Standing up for Voting Rights

By Steve Larson, Senior Policy Director, The Arc Minnesota

The voting rights of persons with disabilities are in jeopardy across the nation.  Laws and constitutional amendments to restrict the access of people to the polls have been passed in numerous states already.  Here in Minnesota, voters will decide in the November elections whether to require all voters to have a photo ID and to change other Election Day procedures that will create unnecessary barriers to voting.

In Minnesota, challenges to voting rights have also surfaced in the courts.  Fortunately, disability advocates saw a victory in an August 17 ruling by the U.S. Federal Court in St. Paul.  U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank dismissed a lawsuit filed by several state legislators, individuals, and organizations who have worked to restrict voting rights.  The lawsuit asked the court to limit the right to vote of people under guardianship, including people with disabilities.  If the lawsuit were upheld, it would have run counter to current Minnesota law, which presumes that people with disabilities retain their right to vote, unless a court specifically takes that right away.

The Minnesota Disability Law Center, the federal protection and advocacy agency in this state, filed an amicus (“friend of the court”) brief to the judge hearing the case. It cited the legal and legislative basis for the presumption that people with disabilities under guardianship have the right to vote. The Arc Minnesota signed on to this brief, which the judge said provided a “comprehensive overview and history of Minnesota guardianship law.”

The plaintiffs who filed this lawsuit will appeal the judge’s ruling.  In the meantime, The Arc Minnesota and other disability advocates are celebrating this victory in the courts.  Our efforts will continue to protect the rights of people with disabilities to have a voice in whom their elected officials are.  These will include statewide efforts to defeat the voter restriction amendment on this fall’s ballot, and educating the public and the media about the right of people with disabilities to have a say in issues that touch their daily lives.  Let’s all fight efforts like these that push people with disabilities back into the shadows of society.

Explore Genesee ARC and Its Growing Trash and Recycling Business

A worker with Genesee ARC’s Trash and Recycling Center helps recycle e-waste.

Submitted by Shelley Falitico, Genesee ARC

Here at Genesee ARC, we have been in the trash and recycling business for nearly 30 years. In fact, we have been the exclusive provider of this service to residents of the city of Batavia since 1983. Batavia is our county seat and has a population over about 16,000 people.

Over the years, Genesee ARC has continually employed as many as 20 people with disabilities through this successful work program, and quality satisfaction surveys conducted over the last quarter century have consistently rated our service exceptional!

This has been a very busy and exciting time for the Genesee ARC Trash and Recycling Center as we have recently moved to a larger, more modern facility. The move coincides with increased marketing efforts to expand the amount of recyclables we collect, and the wonderful news that we are one of ten agencies in the nation to receive an eXplore eRecycling Grant from The Walmart Foundation and The Arc.

We began picking up and recycling e-waste since last year in order to prepare for an impending New York State law requiring e-recycling in our communities. Since the first of this year, we have collected several tons from City of Batavia residents. That’s a lot of televisions, scanners, monitors and keyboards that have NOT ended up in a landfill!

The eXplore eRecycling Grant will allow us to expand on this success and plans include offering an e-recycling drop off service to residents in each of our County’s thirteen towns and six villages. We are currently in the process of developing the E-Waste Apprentice position. In the weeks to come, we will be designing a marketing plan to help guide our eXplore eRecycling initiatives.

A New Day for Virginia

Aside

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia approved a settlement agreement between the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Commonwealth concerning its system for providing services for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).  DOJ found that Virginia was violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by failing to give people the opportunity to live in the community.  Virginia will move many individuals out of training centers into the community, will provide services to some of the people on the waiting list, and will dramatically change the way Virginia provides services to individuals with I/DD.  To view the statement by The Arc of Virginia, you can download the statement via PDF.

How The Arc – Los Angeles & Orange Counties Helps Employ People with Disabilities

By Kevin P. MacDonald, Chief Executive Officer of The Arc – Los Angeles & Orange Counties

An employee at The Arc Los Angeles and Orange Counties new dollar store in the City of Long Beach, called Just-A-Buck, helps a customer check out.

It is an exciting time in Southern California for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD)!  On July 20, we celebrated the opening of a franchise to further our mission of employing people with I/DD. With an unemployment rate of 85% for people with developmental disabilities and state funding at a standstill for years – we decided to find a creative way to employ people with disabilities in our community.

Partnering with a New York based franchise called “Just-A-Buck” and with the assistance of a local benefactor we were able to make this dream come true.

The store employs 5 people with I/DD, each of them earning a salary at or above minimum wage, working alongside employees without disabilities. The employees participate in all aspects of making the store a success.  The new store will also provide an added bonus: to have people come into the store and see our workers and what they are capable of instead of their disability, you just can’t measure that! We believe that work gives everyone, especially those with disabilities, purpose and dignity and it helps them achieve independence and economic self-sufficiency.

To learn more about the store visit our website: www.thearclaoc.org. Also, if you live in the Los Angeles area stop by and visit us: 141 E. Willow Street in Long Beach at the Wrigley Shopping Center (Willow & Long Beach Boulevard).

Creating Awareness and Acceptance in Ohio

One of the most important steps to achieving full inclusion for individuals with disabilities is to ensure that children are included and accepted by their peers. The Arc of Summit and Portage Counties in Ohio has made it a priority to educate and sensitize children and community members toward people who have disabilities through a program called “People Together”.

People Together is an in-school disability awareness program that was started back in 1983 and is funded in part by the local Summit and Portage County Boards of Developmental Disabilities. The main goal of the program is to educate and sensitize students and community members toward people who have various disabilities in an effort to foster understanding, acceptance, communication, friendship and inclusion between people with and people without disabilities. The program has not only helped children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) be better understood and accepted by their peers, it has also helped students without disabilities to have a better understanding and openness toward people with disabilities. Teachers, parents and students have all benefited from this unique program.

One teacher shared a story about how after participating in People Together with her class, a student was comfortable enough to get up in front of his classmates and share that he had autism. He proceeded to explain what that meant, and how certain things are different or more difficult for him. Not only was the teacher amazed at the student’s level of comfort speaking to his peers, but also with how much his openness impacted everyone in the class.

Another teacher expressed how much of an impact the program had made on her entire class. As soon as the program ended, the calendar was filled with students who were eager to volunteer with the special education class in that school. There was no obligation for the students to volunteer; there was just a desire amongst the majority of them. The students who did not have disabilities spent their recess time reading and playing games with students who did.

To learn more about the People Together program contact Hope Carr at The Arc of Summit and Portage Counties.

The Arc of New Jersey’s Statement on the DC Closure Taskforce Resolution

The Arc of New Jersey released this statement on the Resolution of the State Taskforce on Institutional Closure. You can download it from the chapter’s website.

On July 23, 2012, the New Jersey Taskforce on Institutional Closure met. The Taskforce voted on and passed a binding resolution calling for the closure of North Jersey and Woodbridge Developmental Centers, in that order, over the next five years.

The Arc of New Jersey is grateful to the Taskforce for its painstaking and conscientious effort to thoroughly review the issue of closing state developmental centers; and we enthusiastically support its decision today to proceed with closing two of New Jersey’s seven developmental centers. The Arc of New Jersey believes that all individuals with intellectual and other developmental disabilities have the right to live, and be fully included, in communities of their choosing. For over thirty years there has been a clear direction in federal and state policy toward community living for individuals with intellectual and other developmental disabilities. As the census of New Jersey’s developmental centers has decreased, it has become clear that we simply do not need seven developmental centers.

We recognize the critical need for detailed planning and oversight in the process of transitioning developmental center residents into community-based settings. The Arc of New Jersey and its 20 local county chapters pledge to assist in this process in any way possible, to ensure the safe and appropriate placement of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the community, alongside their fellow citizens and peers.

From The Arc of New Jersey’s Media Center.

Arc Connecticut Statement on Abuse Investigation

According to media reports, the worker responsible for the abuse was arrested and criminally charged.

“The Arc Connecticut is deeply disturbed by the recent release of a videotape which appears to depict a staff member at a privately-operated group home physically abusing residents. This is obviously heinous and unacceptable behavior and the perpetrators should be prosecuted to the highest extent of the law. The Arc CT is confident that Options Unlimited, state regulators and authorities are investigating and will, and have, responded appropriately. For 60 years The Arc Connecticut has advocated for the basic civil and human rights for Individuals with I/DD and their families and we continue to do so.”

Arc Connecticut statement.

Achieving in the Workforce with Acadia Windows and Doors

An Arcadia Windows and Doors employee works in the company's factory

An Acadia Windows and Doors employee works in the company’s factory.

The Arc Northern Chesapeake Region (The Arc NCR) in Aberdeen, Maryland works closely with the business community to provide employment opportunities to individuals that they support. In 2005, The Arc NCR established a business partnership with Acadia Windows and Doors in Baltimore. This partnership has employed over nine workers with intellectual and developmental disabilities from The Arc NCR to date with great success. Today, five of those workers are making a difference on the manufacturing floor by performing tasks resulting in production line improvements. They earn wages comparable to people without disabilities doing the same job for Acadia and interact with their peers at the company in an integrated work environment.

Jessica Markle, one of the individuals receiving services at The Arc NCR, works on the manufacturing production line installing wool pile used as weather stripping in every window. She received on-the-job training and support from a job coach, as well as transportation support to the work site each day. Jessica works independently in a warehouse with 63 other co-workers with and without disabilities on the manufacturing floor. She is able to accomplish her job independently even though she is legally blind and developmentally disabled.  As a result of employing people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, Acadia Windows & Doors has a safer work environment and was awarded the Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Award from OSHA (Occupational Health & Safety Administration) in 2007 and again in 2011.

Here’s what Acadia’s Vice President of Manufacturing, Neill Christopher, had to say about this partnership with The Arc NCR:

Question:  How did Acadia Windows and Doors’ partnership with The Arc NCR begin?

Answer: We didn’t partner with The Arc NCR to be altruistic; we partnered with them because to do so makes sense as a business decision. This is a great pool of workers.  We had a great deal of trepidation when The Arc NCR first approached us.  This is a manufacturing environment, with large sheets of glass, saws, and presses, all capable of inflicting serious injury.  What we learned is that everything that we did to make things safer for our team members from The Arc NCR, made it safer for everyone else as well.  We’re an OSHA SHARP site; proud of our safety record while striving to always make our facility safer for all who work or visit here. 

Question:  What are a few of the outcomes that have been evident through this partnership?

Answer: As promised, our team members from The Arc NCR are reliable.  They consistently have exemplary attendance records, and always hit their production goals.  As our partnership with The Arc NCR developed, we found that our company was changing in several positive ways.  First of all, we worked better as a team.  In planning to assimilate our new employees, we problem solved in a way that was different for us, and this new ability carried over into all aspects of our teamwork.  We were learning to think differently, and forming interdepartmental relationships that hadn’t existed before.

Question:  Are there any changes that surprised you as a result of hiring people with disabilities?

Answer: We found ourselves becoming a kinder company.  Along with looking out for our team members from The Arc NCR, we began to look out for one another, too.  It was a subtle change at first, but we’ve learned to embrace this change as we work together on a daily basis. 

If I’m having a tough day, I’ll take a quick walk around our factory floor.  Our team members from The Arc NCR take visible joy in their accomplishments, and are always eager to show what they’ve produced so far each day.  Their joy is contagious, and I return to my office recharged and inspired by their example. 

The Arc of Alameda County Shifts Gears

Race Group Shot of The Arc of Alameda County

By Richard Fitzmaurice, Director of Community Relations at The Arc of Alameda County

It was loud.  It was smelly.  It was crowded.  It was the thrill of a lifetime!

Eleven of The Arc of Alameda County’s 600 clients traveled some 100 miles south to California’s central coast for the Monterey edition of the Pirelli World Challenge motor race.

It was not the typical community-based excursion.

Carrying personal belongings in backpacks specially designed for The Arc of Alameda County, the group entered Laguna Seca raceway and was immediately dazzled by the sights, sounds, colors and cars.  Of particular interest was the white Audi TT RS with The Arc’s logo on the hood sandwiched between the Revo technik and Pirelli logos.

Representing The Arc of Alameda County was: Peter Parkins, Angel Peregrina, Dania Leyva, Peter Roe, David Robinson, Laimone Williams, Nelvin Goree, Annick Woodall, Dominic Lerona, Kenneth Lee and Terry Newman.

Staff members included Mark Caleira, Jr., Ed Segovia and Juan Ramirez.  They were assisted by Joann Scruggs and Raymond Gaddis.

The Arc crew was immediately ushered not to the usual grandstand seats but straight to the pit where they served as honorary members of the ISTOOK’s Motorsports pit crew.   After enjoying a homemade bag lunch and helping wax the car, driver Don Istook and his wife Laurie offered insights into the world of racing.

“He told us about the car – showed us how everything works,” said David Robinson, a client at the vocational development center in San Leandro.

It was personal experience involving family members with intellectual and developmental disabilities that led Don and Laurie Istook, owners of ISTOOK’s Motorsports, to form a partnership with The Arc and create the Arc Audi Racing Program.  It was that focus on the abilities – not disabilities – of the people we serve that made the Istooks comfortable giving The Arc of Alameda group total access to the pit.   Clients even got to check out the other cars.

“I got to meet other drivers,” said Angel Peregrina also of San Leandro. “Don was nice and super helpful.”

“Everyone was great,” commented Community Service Manager, Mark Caldeira. “Even crew members not affiliated with ISTOOK’S Motorsports took time to explain what they were doing and why they were doing it. It could not have been a better experience for our clients,” he said.

As race time approached, the Arc crew was invited to participate in “the walk to the grid.”  Don, who also has The Arc logo on his race suit, climbed into the Audi and fired up the 2.5L turbocharged engine and began creeping toward the gate leading to the track.  The Arc crew walked along side.

“It was loud but it was good,” said Peregrina.

When the race started, clients were in their seats and gave Don a huge cheer on every lap as he passed by.

Monterey was the third stop on the Pirelli World Challenge seven-race circuit.  At each venue, the Istooks invite local chapters of The Arc to attend.  They even invited the Alameda County group to return to Laguna Seca next year.

“We’re going.  We’re definitely going!” Peregrina said with a huge smile.

NYSARC Weighs In on Justice Center Legislation in New York

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo addressed last year’s New York Times expose on abuse and neglect in the state’s system by proposing “The Justice Center for Protection of People with Special Needs.”  NYSARC issued a memorandum of support of the plan –  read the full memo here: Memorandum of Support – S7400 Protection of People with Special Needs (PDF).