The Arc on Commutation for Death Row Inmate Abelardo Arboleda Ortiz In the Final Days of Obama’s Presidency

Washington, DC – The Arc commends President Obama for commuting Abelardo Arboleda Ortiz’s sentence from death to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Mr. Ortiz’s diagnosis of intellectual disability should have ruled out the death penalty per a 2002 Supreme Court ruling, Atkins v. Virginia. While the Court’s prohibition of the execution of defendants with intellectual disability could not be clearer, many states continue to define intellectual disability in a manner that significantly deviates from clinical standards, resulting in inconsistent application of Atkins and a miscarriage of justice for many defendants.

“With this decision, President Obama not only ensured justice for an individual with intellectual disability, he also affirmed the Supreme Court’s Atkins v. Virginia and Hall v. Florida rulings. We thank him for ensuring that justice was finally served in this case.

“Sadly, this is one of many cases where an individual with intellectual disability was wrongly being sentenced to death despite the protections promised by the Supreme Court.  We have much work to do to ensure access to justice is accessible for all citizens. The Arc remains committed to ensuring the rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and we will continue our legal advocacy work to make sure that the Supreme Court ruling on this issue is followed in jurisdictions across the country,” said Marty Ford, The Arc’s Senior Executive Officer of Public Policy.

The Arc has been involved in this case for years, having filed two amicus briefs in support of Mr. Ortiz, the first in 2010 in support of his appeal before the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals and the second in 2015 in support of his petition for writ of certiorari (request for review of the lower court’s decision) before the United States Supreme Court. Most recently, in December 2016, The Arc submitted a clemency letter to President Obama requesting the commutation of Mr. Ortiz’s sentence.

“In this case, the pursuit of justice was a team effort, and The Arc was a leading player.  At every step of the way, from the circuit court to the Supreme Court, The Arc had Mr. Ortiz’s back, pitching in to draft a key amicus brief and fighting for his rights in support of our legal team. This is the right decision not only for Mr. Ortiz, but for the future of legal advocacy for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” said Amy Gershenfeld Donnella, attorney for Mr. Ortiz.

Read more about this case on The Arc’s blog.

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.

Justice For Abelardo Arboleda Ortiz In the Final Days of a Presidency

By Shira Wakschlag | Director, Legal Advocacy & Associate General Counsel for The Arc

“In this case, the pursuit of justice was a team effort, and The Arc was a leading player. At every step of the way, from the circuit court to the Supreme Court, The Arc had Mr. Ortiz’s back, pitching in to draft a key amicus brief and fighting for his rights in support of our legal team. This is a win for not only Mr. Ortiz, but for the future of legal advocacy for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” said Amy Gershenfeld Donnella, attorney for Mr. Ortiz.

The Arc is thrilled to announce that President Obama has commuted the sentence of Abelardo Arboleda Ortiz—an individual with intellectual disability—from death to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The Arc has been involved in this case for years, having filed two amicus briefs in support of Mr. Ortiz, the first in 2010 in support of his appeal before the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals and the second in 2015 in support of his petition for writ of certiorari (request for review of the lower court’s decision) before the United States Supreme Court. Most recently, in December 2016, The Arc submitted a clemency letter to President Obama requesting the commutation of Mr. Ortiz’s sentence.

In the brief before the U.S. Supreme Court, The Arc argued that:

In implementing this Court’s decisions in Atkins and Hall, both judges and clinicians must carefully evaluate whether a defendant satisfies the clinical definition of intellectual disability according to the consensus of the scientific community…In finding that Mr. Ortiz is not an individual with intellectual disability, the district court mistakenly relied on irrelevant testimony regarding Mr. Ortiz’s adaptive strengths rather than relevant testimony regarding his adaptive deficits, thereby rejecting the scientific community’s well-established guidelines governing intellectual disability. Broad acceptance of the district court’s mistaken reasoning would deprive individuals with intellectual disability of the protections and supports to which they are entitled under state and federal law and the U.S. Constitution.

This is a major victory in protecting the rights of individuals with intellectual disability in the criminal justice system and in fulfilling the promise of Hall v. Florida and Atkins v. Virginia. In Atkins, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the special risk of wrongful execution faced by persons with intellectual disability and banned their execution as cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. In its more recent 2014 Hall decision, the Court reinforced its earlier decision that people with intellectual disability not be executed, requiring that consideration of evidence beyond IQ tests be taken into account when determining intellectual disability. While the Court’s prohibition of the execution of defendants with intellectual disability could not be clearer, many states continue to define intellectual disability in a manner that significantly deviates from clinical standards, resulting in inconsistent application of Hall and Atkins and a miscarriage of justice for many defendants.

The Arc has deep sympathy for the family and friends of the victim in this case, and we support appropriate punishment of all responsible parties. The Arc does not seek to eliminate punishment of Mr. Ortiz or others with disabilities, but rather, to ensure that justice is served and the rights of all parties are protected. The Arc is committed to seeking lawful outcomes for people with intellectual disability and will continue working to ensure that the U.S. Supreme Court rulings on this issue are abided by in jurisdictions across the country.

Learn more about The Arc’s legal advocacy work on behalf of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Robert Perske: A Celebration of Life Delivered at his Memorial Service

By Quincy S. Abbot, Friend and Past National President of The Arc

Bob was one of the humblest of men and also one of the most outspoken of men when urging that individuals with intellectual disabilities have the right to live as other humans live. Bob approached each person as a friend. Each person had self-worth. To Bob, all lives mattered. Specifically, all lives of those with intellectual disabilities mattered.

Bob lived the life that he spoke and wrote about. He ignored any category describing the person. He became a friend with the person. He believed that “the real sin is separation” from other people.

Bob was assigned in the 1960s as Chaplain to the Kansas Neurological Institute (KNI). As such, he became friends with each of the residents and began to wonder why they lived there. The National Association for Retarded Children [1] presented Bob with the Rosemary Dybwad [2] International Award so he could visit Scandinavia “to study the ways in which Swedish and Danish people have given human dignity to their mentally retarded citizens.”

On his return, Bob published an article titled The Dignity of Risk. He laid out a new approach to individuals with intellectual disabilities. “You are a human being and so you have the right to live as other humans live, even to the point where we will not take all the dangers of human life from you.“ He told me a few years ago “that what I wrote was far from popular at KNI in those earlier days.” There remain pockets of disbelief today centered around the remaining institutions.

The Dignity of Risk. What a concept! This was published, and I first read it, in 1972, about the time that I became active in The Arc. It had a profound effect on my attitudes and my daughter’s life. When she wanted to abandon the yellow school bus and walk to school like her sisters, the school opposed undertaking that risk. I insisted that she walk with the words The Dignity of Risk ringing in my head. When she wanted to take the regular bus to and from work, The Dignity of Risk bell rang again. When she wanted to leave the group home for an apartment with another young woman, The Dignity of Risk bell rang once more.

The Arc was an important part of Bob’s life and Bob was an important part of The Arc at local, state and national levels. Each has been enriched by the other. It was The Arc that enabled Bob to bring the Scandinavian stories to us and spread the news of this radical new approach throughout the United States.

After returning from his Scandinavian visit, Bob had a chance to put his newfound knowledge to work. He became the Executive Director of the Omaha Association for Retarded Children, a chapter of the National Association. Later on he was President of the Connecticut state chapter for a year. For many years Bob attended the National Conventions of The Arc to sell his books and Martha’s pictures but mostly to talk with his friends and make new friends.

Bob & Issues of Criminal Justice

For many years, Bob devoted his major effort to Criminal Justice. The phone rang one day in 1991. It was Bob saying, “There is this little guy, Richard LaPointe, falsely accused of murder sitting in a courtroom in Hartford with no one sitting on his side of the aisle. The other side is packed with supporters of the prosecution. Come sit with me on his side.” I was only one of many called that day. True to Bob’s approach they became the Friends of Richard La Pointe — not supporters or advocates for, but friends. After more than 20 years in prison, and several appeals, within the past year, Bob finally was able to see Richard outside of a jail setting. What a glorious day.

Through the years Bob gathered friends to sit in the courtrooms of many falsely accused individuals with intellectual disabilities. He did not win all the cases, as far as the court’s decision was concerned, but he did win friends for those falsely accused.

The Arc realized the vital role that Bob played as a friend to the accused but also realized that more was needed, so it sought and received a grant from Bureau of Justice Assistance within the federal Department of Justice in order to found The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability®. This was the first national effort of its kind to bring together both victim issues and suspect/offender issues involving people with intellectual disabilities. Among a number of products and services, it provides training to law enforcement officers and others in the criminal justice system about people with intellectual disabilities. Recently, Leigh Ann Davis, the Director of the National Center, told me that without Bob’s initial vision and on-going support and guidance over the past twenty years, the Center may have never come to fruition. Furthermore, the Center’s information and referral service remains constantly busy. Through this service, NCCJD® is on the front-lines (much as Bob was) talking with involved individuals, their families, and their friends. With Bob no longer available, there is an even greater need for NCCJD to be a resource for these individuals and their families.

One can hardly talk about Bob without mentioning his longtime friend and wife, Martha. Her pictures enhanced his books and bring a constant reminder of Bob’s work and ideals to those of us, like me, who cherish her drawing hanging upon our wall. I am thrilled that Martha and The Arc are working together still to ensure that Bob’s legacy will not be forgotten and his work won’t stop.

The Arc announced at its just completed National Convention & International Forum in Orlando, Florida that it is establishing the Robert Perske Fund for Criminal Justice that will both honor Bob and assure the continuation of his vital work in the area of criminal justice. An anonymous donor has already contributed $10,000 toward the Fund. I urge your small or large contribution to this Fund as a way to honor Bob and to see that his work continues into the future. It has been an honor to be Bob and Martha’s friend, and I hope you will not only remember him, but remember his life’s work. Thank you.


[1] When The Arc began in 1948 it was originally known as the National Center for Retarded Citizens. It is now known as The Arc, and we have worked furiously to remove the use of the work retarded from anything other than purely medical use.

[2] Drs. Rosemary & Gunther Dybwad were founders of both The Arc as well as Inclusion International.

 

Meet the Hometown Host: Baymont and The Arc Reimagine Breakfast Furthering Opportunities for People with Disabilities

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PARSIPPANY, N.J. (December 1, 2016) – Baymont Inn & Suites unites with The Arc – a leading national advocate for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) – to open more doors in hospitality for individuals with I/DD, including autism and Down syndrome, as the hotel brand redefines breakfast with its new Hometown Host role.

Baymont Inn & Suites is redefining traditional hotel breakfast with its new Hometown Host role. Elizabeth, pictured above, is a Hometown Host at the Baymont in Newark, Del.

Baymont Inn & Suites is redefining traditional hotel breakfast with its new Hometown Host role. Elizabeth, pictured above, is a Hometown Host at the Baymont in Newark, Del.

Unveiled just before International Day of Persons with Disabilities on December 3, 2016, Baymont’s new Hometown Host role is a symbol of the brand’s emphasis on neighborly service and dedication to community, ensuring guests are feeling welcome and food is abundant throughout daily breakfast service. Baymont franchisees recruiting for a Hometown Host are encouraged to take advantage of The Arc’s resources in helping connect them with passionate local job candidates within their neighborhoods.

In addition to serving as a service champion and breakfast attendant, Hometown Hosts from Baymont hotels across the country are invited to participate in a voluntary advisory council, supported by The Arc, to help improve the brand’s breakfast offerings. The council will meet regularly to share insights and best practices for perfecting the brand’s free breakfast for guests.

“No matter what’s on the table, we believe breakfast is best served and savored with good company. That’s where our Hometown Hosts come in: they’re the first person greeting our guests in the morning and ensuring they have a great start to the day,” said Greg Giordano, Baymont Inn & Suites brand vice president. “Our collaboration with The Arc not only connects our franchisees to a resource attracting associates who embody our signature culture of neighborly hospitality for guests, but also demonstrates to all communities of diversity they have an advocate in Baymont.”

Building Opportunities One Breakfast at a Time
Unemployment among people living with disabilities is a critical issue. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment rate for individuals with disabilities is higher than 11%, approximately double the nation’s average. Of those employed, only about 40% hold regular jobs in the community rather than within sheltered workshops or other restricted settings. The Arc serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, a population in which unemployment is much higher – 85% of families report that their adult family members with I/DD are not employed.

“Our collaboration with Baymont proactively creates opportunities for both those with disabilities and hoteliers to make positive and transformative contributions within their communities,” said Jonathan Lucus, director, The Arc@Work. “Individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities are not only capable of excelling on the job, but have experience, ideas and perspectives to continually enrich businesses. We can’t wait to see how our relationship with Baymont shakes up the makeup of hotel breakfast.”

The Arc@Work is leading the way in developing innovative workforce solutions for the government and private sector by connecting employers with talented employees with intellectual and developmental disabilities and supporting the recruitment, on-boarding, and retention process. The goal is to connect organizations with people and services that increase the diversity, productivity, and quality of their overall workforce.

Hotels including the Baymont Inn & Suites Augusta Riverwatch in Georgia have already experienced positive results employing individuals with disabilities including longer tenure, strong enthusiasm and an increase in guest engagement. Baymont hotels in Florida, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, one of the states with the lowest workforce participation rates for people with disabilities, have already pledged to work with The Arc as part of this initiative.

“We’ve been employing individuals with disabilities for more than 10 years at our hotel, and it’s the best business decision I’ve ever made,” said Kanta Kondur, owner of Baymont Inn & Suites August Riverwatch. “Our associates, like William and Robert, quickly become part of the Baymont family and show an extraordinary dedication to the hotel and our guests. I have no doubt other Baymont owners will find similar success working with The Arc.”

About 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 more than 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.

About Baymont Inn & Suites
Part of Wyndham Hotel Group, the Baymont Inn & Suites® hotel brand is a chain of more than 400 midscale hotels located throughout the United States and in Mexico that takes pride in neighborly hospitality grounded in the ability to connect with every guest. It’s all about warm, inviting service, topped with freshly baked cookies and a friendly smile. Many locations feature free Wi-Fi, continental breakfast at the Baymont Breakfast Corner®, swimming pools, fitness centers, airport shuttle service and the opportunity to earn and redeem points through Wyndham Rewards®, the brand’s guest loyalty program. Travelers can join the free program at www.wyndhamrewards.com.   Each Baymont Inn & Suites hotel is independently owned and operated under a franchise agreement with Baymont Franchise Systems, Inc. (BFS), or its affiliate. BFS is a subsidiary of Wyndham Hotel Group, LLC and parent company Wyndham Worldwide Corporation (NYSE: WYN). Reservations and information are available by visiting www.baymontinns.com.

Wyndham Hotel Group is the world’s largest hotel company based on number of hotels, encompassing nearly 8,000 hotels and approximately 689,800 rooms in 75 countries. Additional information is available at www.wyndhamworldwide.com. For more information about hotel franchising opportunities visit www.whgdevelopment.com.

CONTACT:
Gabriella Chiera
Wyndham Hotel Group
(973) 753 – 6689
Gabriella.chiera@wyn.com

Kristen McKiernan
The Arc
(202) 534-3712
mckiernan@thearc.org

The Arc@Work Lands Investment in Employment Placement Services from The Walmart Foundation

Washington, DC – The Arc’s employment program, The Arc@Work, is pleased to announce it has received a $245,000, one-year grant from the Walmart Foundation. This funding will be dedicated toward developing innovative programs that place people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) in competitive, integrated employment within their communities.

Current research indicates that 85% of people with I/DD are unemployed. The Arc is working with the public and private sectors to change this reality and offer an opportunity for people with I/DD to obtain meaningful career opportunities alongside people without disabilities on an unprecedented scale. New developments include a government directive to hire 100,000 employees with disabilities as well as updated regulations for federal contractors. As a result, the federal government and more than 45,000 contractors that include many Fortune 500 companies are now seeking employees with disabilities like never before. Unfortunately, this current demand cannot be matched by existing workforce systems that support the I/DD community. And without a strong, unified pipeline in place, this population will not benefit from these new guidelines as much as other disability groups.

“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 build a system that will transform the existing pool of talented candidates with disabilities into productive employees,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

The Arc@Work is well-positioned to tackle this challenge, as it has the expertise and resources to harness the current social, political, and philanthropic energy behind workforce development efforts for people with I/DD. For this particular project, The Arc@Work will utilize existing infrastructure, as well as tap sixteen chapters of The Arc to create an increased number of corporate hiring opportunities. Ultimately this model will connect well-qualified job seekers with I/DD to local, regional, and national employers. The chapters that will be involved include UCP Seguin (IL); The Arc of the Midlands (SC); The Arc of Spokane; The Arc of Anchorage (AK); The Arc of Montgomery County (MD); The Arc of El Paso (TX); The Arc of Monroe County (NY); St. Louis Arc (MO); The Arc of Chester County (PA); Berkshire County Arc (MA); Star, Inc. (CT); The Arc of North Carolina (NC); The Arc Davidson County and Greater Nashville (TN); VersAbility (VA); The Arc of Bristol County (MA); and ADEC (IN), each of which will receive an average sub-grant award of $10,000.

Many of these chapters currently offer high-quality employment services for people with I/DD, such as job development, job coaching, as well as skill-building opportunities like preparation for interviews and resume development. Under their guidance, people with I/DD will receive support to secure competitive employment in their communities. Additionally, over the project period, the chapters of The Arc will strengthen their capacity to place people with I/DD into integrated, community-based employment by developing or deepening partnerships with local, regional, and national employers during the project period. Local, regional, or national employers will be able to improve their ability to successfully employ people with I/DD as a result of their partnership with The Arc.

“This grant is an example of the Walmart Foundation’s commitment to modeling one of our core values – Respect for the Individual, “said Carol May, Program Manager of the Walmart Foundation. “We desire to see communities empower all individuals to reach their full potential.”

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.

Deadline Looming to File Discrimination Claims

The Arc would like to alert you to an important deadline if you have experienced discrimination based on your disability by the Greyhound bus company.  Below is the information from the U.S. Department of Justice.

“November 10, 2016, is the deadline for individuals with disabilities who experienced discrimination while they traveled or attempted travel on Greyhound Lines, Inc., to submit claims for compensation from Greyhound. This claims process was established in settlement of a lawsuit that the Department of Justice filed against Greyhound earlier this year. Pursuant to that settlement, Greyhound has hired a Claims Administrator to distribute an uncapped amount of compensation to people who:

  • have a disability;
  • traveled or attempted to travel on Greyhound between February 8, 2013, and February 8, 2016;
  • experienced a disability-related incident during the travel or attempted travel (for example, lack of accessible transportation or transportation-related services, Greyhound’s failure to make disability-related accommodations, etc.); and
  • submit a Claim Form by mail, email, or online to the Claims Administrator by no later than November 10, 2016.

Help is available from the Claims Administrator for those who are unable to complete the Claim Form due to a disability. Instructions regarding the claims process are available at the Claims Administrator’s website, www.DOJvGreyhoundSettlement.com. The Claims Administrator can also be reached by email at GRYsettlement@classactionadmin.com, toll-free at 1-844-502-5953 or 1-800-659-2656 (TTY), or by mail at U.S. v. Greyhound Claims Administrator, c/o Class Action Administration LLC, PO Box 6878, Broomfield, CO 80021.

For more information or for a copy of the consent decree, please visit our ADA website at www.ada.gov. Those interested in finding out more about the ADA may also call the Justice Department’s toll-free ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301 or 800-514-0383 (TDD).”

The Arc Responds to Connecticut Court Ruling on Education and Access for Children with Disabilities

Washington, DC – Recently, Judge Thomas Moukawsher of the Connecticut State Superior Court released a sweeping ruling on school funding that could have dire, negative consequences on students with disabilities, particularly students with intellectual and/or developmental as well as behavioral and emotional disabilities.

The case, Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding v. Rell, was initiated in 2005 and challenged the state constitutionality of Connecticut’s pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade education finance system, claiming that the state was inadequately funding the poorest and lowest- performing districts. Judge Moukawsher held that “Connecticut is defaulting on its constitutional duty” to give all children an adequate education and ordered the state to make far-reaching changes regarding how schools are financed, which students are eligible to graduate from high school, and how teachers are paid and evaluated, among others. The judge noted that the state “has left rich school districts to flourish and poor school districts to flounder,” thereby failing to provide children with a “fair opportunity for an elementary and secondary school education.” Judge Moukawsher did not mandate any particular policies for the state to adopt in light of the ruling – rather, he ordered the attorney general’s office to submit plans within 180 days to solve the problems outlined in the decision.

While this decision may appear to assist vulnerable students in Connecticut, Judge Moukawsher also noted within the decision that children with certain “profound” disabilities be denied a public education, erroneously stating that: “The call is not about whether certain profoundly disabled children are entitled to a ‘free appropriate public education.’ It is about whether schools can decide in an education plan for a covered child that the child has a minimal or no chance for education, and therefore the school should not make expensive, extensive, and ultimately pro-forma efforts…no case holds otherwise, and this means that extensive services are not always required.” The state has appealed the ruling to the Connecticut Supreme Court.

The Arc, a leading national disability organization, and The Arc of Connecticut, released the following statement on the ruling:

“While the disability community has won many important, hard fought battles when it comes to kids with disabilities accessing a free and appropriate public education, this ruling demonstrates we have a long way to go to ensure discrimination in our education system is a distant memory.

“The language of this ruling turns back the clocks on how society places value in the lives of people with disabilities. It ignores all the examples of people with disabilities being told they can’t do this, or won’t be able to do that, who proved the experts wrong. If we followed this narrow view and didn’t invest in the education of all kids, we would be missing out on the contributions every single person can make in their community. I’m glad the state is appealing this ruling, and The Arc of Connecticut will be a leader in making sure that all kids with disabilities are treated fairly under the law,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

“This ruling is deeply disturbing on two levels,” said Leslie Simoes, the executive director of The Arc of Connecticut. “First, the court ignored the law. Though it was common to deny an education to children with disabilities in the past, federal law has entitled all children with disabilities- not just some children- to a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment for more than 40 years. Attempting to differentiate children deserving of an education by the severity of their disability would be both arbitrary and lead to creating perverse incentives for states.

“Second, I categorically reject the court’s premise that the only way one group of struggling students can progress is to take services away from others who face enormous challenges. Our aim must be to move forward together, not to benefit some by leaving others behind. That is not only illegal, it denies those children their basic human right to live as full members of their community.”

 

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.

The Arc Welcomes Long Overdue Initial Zika Prevention Funding Package

Washington, DC – After months of delay, late last night Congress finally approved and sent to President Obama’s desk a funding package for Zika prevention. Some women infected with Zika while pregnant give birth to babies with severely disabling brain injury, including microcephaly.  Many of The Arc’s more than 650 chapters provide supports and services to families and people with a range of disabilities, including significant disabilities. Since 2015, more than 23,000 cases of Zika have been confirmed in the U.S. and its territories, with over 2,000 of these among pregnant women.

“After months of inaction, we are relieved that Congress finally approved funding to address this public health threat. These resources will allow us to slow the spread of Zika until a treatment or vaccine can be developed.

Unfortunately, women will continue to have to wait for years to know the full range of developmental delays that their Zika infections have caused in their children.  Affected children and their families then will enter our nation’s woefully inadequate system for providing services and supports for the millions of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in communities across the country. The Arc continues to educate Members of Congress and the public about the importance of our lifeline programs, Medicaid and Social Security, for people with disabilities and their families,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

In February, the White House asked for $1.9 billion for Zika vaccine development, better testing, and mosquito reduction.  With no action taken by Congress, in April the White House transferred $589 million from money set aside to fight Ebola and other problems to work on Zika prevention efforts.  With that funding dwindling, Congress was at an impasse all summer and into September over the funding level and extraneous items some were attempting to include in the bill that Congress couldn’t agree on. The approved legislation includes $1.1 billion for this effort.

The Arc has long held a position on the prevention of intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), supporting our national efforts to continue to investigate the causes, reduce the incidence and limit the consequences of I/DD through education, clinical and applied research, advocacy, and appropriate supports. We firmly believe that prevention activities do not diminish the value of any individual, but rather strive to maximize independence and enhance quality of life for people with I/DD.

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 more than 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.

The Arc Commends Department of Justice’s Report on Investigation of the Baltimore City Police Department

Washington, DC – Last week, the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Civil Rights Division released a report following an investigation into the past conduct of the Baltimore City Police Department (BPD). DOJ concluded that there is “reasonable cause to believe that BPD engaged in a pattern or practice of conduct that violates the Constitution or federal law” by engaging in unconstitutional stops, searches, and arrests; using enforcement strategies that produce severe and unjustified disparities in the rates of stops, searches, and arrests of African-Americans; using excessive force; and retaliating against people engaging in constitutionally-protected expression. Among these troubling findings, The Arc noted that the treatment of individuals with disabilities by law enforcement was included in the report, which featured a full section on the use of unreasonable force against individuals with disabilities highlighting that “BPD officers repeatedly fail to make reasonable modifications necessary to avoid discrimination in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).”

Among other things, the investigation recommended that BPD offer crisis intervention training, previously offered to only new recruits, to veteran officers as well. DOJ noted that such training helps officers “identify whether an individual is in crisis or engaging in behavior related to a disability, to interact effectively with people with disabilities, to de-escalate a crisis, and to connect the individual with local resources to provide treatment or support.”

“Far too often, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are in situations with law enforcement that unnecessarily escalate because officers aren’t trained in crisis prevention or how to recognize and accommodate various disabilities. This is not only happening in Maryland, it is a serious problem nationwide. We have got to flip the script when it comes to law enforcement training so that police departments understand that recognizing and appropriately accommodating disability in the line of duty is not optional, but is a fundamental aspect of their compliance with civil rights laws, such as the ADA. The recommendations in this report should be adopted across the country, so that we can break the cycle of discrimination that many minorities, including people with disabilities, face, and make our communities safer and more just for all,” said Leigh Ann Davis, Director, Criminal Justice Initiatives, The Arc.

The report found that BPD officers “have escalated interactions that did not initially involve criminal behavior, resulting in the arrest of, or use of force against, individuals in crisis, or with mental health disabilities or I/DD, or unnecessary hospitalization of the person with mental health disabilities or I/DD.” These unnecessary hospitalizations often violate the “integration mandate” of the ADA and the landmark Olmstead decision, which require public entities to administer services, programs, and activities for people with disabilities in the most integrated setting appropriate and prohibits unjustified institutionalization of people with disabilities.

“The findings in the report are disturbing. It is particularly painful reading this report on the heels of the 26th Anniversary of the ADA. The Arc Maryland stands ready to assist with necessary training to police officers to appropriately respond to people with I/DD. We urge BPD to implement specialized training and de-escalation techniques as tactics to reform the system and better serve people with disabilities, African Americans, and any other member of the community that interacts with the criminal justice system,” said Poetri Deal, Director of Public Policy & Advocacy, The Arc Maryland.

Steve Morgan, Executive Director, The Arc Baltimore, said: “The BPD is already working with us to extend the crisis intervention training, previously offered to select officers only, to the entire force. We are working together to address the recommendations, expand their knowledge, and improve community relations.”

The Arc runs the National Center for Criminal Justice and Disability (NCCJD), the first national effort of its kind to bring together both victim and suspect/offender issues involving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (or I/DD) under one roof.

NCCJD is a national clearinghouse for information and training on the topic of people with I/DD as victims, witnesses and suspects or offenders of crime. The Center provides training and technical assistance, an online resource library, white papers, and more. The Center created Pathways to Justice,® a comprehensive training program facilitated through chapters of The Arc, which assists officers to both identify disability, and know how to respond in ways that keep all parties as safe as possible. Pathways to Justice utilizes a multi-disciplinary response that provides a foundation for a collaborative approach among community partners.

Read more about The Arc’s take on criminal justice reform and people with I/DD in our recent blog in the Huffington Post.

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 more than 650 chapters across the country, including 11 in Maryland, 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.

The Arc’s Statement on Overturning of Brendan Dassey’s Murder Conviction 

Washington, DC – The Arc, the nation’s largest civil rights organization for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and their families, released the following statement on the news that a judge has overturned the murder conviction of Brendan Dassey:

“This must be a bittersweet ruling for Brendan Dassey and his family. Brendan’s experience has been unique, thanks to Making a Murderer. The documentary revealed to the masses just how easy it is to force a confession from people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“My hope is that those following this case will come to realize that our jails and prisons are full of Brendan Dasseys, that false confessions are much more common among those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and that there is something we can do about it to prevent future injustice.

“Police officers, investigators, attorneys, correctional officers, and others are not adequately trained to identify people who may have an intellectual disability or how to accommodate their needs, and this is especially critical during interrogations. We still have a long way to go to bend the arc of justice when it comes to fair and just treatment of people with disabilities in the criminal justice system. The Arc is committed to revealing the many forms injustice takes in their lives, and working with those in the system to fix it,” said Leigh Ann Davis, Director, Criminal Justice Initiatives.

While people with intellectual and developmental disabilities comprise 2% to 3% of the general population, they represent 4% to 10% of the prison population. Those accused of crimes they did not commit often face the greatest injustice of all, some losing their lives when coerced into giving false confessions. Long before Brendan Dassey’s case hit mainstream media, Robert Perske, respected author, advocate and long-time supporter of The Arc, compiled a list of people with intellectual disability who gave false confessions to begin documenting these otherwise hidden-away cases.

The Arc runs the National Center for Criminal Justice and Disability (NCCJD), the first national effort of its kind to bring together both victim and suspect/offender issues involving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (or I/DD) under one roof.

NCCJD is a national clearinghouse for information and training on the topic of people with I/DD as victims, witnesses and suspects or offenders of crime. The Center provides training and technical assistance, an online resource library, white papers, and more. The Center created Pathways to Justice,® a comprehensive training program facilitated through chapters of The Arc, which assists officers to both identify disability, and know how to respond in ways that keep all parties as safe as possible. NCCJD is building the capacity of the criminal justice system to respond to gaps in existing services for people with disabilities, focusing on people with I/DD who remain a hidden population within the criminal justice system with little or no access to advocacy supports or services.

Read more about The Arc’s take on criminal justice reform and people with I/DD in our recent blog in the Huffington Post.

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 more than 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.