Introducing The Arc’s 2019 – 2020 National Sibling Council!

We are excited to welcome eight new members to our 2019-2020 National Sibling Council! They bring a wide range of expertise and passion and we are fortunate to be working with them for the next term year. The Sibling Council fosters active involvement of siblings of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) in The Arc’s grassroots advocacy efforts nationwide. Meet our new council members and learn more about why they joined the Sibling Council and what motivates them to promote and protect the rights of individuals with I/DD throughout the country!

Caitie Jones, Alaska

My brother, Chris, has Down syndrome and lives in Anchorage, Alaska. I have been a very active member of Chris’ support team and have been working in the disability field for five years. Currently, I am the Family Partner at Hope Community Resources, Inc., assisting families in accessing resources throughout the community and am working on opening a center where families of kids with disabilities can come together for support. I joined the sibling council to connect with other siblings and to continue advocating for people with disabilities.

Cameron Kell, Missouri

There are several reasons I wanted to join The Arc’s National Sibling Council.  First, I am grateful for the work The Arc has done to benefit my brother, Nathan. As an advocate, I want to play a role in The Arc’s efforts to promote and protect the rights of people with I/DD across the country.

Karen McDowell Downer, Tennessee                                                                           

My sister, Mindy, is 61 and lives in a residential facility in their hometown. As Mindy’s sister and supporter, I want to advocate for positive change in the continuity of her care and support systems. The most important issue Mindy currently faces is staff turnover among her direct service providers (DSP) and licensed professional nurses (LPN) due to their insufficient pay. I believe that this issue among DSPs and LPNs are representative of late in life issues people with I/DD will face — this is when siblings must step up.

Kim Keprios, Minnesota

I am the proud sibling of Mike Keprios, my constant teacher of what matters, and how I found The Arc and my rewarding career with the organization. I am grateful for the collective efforts of The Arc to change policies, attitudes, and lives with and for people with I/DD, their families, and our communities. New challenges emerge with our aging demographics growing. I am committed to the advocacy work The Arc is leading and raising awareness of unique needs siblings face. The Arc’s National Sibling Council provides me the opportunity to serve, connect with siblings, and advocate with and on behalf of people with I/DD.

Mary Valachovic, Massachusetts

I am the Executive Director of The Arc of Greater Plymouth in Plymouth MA. Although I have over 25 years of work experience supporting people with disabilities, my true journey began when my brother Matthew was born. Matthew has significant disabilities and has served as my inspiration over the years, both personally and professionally. It is Matthew that led me to The Arc’s National Sibling Council. At age 12, I became an active member of her local chapter youth group and my passion continues to this day. I am committed to the power of listening to people with disabilities and their families and am honored to serve on The Arc’s National Sibling Council.

Nayma Guerrero, California

I joined The Arc’s National Sibling Council because I know that my role as a sibling is very important in the life of my brother, Eric, who has autism. My passion and eagerness to advocate for others like my brother is one of the main reasons I am active with The Arc. I hope to make a difference in my community and to continue encouraging other siblings to become involved and a part of their siblings’ lives.

Rachel Hafner, North Dakota

I am the Executive Director of The Arc, Upper Valley in Grand Forks, North Dakota. I was 13 years old when my brother Timothy was born. Sibling issues have always been very important to me and have been the catalyst for the work I do as a professional. I hope that by serving on The Arc’s National Sibling Council, I can help shine a light on the important role siblings play in the lives of their brothers and sisters throughout their lifetime.

Sandra Tucker, Colorado

I am the Executive Director at Sibling Tree and my brother, David, is on the autism spectrum. I joined The Arc’s National Sibling Council because I believe that the sibling voice is important and needed in order to advocate for the unique needs of siblings, as well as the needs of brothers and sisters with I/DD.


It’s About Community: Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the Olmstead Decision and Advancing the Integration Mandate

The U.S. Supreme Court Olmstead v. L.C. decision 20 years ago established that unjustified isolation is a form of discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The decision acknowledged that segregating individuals with disabilities in institutional settings deprives them of the chance to participate in their communities, interact with people who do not have disabilities and make their own day-to-day choices. The Olmstead decision furthered the promise of the ADA, prohibiting unnecessary segregation and expanding integrated services for people with disabilities.

At this important milestone, let’s join together to acknowledge Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson, two women with diagnoses of mental health conditions and intellectual disabilities, whose determination to return to the community has come to benefit us all.  Let’s also celebrate the efforts of people with disabilities and their families and the disability rights community, and the progress we have made together. We must continue to build an array of community-based and integrated options to support choice and independence, and work to end inappropriate and unnecessary institutionalization. Together, we can advance integration, encourage and support full, meaningful inclusion in community life, and economic self-sufficiency.

The Department of Health and Human Services Proposes Rule to Weaken the Nondiscrimination Protections of the Affordable Care Act

The Arc continues to work to protect the significant achievements of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), including the nondiscrimination provisions in Section 1557. We are disappointed to see the proposed rule from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which radically narrows application of the nondiscrimination protections and limits the remedies for people who are impacted.

Sec. 1557 of the ACA prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability, age, and sex in healthcare. This section of the ACA is an important tool for achieving health care equity for people with disabilities and others. The proposed rule narrows important civil rights protections and undermines or eliminates key provisions covering individuals who have experienced discrimination in health care programs and settings.

The Arc promotes strong enforcement of existing civil rights laws in the face of attempted rollbacks, and opposes this proposal that puts people at greater risk of being denied necessary and appropriate health care. We will continue to pursue civil rights protections against discrimination based on disability, health status, ethnicity, race, sex, pregnancy, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, religion, familial status, age, language, national origin, and genetic information in the administration of and access to health care.

What can The Arc and disability rights advocates do? This rule is not yet final, and today is the beginning of a 60-day public comment period. The Arc will participate in the comment process and will share resources to help others engage. To stay informed, sign up for our Disability Advocacy Network email list.

The Arc Condemns Deteriorating Treatment of Unaccompanied Minors in US Custody

Recent reports indicate that the federal government will restrict or cancel educational, recreational and legal services for thousands of children held in government migrant shelters.

These practices are cruel and misguided. Research shows that trauma in childhood can have serious and lifelong consequences.  There is no evidence indicating that any time in detention is safe for children. As the American Academy of Pediatrics has stated, recreational and social enrichment activities, such as opportunities for physical activity and creative expression, may alleviate stress and build resilience and should be part of any program for detained children. Adequate recreational and educational activities for children being held in these shelters is both the necessary and compassionate course of action.  These services and activities are central to childhood development and wellbeing and their absence, particularly for an extended period, may cause long-term losses.

Reports also indicate that these children will no longer have access to legal services.  The Arc believes that children and families should have access to legal counsel throughout the immigration pathway, and unaccompanied minors should have free legal counsel with them for all appearances before an immigration judge. Adequate legal services must be restored immediately.

We call on the federal government to ensure that these children are treated with dignity and respect, with access to educational, recreational and legal services, and not subjected to conditions that may cause harm. At minimum, children deserve protection from additional traumatization in the United States. We remain deeply concerned about the impact this will have on children with and without disabilities.

Spotlight on Grief and Aging: Mark Keeley and Mary Anne Tolliver, St. Louis Arc

Today, with advances in medical care, deinstitutionalization, and people working and living more productive lives, individuals with I/DD are living much longer. Mark Keeley, President and CEO of the St. Louis Arc, recognized the growing needs of this aging population and committed to better serve and support them. Under the leadership of Mary Anne Tolliver, Director of Aging Services, Dautel Circle has become the premier retirement community for seniors with I/DD.

Mary Anne poses with a resident, who is wearing a costume tophat.

Mary Anne with Marilyn, a resident who recently passed away at the age of 93.

Tell us about the grief and loss work that you do at your chapter.

Mark: Many people we support are living well into their 70s and 80s, and are outliving loved ones, including their parents. It is crucial to recognize the losses people with I/DD endure across the span of their lives.

Education of staff is paramount to guide them and the people they are supporting through the grief process. The goal is to understand what grief can look like, as it does not look the same from person to person, know how to respond to each individual’s loss, or just “be with them” to listen and provide support. The journey to the end of life can be extended or abrupt. Explaining what to expect through the grieving process and what is occurring can be especially helpful to someone with I/DD. Grief counseling also gives individuals with I/DD the mechanism to express their loss and sadness.

Since many of the aging individuals we support have declining health and decreases in cognitive and physical abilities, we are changing our supports around them. We have instituted a Holistic Aging Review committee to both meet funder due process responsibilities and provide a holistic review with an interdisciplinary team approach. The committee is designed to provide guidance and recommendations on medical/health concerns, medication review, behavior supports, restrictions, adaptive devices, and staff training for skill development and education. In addition to the review committee, we also provide grief counseling, support groups and hospice, and palliative care.

How do prepare someone with I/DD for the news of a loved one being sick or facing a terminal illness? How do you support someone with I/DD facing end of life themselves – and how do you support their family?

Mary Anne: The best practice we have found is being honest with the person affected about what is happening to them or to their loved one. We do this through words or pictures to help them understand. When discussing or explaining, it may not always be about a specific ailment or situation, but more about the understanding that their family member, friend, or housemate will no longer be here. We provide grief counseling to residents, staff, and families through our therapist, our Employee Assistance Program, and hospice and palliative care. Understanding their spiritual, religious, and cultural beliefs helps us to guide them through their grief.  It is important to not push our own beliefs onto them but be a guide through this journey with their beliefs and understanding of death. We try and make sure the families are involved in decisions, spend quality time with their loved one, and have the opportunity to say goodbye. We also encourage families to include their loved one’s friends and housemates in the process so they can express their feelings and understand their grief.

Do you partner with health care professionals? If so, has the exposure helped build awareness and competency working with the disability community?

Mark: We have a long-term partnership with a primary care physician who consults with our RNs and who also provides care for many of our residents. We have also partnered with Visiting Nurses Association for hospice care for our residents. VNA understands the regulations we need to follow and works with us to provide the best possible care for our residents within their own homes.

What advice do you have for chapters who want to provide aging services/supports, but don’t have a program started yet?

Mary Anne: Aging, loss, and death are a natural process of life. People with I/DD grieve the loss of a loved one just as the rest of us do. Providing support, respect, and inclusion in the process of loss and grief and not sheltering someone with I/DD from this life experience is vital. Initiating a Holistic Aging Review committee, identifying or employing a reputable, credentialed grief counselor, and educating staff through professional training on aging and dementia is paramount to being able to accommodate these individuals through the natural progression of life and loss.


The Arc Responds to Reports on the Widespread Use of Solitary Confinement for Immigrant Detainees, Including People with Disabilities

Washington, DC – This week, reports have surfaced documenting that thousands of immigrants have been trapped in solitary confinement in immigration detention centers, often based solely on their disability status or their gender identity.

“These atrocious reports of cruel confinement in isolation, without necessary services, in circumstances that are traumatizing and dangerous to the people involved, are unacceptable.

“Non-citizens with any type of disability should have a fair opportunity to enter and reside legally in the United States and to become citizens, without unnecessary or discriminatory restrictions based on their disability, gender identity or expression, or sexual orientation.  We must also ensure that individuals with disabilities who are facing deportation or other legal action are provided with appropriate representation, due process protections, and reasonable accommodations and that they are not unnecessarily segregated in immigration facilities.

“We have already seen proposals like the public charge rule that would discriminate against immigrants with disabilities, making it harder to legally enter or remain in the country. We continue to condemn these policies and practices and call on Members of Congress, as they have done in the past, to stand up for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families as they seek inclusion in America.   We will continue to promote and protect equal rights of children and adults with disabilities in all parts of the world, and call on our government to ensure that, at minimum, people should not be subject to harm while they are held under the care and authority of this country,” 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 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.

Amended Budget Proposal Saves Special Olympics – But Not All the Other Disability Program Cuts

Washington, DC – This week, President Trump sent to Congress an amended budget proposal which included money for Special Olympics, reversing an attempt to cut the funding. However, many other cuts that could impact the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) are still in the President’s budget request.

“Funding for the important work of Special Olympics has broad support in Congress and amongst the public. But so does funding for a host of other programs that support people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to thrive in the community.

“It’s not too late for the President to go further and reverse course on his proposal to cut Medicaid, the core program providing access to health care and home and community-based services for people with disabilities. Or his plan to impose work requirements to be eligible for the program. Or any of the other cuts proposed that could impact access to job training, maternal and child health, or caregiver support, to name a few.

“What we invest in reflects our values as a society. There’s a lot at stake for people with disabilities in the budget process in Washington, and there’s still time to make the right investments that keep up the progress we’ve made in access to services and supports across the lifespan, “said Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc.

The Arc is particularly concerned about the proposed cuts to Medicaid, which 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.

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 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.

The Arc’s Concerns About Changes at the Administration for Community Living

The Arc was concerned to read the Notice Statement on the reorganization of the Administration for Community Living (ACL) published in the federal register. As the “the principal agency in the department designated to lead aging and disability programs,” ACL must have sufficient resources, support and clarity in its goals to be successful in this role. ACL has been a leader and key partner on a range of essential issues, including protecting the rights of people with disabilities and older adults, preventing abuse and neglect, supporting needed systems change activities, promoting promising practices in home and community-based services, implementing person-centered planning, and providing a range of technical assistance to states and other stakeholders, among many others. ACL must continue to support programs and policies that advance community living for older adults and people with disabilities of all ages and facilitate full participation in their communities. Achieving this goal requires a robust and well-informed staff, including, for example, leadership with substantial knowledge of independent living services directing the Independent Living program, as required in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. The current proposal divides programs that have traditionally worked collaboratively, such as the programs authorized under the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act. We strongly encourage the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to prioritize ACL’s work toward its stated mission, to maximize the independence, well-being, and health of older adults, people with disabilities and their families and caregivers. ACL must avoid unnecessary disruption and ensure that any changes will not undermine the agency’s effectiveness. We call on ACL leadership to work with stakeholders to safeguard necessary supports and services for older adults and people with disabilities and advance community living.

Talk About Sexual Violence: James’ 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:

James Meadours smiles at the camera in a selfie, wearing a navy blue polo shirt and glasses.

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. I want to share the last time it happened to me.

I was looking for a Church that welcomed people including those with disabilities. A friend encouraged me to join him for a Church service and when I was there I met a member who was deaf and wanted to teach me sign language.  I thought we were becoming friends. One time we spoke on the phone and he asked if I was gay, I told him I was not. We got together the day before Church at my home and he began to be sexual with me. Even knowing I was not gay, he still approached me. Again, I told him I was not interested and let him know by shaking my head “NO” and backed away. I used sign language to say NO but he signed YES.

The next day when I went to Church I didn’t tell anyone.  I felt ashamed and afraid if I told anyone I could be hurt. I reached out to the pastor and nothing was done and out of frustration I told my friend and he called 211 to make a report on my behalf with my permission. 

I went to the hospital to make sure I was OK. People listened and took the time to help me. The SANE Nurse (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) was gentle and understanding. I wanted to make a formal report to law enforcement and hoped the officer would be kind and help me feel at ease. Later in the week an officer made a home visit and gathered evidence. The kindness the officer showed me is not typical.

I pressed charges and went to court. He went to jail.

My friends believed me and were helpful at different stages, but when I approached the local rape crisis center two weeks later 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 despite them not having 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.

As Sexual Assault Awareness Month draws to a close, 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.

#Handsoff: Why I Advocate to Stop the Shock

By Nicole Jorwic

Nicole and Chris Jorwic

People with disabilities are being tortured by shock devices at the Judge Rotenberg Center. These devices are worn by residents of JRC, an institution in Massachusetts for children and adults with disabilities. Staff members use remote controls to administer a shock to residents for perceived misbehavior.

This is despite the fact that there is a well-established body of evidence proving that there are alternative methods for behavioral supports for people with disabilities and other needs that do not include excessive force, pain, and fear. It continues to be shown that there is NO THERAPEUTIC benefit to these devices. The actions of the JRC remain a civil rights issue. With every day that passes without this rule being finalized by the FDA, the rights of people with disabilities and mental health issues will continue to be violated as they endure abuse and torture. We shouldn’t rest until this barbaric practice is halted and use of these devices are banned at the JRC and nationwide.

This issue is something that matters to me personally. My brother Chris is 29 and has autism. And it is my brother’s voice that I have heard during every tense Capitol Hill meeting, meeting with the FDA and submitting comments on why these tortious devices must be banned. This is a little ironic since my brother doesn’t use his voice to speak.

Chris types to communicate — and one thing that he always highlights when he is out training others on how to interact with people with disabilities, is that every behavior is a form of communication. Chris communicates with his behaviors too, and it terrifies me to know that if he were a resident at the JRC, he could very likely be shocked for trying to express himself or communicate his needs.

The FDA must act. All people with disabilities deserve the right to live free from the fear of torture. Continuing in their posture of inaction is to devalue the lives of people with disabilities. We will not stop fighting until we are able to STOP THE SHOCK. Learn more about how you can help.