Talk About Sexual Violence: Chris’ Story

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Sexual assault and violence disproportionately affect people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), with findings from NPR revealing that people with I/DD are assaulted at seven times the rate of people without disabilities. The first step to tackling this epidemic is talking about it. Read more from one survivor:

Chris Miller poses for a selfie in a blue shirt.

Chris Miller

“For as long as I can remember society has had the idea that men do not show emotion. We are told to be strong, not to cry or share feelings. These ideas are communicated from an early age; the expectations of manhood are very high and never include opening up about any type of abuse, especially sexual assault and violence perpetrated against them, as an adult or child.

We are told and it is believed that rape and assault do not happen to us – but the fact is that 1 in 6 men have been victims of sexual assault and the rate of men with disabilities is even higher. Men with disabilities face an even more difficult hurdle of not being believed or seen as credible when they do report because they have a disability, and can be even more difficult for those who are LGBTQ, who are at greater risk for sexual assault due to their sexual orientation. Some people with disabilities communicate in non-traditional ways, meaning not verbally or use a communication device, so they are often looked at as not reliable witnesses or just simply not believed. Another reason people do not speak up is simply a lack of having someone they trust. Many live segregated lives and reporting an assault can be threatening and result in loss of home, caregiver or job. Those in authority have looked the other way when we have disclosed. When disclosure happens we are not asked how we feel. For those that are not able to tell, they act out their fear and frustration and then are medicated and the abuse continues. Many of us do not believe there will be any consequences even if we do tell. This is a deep-reaching issue that we must deal with to have a healthy, inclusive and safer society. Every sexual assault survivor needs to know they matter, are respected and can be safe.” 

During Sexual Assault Awareness Month, join us in the movement to Talk About Sexual Violence! And, sign up for our criminal justice emails to receive resources, timely news, and ideas on how to advocate and get involved throughout the year.

Our Call to Action

Recommendations for Schools and Students

  1. Provide age-appropriate sex education for students with disabilities.
  2. Discuss safe vs. unsafe relationships.
  3. Identify who to report a sexual assault incident to.
  4. Ensure a personal safety plan is included in Individualized Education Plans (IEPs).

Recommendations for Individuals

  1. Reach out to a trusted person if you have experienced sexual assault.
  2. Learn about your rights as a crime victim and what can happen if you report.
  3. Locate and attend sexual assault support groups.
  4. If you are interviewed by law enforcement, request privacy.
  5. Know your rights about your accommodation needs.

Recommendations for Disability Service Providers

  1. Require sexual trauma training for providers.
  2. Demand deeper background checks for all employees.
  3. Listen and believe when someone discloses sexual assault.
  4. Provide accommodations when a person reports an incident.
  5. Ensure privacy when a person reports sexual violence.

Recommendations for Criminal Justice Professionals

  1. Required training for first responders, law enforcement, the courts, and sexual assault and rape crisis professionals about serving crime victims with I/DD.
  2. Learn effective strategies for interviewing crime victims with disabilities.
  3. Use disability specific accommodations.
  4. Consider community outreach to reduce fear of talking with law enforcement.

 

Celebrating National Volunteer Week with Inclusion

Happy National Volunteer Week and Month!

Every day at chapters around the country, volunteers with and without disabilities work together to serve each other and the communities. This month, we honor all volunteers who selflessly give their time to make a difference — and especially the over 2,600 volunteers who have generously given their time to feed people in need through our MLK Day of Service Project.

Here are just a few of these incredible volunteers:

Two volunteers, a woman and a man, smile. The Arc of Lane County, Oregon

The students of Two Rivers – Dos Rios Elementary School enthusiastically serve others in need, even though many of them face food insecurity themselves on any given day. These young students worked with volunteers with disabilities to make 500 meals for others in their community who suffer from hunger. They continue to ask if they can do more and help more people in the community. Thank you for your empathy and enthusiasm, students!

 

The Arc Nature Coast

The Arc Nature Coast, Florida

For the past three years, The Arc Nature Coast has worked with the Fox Chapel Middle School BETA Club to volunteer in in their community. One of the most passionate volunteers has been teacher Gina, who oversees the BETA club. Gina has encouraged 150 of her students to participate in this project, as well as volunteer events throughout the year. Students have gone on to volunteer at job fairs, dances, and have even considered the disability field for their career. Thank you, Gina, for giving your students new opportunities and welcoming them to the disability community!

 

The Arc Rockland, New York

Both The Arc and TOUCH, an organization that serves people with chronic illness, are recognizing Thelma for her service as part of the MLK Day of Service project. According to TOUCH Food Recovery Coordinator, Magda, “Thelma [is] a stand out volunteer. She’s responsible, takes her time and works independently, and always willing to help. She’s always smiling and brings a positive energy to her work. We appreciate her efforts and dedication. Thank you, Thelma!”

 

 

 

TARC OklahomaTARC, Oklahoma

Danielle, the Director of True Blue Neighbors at the University of Tulsa, has been instrumental in the success of TARC’s MLK Day Service grants. Over the past four years, Danielle and True Blue Neighbors have helped TARC recruit volunteers without disabilities to take part in service projects. Danielle also volunteers herself at most of TARC’s service projects. Danielle has taken the next step in serving and has now joined TARC on their board of directors. Thank you, Danielle, for making TARC’s volunteer work successful and for becoming more engaged in the I/DD field!

 

The Arc of Midland, Michigan

During The Arc Midland’s inaugural event, Both Sarah and Jackie gave their time to make sure that the food going to over 900 people in need in the community was properly bagged and boxed up. By working together, they made sure the food got safely to families in need and showcased the value of volunteering in their community. Thank you, Sarah and Jackie, for your time and effort!

 

 

 

 

Interested in becoming a volunteer or giving back? Contact your local chapter of The Arc or contact Abby Owusu to learn more!

Sexual Assault Awareness Month: Shining the Light on a Silent Epidemic

Chris Miller, James Meadours, and Kecia Weller

Every day, in every community across the U.S., people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) are being sexually assaulted. Too many have a story to tell, and yet few are ever heard. The Talk About Sexual Violence project aims to change that by educating health care providers about sexual violence in the lives of people with I/DD. Here are just three snapshots of this epidemic, shared directly by those affected by it:

Chris Miller

Chris Miller poses for a selfie in a blue shirt.For as long as I can remember society has had the idea that men do not show emotion. We are told to be strong, not to cry or share feelings. People don’t believe that rape and assault happens to us, but the fact is that 1 in 6 men have been victims of sexual assault and the rate of men with disabilities is even higher. Many of us do not believe there will be any consequences if we tell someone about what happened to us. This is a deep reaching issue that we must deal with to have a healthy, inclusive and safer society. Every sexual assault survivor needs to know they matter, are respected and can be safe.

 

James Meadours

I never thought lightning could strike twice in the same place, but in my life it happened. I was sexually assaulted four times during my life and this is not uncommon for men or women with disabilities. My friends believed me and were helpful at different stages, but when I talked to the local rape crisis center two weeks after the rape, they didn’t know how to provide support since they do not usually help many men, especially men with disabilities. It was a new experience for them, but even though they didn’t have any training, they tried to be helpful. No one taught me the steps to recovery. I did remember what the SANE nurse told me – she looked me in the eye and said I needed to take care of myself before helping others who have suffered. After two years of recovery work, I realized when I was at a meeting to discuss sexual assault that I wanted to tell my story. This was the beginning of my journey to become an advocate to support others with disabilities who have suffered with sexual assault. I am now a national advocate and speaker at many conferences sharing my story and recommending changes so others can find healing and if they want they can become part of the MeToo movement.

 

Kecia Weller

Kecia Weller poses for a photo against a gray mottled background with a blue shirt on.Get involved. Help people with disabilities learn about safe relationships and prevention of sexual assault. Special attention must be provided at peer advocacy meetings to teach people how to support survivors when they report the abuse and create their own safety plans. There are many ways people with disabilities can be supportive. A few ideas include volunteering to be a listener on a hot line, educating school teachers about the frequency of abuse against students with disabilities and most important, learning more yourself about the alarming rate of sexual and other kinds of assault happening to men and women with disabilities.

 

Learn more about educating health care providers about this silent epidemic and supporting people with I/DD to tell their truth. Men with disabilities and other marginalized individuals are especially alone and need outreach now more than ever. This Sexual Assault Awareness Month, join us in the movement to Talk About Sexual Violence!

Executive Spotlight: Jill Pidcock, The Arc of the Central Mountains

Jill Pidcock poses for a headshot in a blue collared shirt, with a mottled black background.The Arc of the Central Mountains recently opened their doors to support people through advocacy, outreach, and policy in a rural area of the Colorado mountains. They immediately found themselves in court supporting some of the individuals in their community. One of these cases evolved into providing supports for a young adult who was facing multiple felony charges for stalking and who was in the middle of reapplying for DACA status. The work of The Arc of the Central Mountains has resulted in the creation of a truly community-based support system for this young man, while at the same time building a relationship with a local judicial system, resulting in his four cases being dismissed. In this interview, The Arc of the Central Mountains’s Executive Director Jill Pidcock talks about the about the work the organization is doing and how they are making a positive impact in their community.

How do you connect with the people in this population who need help? Are there any unique challenges to working with this population? If so, what are those challenges and how do you approach them?

Working in a rural area is a major asset in some ways because everyone knows someone who’s willing to contribute. Most often, the people we support come to us through referrals from other families, school districts, and other agencies, like service providers and case management organizations. Our area has a high number of lower income families, Spanish-speaking families, and some undocumented families. Specific to our undocumented families, the children are able to access academics and are supported through IDEA until 21 years old. But at 21, they are unable to access any services or supports through state or federally funded programs.

How did you establish your relationships with your community partners? Did they previously work with the disability community in this context, or have you engaged in educational efforts with them as well?

We first reached out to the extremely supportive public defender and immigration attorney working on our young man’s DACA status. We quickly found ourselves in a courtroom with a compassionate judge and an assistant district attorney who had clearly never had any people-first language training. I took him to lunch and took the time to learn about him and to share the mission of The Arc of the Central Mountains as well as our intentions of finding solutions in our community. By the end of the lunch, he was asking me if we could do outreach and education for the district attorney’s office (perhaps he didn’t want to be left out because the public defender’s office had already requested the same thing).

We also needed to figure out where our young adults could go for assistance and how to get that assistance paid for. One local disability organization has created a Provider Collaborative, which we work with on a regular basis. The collaborative comes together to determine what gaps are preventing a person from living a self-determined, robust, inclusive, community-based life. All of these individuals came up with strategies for supporting this young man.

To pay for these services, we are working with a community foundation providing grants to mental health providers, DVR is funding the job coach (once the DACA status was back in place), Catholic Charities is contributing, and so is a local autism crisis fund. All of these creative funding sources, along with MANY volunteer hours, have come together to create a truly community-based support system.

Your chapter joined The Arc just over a year ago. Have you found the chapter network useful in your work? How have you utilized it to inform and strengthen your efforts?

In our short life span, we have utilized the chapter network countless times. I use my “life line” with the other Colorado chapters whenever we are faced with something needing extra insights. Additionally, we are grateful to have had the opportunity to develop good foundational relationships with The Arc’s national office in its many areas of expertise, from new chapter relations to rights policy. We are equally as delighted to be a part of NCE, as it has proven to be invaluable from a leadership development aspect as well as continual resource and idea sharing through the listserv.

People with disabilities constitute our nation’s largest minority group, which is simultaneously the most inclusive and the most diverse. How can chapters broaden their outreach to be more inclusive of the various identities that make up the community they serve?

We find that getting out into our communities is very important. We create relationships with parent groups, both in person and on social media platforms. We also build relationships with language inclusive organizations, school districts, local banks and foundations, case management and service providers, and human service departments. Building those foundations is where we find our best success in problem solving and collaboration. We are a small office and cannot do it all—we rely on our connections in the community to be successful. Please feel free to reach out directly to explore ideas at Jill@Arccentralmountains.org.

What do you envision for the future of this initiative and the systems being put in place to support it?

We are slated to continue outreach to several of our local police departments as well as continued education to other county district attorneys and public defender’s offices. We are encouraged by the truly collaborative community-based support outcomes that have resulted from our outreach efforts – especially supporting those who may have eligibility challenges accessing services and supports due to ability levels, language, and citizenship.

The Arc Joins Appellate Court Amicus Brief Outlining Critical Importance of ACA for People with Disabilities

Washington, DC – The Arc has joined an amicus brief filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in the case Texas v. United States.  The brief supports the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) and asks the Fifth Circuit to reverse a lower court ruling from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas finding the law unconstitutional.

The brief outlines how the ACA has been essential to overcoming the disproportionate impact that America’s health care crisis has had on people with disabilities, and how it is uniquely difficult for people with disabilities to obtain affordable and adequate health insurance coverage despite depending on health care services more than those without disabilities.

“This phenomenon has resulted in the unjust reality that the individuals who need health care the most have the most challenging time obtaining it. Removing the ACA’s protections would reverse the gains that people with disabilities have realized since the ACA became law and return those with disabilities to a cruel reality in which affordable insurance lacks the breadth and depth of coverage for vital services and is difficult to obtain,” said Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc.

Specifically, the brief explains how the ACA has expanded access to health insurance for people with disabilities by creating state-based marketplaces for private health insurance; expanding the scope and affordability of coverage by requiring health plans to offer certain essential benefits; prohibiting discrimination against individuals based on health status and exclusions on the basis of pre-existing conditions; and expanding eligibility for and the types of services covered by Medicaid. The brief argues that “declaring the ACA unconstitutional in its entirety will uniquely and extensively harm [the disability] community.”

“The ACA, which makes robust, affordable health care coverage possible for people with disabilities, is at risk in this lawsuit. We can’t go back to a time when people with disabilities and their families lived in fear of losing the coverage they had or went without access to the health care services that made life in the community possible. We remain committed to fighting for these rights for people with disabilities,” said Berns.

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 600 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.

Editor’s Note: The Arc is not an acronym; always refer to us as The Arc, not The ARC and never ARC. The Arc should be considered as a title or a phrase.

Special Olympics Saved – But What About All the Other Disability Program Cuts in President’s Budget?

Washington, DC – It’s budget season in Washington, DC, and there’s a lot at stake in the proposals for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). In the last few years, the Administration has consistently proposed cuts to programs that impact people with I/DD and their families. From home and community-based services in Medicaid, to imposing work requirements, to a planned and then scrapped attempt to slash funding for Special Olympics, this year’s budget request, if Congress were to enact legislation reflecting the President’s priorities, would be harmful to the lives of people with I/DD.

“If the Administration’s original budget request could cut $18 million from Special Olympics, which provides longstanding community benefit for thousands of people with disabilities, their families, and volunteers, then you should be asking yourself: what else is lurking in these proposals?

“Unfortunately, it’s the tip of the iceberg. The President’s budget proposes $2.7 trillion in cuts over 10 years. There are deep cuts to Medicaid on the table — the core program providing access to health care and home and community-based services for people with disabilities. The cuts come in the same form as those included in the 2017 proposals to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and cut and cap the Medicaid program. Congress rejected this in 2017, but the Administration proposed budget includes replacing both the Medicaid expansion and ACA subsidies with a block grant, and converting the rest of Medicaid into a per capita cap which would deeply cut the program and cap the amount of funding available. The end result of these proposals being put in place would be less money for states, restrictions on eligibility, cuts to services, and growing waiting lists.

“And once again, the budget proposes work requirements for Medicaid. Applying this policy would have devastating effects on health care coverage — particularly for people with complex health care needs, and likely many people with disabilities.

“What we invest in says a lot about our country and our values. We’ve come a long way in expanding disability rights and including people with disabilities in all aspects of the community, across the lifespan. We won’t go backwards and this budget request takes us in the wrong direction,” said Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc.

The Arc has compiled information about the Administration’s budget request as it pertains to programs that provide services and supports for people with I/DD and their families.

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.

Editor’s Note: The Arc is not an acronym; always refer to us as The Arc, not The ARC and never ARC. The Arc should be considered as a title or a phrase.

The Arc Responds on Federal Court Ruling Striking Down Medicaid Work Requirements

Washington, DC – The Arc released the following statement in response to the federal court ruling against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ approval of Medicaid waiver projects in Kentucky and Arkansas that include work requirements.

“We are glad that this ruling reaffirms what Medicaid is all about – health care for those who qualify, and access to services for millions of Americans with disabilities. Cutting off Medicaid won’t help anyone work. It’s a bad policy idea that just keeps coming back, and we encourage the Administration and leaders in the states considering work requirements to abandon it once and for all.

“Imposing work requirements on Medicaid recipients isn’t going to help anyone become more self-sufficient.  If anything, it will do the exact opposite.  Many people with serious health conditions require access to health care services to treat those health conditions and to maintain their health and function.  Furthermore, Medicaid specifically covers services, such as attendant care, that are critical to enable people with significant disabilities to have basic needs met, to get to and from work, and to do their jobs. Requiring individuals to prove each month that they meet complicated work rules, or are exempt, just makes it harder for people to qualify for these programs and access the services they need to be employed.  The policy serves no purpose other than to remove people from the Medicaid roles,” said Peter Berns, CEO, 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.

Editor’s Note: The Arc is not an acronym; always refer to us as The Arc, not The ARC and never ARC. The Arc should be considered as a title or a phrase.

#HandsOff our Kids: Advocating Against Restraint and Seclusion

#HandsOff is a series on The Arc Blog. Each month, we feature a story 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: Erik Smith

I went to Washington last month to support my wife in sharing our family’s story about restraint and seclusion. A few weeks before, the new executive of The Arc Rhode Island Family Advocacy Network put out a call to find families who would be willing to provide testimony at a Congressional hearing on this topic. Needless to say, my wife Renee and I jumped at the opportunity. We had mixed feelings about making our family’s experience so public, but felt strongly that we needed to advocate for all families to help them avoid the painful and unnecessary practices of restraint and seclusion that our son Dillon, who has autism, had experienced repeatedly in kindergarten and the first grade.

Renee Smith sits in front of Congress testifying, as an audience sits behind her.

Renee started her testimony by describing what our daily lives used to be like. She recounted the regular instances of restraint and seclusion that Dillon experienced, the multiple calls to 911 made by the school, Dillon’s increasing dislike of school, his missed educational opportunities, and the overwhelming stress on our family. I felt proud of Renee as I watched her recount, sometimes through tears, how much harm this had caused our then 6-year-old son and our family as a whole, including our marriage and our jobs. Fortunately, Renee was able to end her testimony on a very positive note. After we moved Dillon to a different public school in the same district that uses positive behavior intervention and support, Dillon is thriving.

In preparing for the hearing, we had the chance to learn more about the history of federal legislation to limit restraint and seclusion. We learned about a law (the Children’s Health Act of 2000) that includes serious limits on these practices. The only problem is that it doesn’t include school settings.

As I listened to Renee, I was struck by the contrast between my professional and personal life regarding the limitations on restraint and seclusion. I am a nurse and I work in a long-term care facility. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) strongly regulate the use of restraints in LTC facilities, with these regulations to be enforced through state Health agency survey and certification. I have always been well aware of what I can and cannot do when our patients exhibit challenging behaviors. I have received training by my employer on patient’s rights, on what we are legally barred from doing, and on effective alternatives to restraint and seclusion. I see firsthand how this benefits our patients and staff alike. But as a parent, I see how the lack of such protections have hurt my son.

This point was made in 2009 by the former chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, Rep. George Miller, the last time there had been a hearing on restraint and seclusion:

Federal law restricts the use of seclusion-restraints to emergency circumstances for children in hospitals and community-based residential treatment facilities and other facilities supported by federal dollars.  Yet these rules do not apply to public or private school. This means an untrained medical professional is forbidden from inappropriately restraining a patient and, if they do, there are laws specifically targeted to address such behavior. But untrained classroom staff are abusing student in schools without any accountability because of a lack of federal oversight. Our children are bearing physical and emotional burden of a system designed to fail them”

It is now almost a full decade later. Far too many children like my son continue to be restrained and secluded in school. It is past time to correct this problem.

 

Trump Administration 2020 Budget Request: Old Ideas and Big Cuts

Today, the Trump Administration released a budget request that if passed by Congress, would put the lives of people with disabilities at risk. The proposal includes deep cuts to Medicaid, the core program providing access to health care and home and community-based services for people with disabilities. The cuts come in the same form as those included in the 2017 proposals to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and cut and cap the Medicaid program. Congress rejected this in 2017, but the Administration proposed budget includes replacing both the Medicaid expansion and ACA subsidies with a block grant, and converting the rest of Medicaid into a per capita cap which would deeply cut the program and cap the amount of funding available. If enacted, states would receive less federal support to administer Medicaid, resulting in restricting eligibility, cuts to services, and growing waiting lists. Furthermore, it would not adjust to changes in health care, drug costs, aging of the population, or emergencies.

Not only would both a block grant or per capita cap harm people with disabilities, but the proposal also includes applying controversial and harmful work requirements across the country. Arkansas is the first state in the nation to take health care coverage away from people who don’t meet a work requirement. In the first seven months of implementation, more than 1 in 5 people subject to the policy lost their health care coverage. Applying this policy nationally, as the budget proposal would do, would have devastating effects on health care coverage — particularly for people with complex health care needs, and likely many people with disabilities.

Walmart, Disability Employment and an Opportunity to Lead

By Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc

It’s no surprise that when Walmart, our nation’s largest private employer, announced plans to change the People Greeter role in its stores, a move that affects some employees with disabilities serving in that role, there was a hue and cry in the disability community and beyond.  It is heartening that Walmart US President & CEO, Greg Foran, immediately stepped forward to reiterate the company’s commitment to its employees with disabilities, stating that Walmart will look at each situation individually “with the goal of offering appropriate accommodations that will enable these associates to continue in other roles with their store.”  Foran further explained: “Let me be clear:  If any associate in this unique situation wants to continue working at Walmart, we should make every effort to make that happen.”

As a company that prides itself on its “long-standing history of being an employer of choice for people with disabilities,” and on its 100 points score on the Disability Equality Index, these recent events provide an opportunity for Walmart to demonstrate its leadership and commitment to people with disabilities and their families. Certainly, the first order of business is to support employees with disabilities in the People Greeter role who are not able to perform the new additional responsibilities of Customer Host to transition to other jobs in the company and to actively support them in doing so. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires no less.

At a point in time where more than 60% of people with disabilities are not employed, including 65-75% of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, how Walmart manages the current controversy is of vital interest.  Walmart’s customers are watching, as are people with disabilities and their families, disability advocacy and services organizations, academics, lawyers, the news media, and many, many other employers.  The company has the opportunity to lead our nation by modeling and demonstrating best practices in employment of people with disabilities in the mainstream workforce.

Walmart can demonstrate the importance of rejecting stereotypes and misconceptions about what people with disabilities can do.  True, some people with disabilities, as well as some without disabilities, may not be able to perform all of the requirements of the new Customer Host job, such as lifting 25 lbs.  Yet, it is also true that many people with disabilities, including those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, will meet and exceed the minimal job requirements and perform superbly in this new role and others within Walmart stores.  Walmart and other employers need be open to and accepting of the reality that an employee with a disability, with appropriate training and accommodation, can be successful in a wide variety of roles.  In Walmart, after all, the former People Greeter and new Customer Host roles represent only a tiny fraction of the more than 2 million jobs nationwide.

Walmart can demonstrate that it truly is feasible for any employer to recruit, hire and retain employees with disabilities as part of a company’s overall commitment to diversity, and that the business benefits in many ways by doing so.  By working collaboratively with relevant government agencies, educational institutions, and nonprofit developmental disability services, vocational rehabilitation and workforce development agencies, employers can build a robust pipeline of candidates with disabilities for all types of jobs.

Walmart, and other private sector employers that are not currently legally required to do so, could also establish voluntary systems of self-identification for job applicants and employees with disabilities, adopt disability employment goals, and annually reporting that data publicly.  Today, both the Federal government, as an employer, and Federal contractors are required to have systems of self-identification and report on progress in meeting defined goals.  However, these requirements don’t apply to other private sector employers, nor is the reporting made public.

Many private sector employers assume they are legally prohibited by the ADA from asking about an applicant’s disability status. Yet, as the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has explained:

(T)he ADA does, however, provide an exception to the general rule prohibiting disability-related questions in the interview process. Under the ADA, an employer may invite applicants to voluntarily self-identify as individuals with disabilities for affirmative action purposes.1

Walmart and other private sector employers could truly be game changers in employment for people with disabilities by adopting self-identification and hiring goals, for affirmative action purposes, and then sharing and holding themselves accountable for the results.

Finally, Walmart should continue the active communication and candid dialogue it has engaged in with advocacy and social services organizations in the disability community over the past years.  Walmart should share with the community the results of its efforts to place People Greeters with disabilities in other roles.  It should continue and expand its efforts to work collaboratively with disability nonprofits to advance employment opportunities across the company and, as one of our country’s largest employers, across the nation.

 


1Recruiting, Hiring, Retaining and Promoting People with Disabilities – A Resource Guide for Employers, https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/interagency/upload/employing_people_with_disabilities_toolkit_february_3_2015_v4-2.pdf