-based to community-based employment. Ron reflected with us on the challenges and opportunities that strengthen and propel his chapter forward as they continue to advance our universal mission of inclusion for all.

 

First, we wanted to formally welcome you to our chapter network; your chapter recently rebranded and joined forces with the national office! What initiated that process?

We were strategically planning on how we were going to celebrate and fully maximize our upcoming 60th anniversary in 2017. We had a focus group & graduate students from our local Florida State University – Panama City Campus provide research & feedback that while we have been in Bay County, FL for 60 years, many families and businesses still didn’t know who we were, St. Andrew Bay Center, and what our mission was. We were already affiliated with The Arc of Florida, and when we reviewed what The Arc of the U.S. had to offer, we knew it would only strengthen our daily operations with the wide range of resources that would be made available to our agency…including branding and name recognition. 2017 represented the largest overall growth that we have experienced within the past 10 years in every facet of our business model…double-digit increases in our ADT enrollment, Supported Employment services and including our overall fundraising.

At the end of last month, you attended the Provider Transformation Network Summit in DC on transitioning from facility-based employment to community-based employment programs, along with four other chapters. What motivated you to attend, and what were some of your takeaways?

I attended the PTN Summit hoping to learn from other leaders within those four chapters in what they found to be successful or not within their communities within this transition. I was able to hear that we are all experiencing some of the same struggles and opportunities, but learned of different or new ideas to hopefully getting new results. We all came from different levels of years of experience, but through our ideas and building relationship, we now have another resource network to continue to build upon as we continue to work through this transition.

The national landscape is changing, with an increasing emphasis on community employment opportunities for individuals with I/DD. How is this affecting the direction of your organization as it relates to employment services? What kind of work are you doing in your chapter to advance community-based, gainful employment for people with I/DD?

The Arc of the Bay has fully embraced this process ranging from implementing an initiative of The Arc of Florida “Dream Inspired Planning” where our individuals shared what their job goals are communicating through pictures on their own dream boards to promoting individuals and their job skills and experience in our local paper every Friday in a section we created and titled “Employment Highlight”. The process with “Dream Inspired Planning” reinforces “self- advocacy and self-determination in setting future goals on what they would like to do. We also use every social media to advocate on behalf our clients, our employers and our staff on the successes made.

Do you have any advice for other chapters looking to strengthen their employment initiatives?

Sounds so simple, but think out of the box when thinking about new employment opportunities! Everything we do is “NETWORKING” and making contacts. Look at civic clubs, like your local Rotary or your chamber of commerce.

The Arc and Walmart Foundation Renew Commitment to Providing Community-Based Employment For People With Disabilities

Washington, DC – The Arc’s employment program, The Arc@Work, is pleased to announce it has received a $325,000, one-year grant from the Walmart Foundation. This funding will be dedicated toward scaling the programs that The Arc@Work and Walmart have created over the past two years to train and place people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) in competitive, integrated employment within their communities.

Employment rates for people with disabilities – especially people with I/DD – are critically low compared to people without disabilities. The US Census Bureau’s American Communities Survey (2015) estimates that people with any disability or a cognitive disability are employed at much lower rates (34.3% and 24.8% respectively) than those without disabilities (73.6%). Additionally, the National Core Indicators Survey of 2015-2016 reported that 19% of people with I/DD in the workforce reported having a paid job in the community.

In response to these dire statistics, through funding from the Walmart Foundation, The Arc@Work has  built a successful partnership in working with local chapters of The Arc to provide competitive and community-based employment opportunities and strengthening chapters’ relationships with local businesses since 2016. To do this, The Arc@Work provides technical assistance and an average sub-grant award of $10,000 to chapters of The Arc located across the country that provide community-based employment opportunities.

Over this two-year span, the Walmart Foundation has supported The Arc@Work and chapters of The Arc located across the country in training more than 2,000 individuals and placing more than 800 individuals into competitive and community-based jobs. Additionally, participating chapters of The Arc have forged relationships with nearly 500 local and regional employers to provide trained job candidates and staff training on creating inclusive work environments. This new round of funding will allow for The Arc@Work and chapters of The Arc to achieve even greater impact over the next year.

“For far too long, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have been relegated to the margins of the working world. Along with private initiatives, new government regulations promise to dramatically increase the number of people with disabilities placed alongside of people without disabilities in integrated, competitive environments. The support from the Walmart Foundation will allow The Arc to continue to transform the existing pool of talented candidates with disabilities into productive employees,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

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

When Will Employment First Be a Reality? This Autism Acceptance Month, It’s NOW in Wisconsin

The Arc Wisconsin celebrates a major victory in Wisconsin, the passage of a ground-breaking Employment First bill that will hold state agencies accountable to update and improve policies, set benchmarks and report on their progress to increase the number of people with disabilities in Wisconsin working in competitive integrated employment. One of The Arc Wisconsin’s leading advocates for this legislation was Ashley Mathy of Rhinelander who has autism. In recognition of Wisconsin’s progress and Autism Acceptance Month, Ashley shares with us in her own words why this new law is so important to her and the thousands of people with disabilities in Wisconsin.

By Ashley Mathy

Ashley Mathy - Employment First

Ashley Mathy from Wisconsin, who has autism, stands with Governor Scott Walker after he signed the state’s Employment First law on March 28.

Hello, I am Ashley Mathy a self-advocate who has PDD, NOS (Autism spectrum). I have a simple answer to a question. The question is “When?”. Before I answer, please consider- as you know, the month of April is Autism Acceptance month. Education and awareness of Autism are so important to me personally because of my daily struggles with anxiety, social challenges and much more. So many people look at autism behaviors as strange versus accepting the person and all the wonderful gifts and abilities we can offer this world. On the positive side my challenges with Autism have given me the personal experience needed to share my stories, challenges and successes with so many people. Throughout this journey, it has made me realize that Autism doesn’t define me…it is just a word. The truth is I am a fighter. I am a warrior. I am a leader. I am a friend. I am a daughter. Doctors and teachers believed that I would not be able to work in the community and college would not be a likely option. I have proven doctors and teachers wrong by showing them I can overcome any obstacle that is put in front of me. I believe that you never know how strong you are unless you are put to the test…Autism was my test. Christopher Robin says: “You’re are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think” and who can argue with a Winnie the Pooh expert!! Today, I assist in the Dean’s office at Nicolet College, speak around the State of Wisconsin for disability advocacy and market Soap Sisters which stands for “Sister of Autism Princess”, (a company that my sister and I started) and take classes at Nicolet College.

Ashley Mathy - Employment First

Ashley shared her employment story with many state legislators, including Representative James Edming pictured in this photo in the Wisconsin Capitol, to help get Wisconsin’s law passed.

I am so proud and excited to be part of promoting the Employment First Law. Integrated employment for people with disabilities is by far my biggest advocacy goal. I personally know so many people with special needs that want to work AND contribute to their community, PLUS they want to make a positive impact in this world. We have so many talents they we can bring to the table such as being a reliable employee, positive can-do attitude and very hard worker. People with disabilities have that “fire” to get the job done to the best of their abilities while making every attempt to overcome any obstacles in a job.

Personally, I struggled with finding the right job for my skills and abilities. I got caught between the priorities of all the agencies helping me find a job. After much determination, I found several jobs that are a perfect fit for me. With the passage of the Employment First bill, the agencies will be required to work together and develop a joint plan with the same goal in mind; securing employment for people with special needs. This teamwork will be a powerful tool for Wisconsin to move forward and for individuals to take their rightful place in the community and workforce.

I believe the key to success in life is everyone working together towards the same common goal. The passage of this Employment First Bill and the determination of people with special needs along with the support of employers and agencies… will make a difference in lives, and ensure a WIN- TOGETHER! The answer to the question of, “When?”. My simple answer is, NOW- RIGHT NOW.