Mental Health and How You Can Help

HealthMeetOn June 3rd, President Obama held a conference at the White House about mental health.  Mental health issues are a national policy concern, but it is important to also think about mental health in your life too.  By seeking support and fighting the stigma, or embarrassment, about psychiatric disabilities, you can create a healthier world for yourself and others.

Anyone can have mental illness and around 25% of adults in the United States have a mental health disorder. Mental health is also a big concern for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). Some professionals may be unable to correctly diagnose psychiatric disabilities with people who have I/DD so these individuals may not receive the care they need.  Untreated mental illness alone makes you less healthy and it is also associated with other health issues like diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. The Arc’s HealthMeet project works to improve physical health for people with I/DD, but you can contribute too by creating a healthier conversation about mental health.

One of the bravest steps to improve health is getting help for living with mental illness. There are many mental health resources available for you or someone you know. If you are thinking about hurting yourself or committing suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK. If you are worried about someone you know, stay with them and urge them to seek help, either at a hospital or from a mental health professional. For other support, like finding mental health services, the National Institute of Mental Health website has many resources listed under “Finding Health.”

In addition to encouraging others to get help, you can also help change how we talk about mental health.  Mental illness can affect anyone, but it is often seen as something shameful. This makes it harder for many people to get help.  By talking in an open and non-judgmental way about mental health, we can all work to create the healthier world envisioned by HealthMeet and The Arc.

Where Have You Been, Barbara Walters?

Barbara WaltersBy Mohan Mehra, Immediate Past President, The Arc of the United States Board of Directors, and Brian’s dad. Brian is a young man with Down syndrome.

Last week, Barbara Walters used her platform on “The View” to defend comedian Bill Maher when he used the “R” word to describe Sarah Palin’s five year old son, Trig, who has Down syndrome.  You can watch the clip on YouTube.

“I don’t think he intended to be mean spirited,” said Ms. Walters. Of course he did. Hiding behind jokes often becomes a form of bullying. We see it in schools, on the playing field, and in the media when celebrities who have a large platform like Mr. Maher are looking for a laugh or attention.

To excuse Maher due to possible “ignorance of the language” is unacceptable. He is a public figure, seeks the limelight in his public and private actions, and pleading ignorance does not fit his outspoken style. Where have you been, Bill Maher and Barbara Walters?

Historically, the “R” word was a clinical term used to describe people with an intellectual disability. Today, society uses it as an insult or to degrade people with intellectual disabilities. A recent survey of youth age 8-18 done by Special Olympics and the University of Massachusetts showed that 63% said that they felt bad for the person being picked on and only 9% of the youth said that they laughed or did not care. Where have you been, Barbara Walters?

In 2010, both houses of Congress unanimously passed, and the President signed Rosa’s Law, a bill that removes the “R” word from all federal health, education and labor policy and replaces it with “intellectual disability.” Nick, Rosa’s eleven year old brother said during the hearings, “What you call my sister is how you will treat her…. It invites taunting, stigma and bullying.” Words are mere vessels for meaning. Where have you been, Barbara Walters?

In our culture, the media enjoys a special status. With over 3 million viewers of “The View”, and a large following on social media, Ms. Walters has a large platform to inform and educate, in addition to entertain. It would indeed be fitting that in the memory of her sister, Jackie, who had an intellectual disability, she calls out such use of the “R’” word as hurtful and insulting to people with intellectual disabilities and their families.

Top Technology Companies Coming to Convention

Dan Hubbell

Dan Hubbell, Sr. Marketing Manager for Microsoft’s Accessibility Group

Verizon and Microsoft will be joining The Arc at our National Convention August 3-5 in Bellevue, Washington for a program focused on technology, innovation and Achieving Momentum in the movement for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Convention attendees will hear from Jack P. McArtney, Director, Corporate & Community Responsibility; Global Corporate Citizenship Group of Verizon, Inc. who will kick off a technology-focused plenary session with thoughts on the new role of corporate social responsibility as a technology company.  And, Dan Hubbell, Sr. Marketing Manager for Microsoft’s Accessibility Group will speak about the newest assistive technology for individuals with disabilities.  Known as the Technical Evangelist for the Accessibility Business Unit at Microsoft, Dan is sure to infect all with his enthusiasm for innovation when it comes to making life better for people with I/DD.  Both men will participate in a panel discussion giving you an opportunity to ask your most pressing technology questions and capping off a Convention full of information and inspiration.

In addition to these noted speakers, this year’s Convention features demonstrations of cutting-edge assistive technology, breakout sessions on cloud computing, tablets and applications, visual story-telling, transitioning to a paperless office and more technology topics. This year’s Convention is shaping up to be a don’t-miss event with the addition of Verizon and Microsoft to an already stimulating program featuring acclaimed author Buzz Bissinger and sessions on innovations in family support, cultural diversity, building our grassroots movement and more.

Check out the full schedule and register now! Be sure to book your room at the Hyatt Regency Bellevue before July 2 and take advantage of early registration discounts before July 5, but there’s still time to save.

HealthMeet® In Action – In 5 States, Changing Lives

Young girl with audiologistBy Ann Cameron Williams, Ph.D., Senior Executive Officer, Research and Innovations and Karen Wolf-Branigin, Senior Executive Officer, National Initiatives

Many of us at The Arc at local, state, and national levels get up and go to work every morning to make a positive difference for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).  It’s not only what we do, it’s who we are.

When I have the opportunity to go visit local and state Chapters, I am usually stunned by the creativity and sheer genius that is activated on behalf of people that are in need of a better solution.  This past month, The Arc US invited five Chapters from the five states that are engaged in our HealthMeet®: Promoting Health for People with Intellectual Disabilities that is funded by the CDC, to share with us their approaches to improving health in their communities.  As we listened, once again, I found myself marveling at the depth of understanding and quality of response that our Chapters deliver.

For example, in Massachusetts, The Arc of Massachusetts is working in collaboration with the health providers from the Boston Medical Center, the Developmental Disabilities Nurses Association and Simmons College to conduct health assessments. They translated the HealthMeet flyer and engaged in specific outreach efforts in Boston’s Portuguese community. In addition, The Arc of Massachusetts is coordinating a four-week Health and Nutrition program for people with intellectual/developmental disabilities

In Pennsylvania, ACHIEVA, The Arc of Greater Pittsburgh, recruited physicians, medical residents and students, nurses, retired nurses, nursing students, paramedics, physical therapists and speech/language pathologists to conduct health assessments at ACHIEVA programs, community recreation programs and community health fairs. ACHIEVA created and produces an e-newsletter, Your Health Matters, with articles on policy, applied research, services and training events related to HealthMeet events and health and intellectual/developmental disabilities.

In North Carolina, The Arc of North Carolina is building the HealthMeet program within their local chapters with 8 sites across the state. Their goals are to work in rural and urban areas, serve as a catalyst to build and strengthen partnerships, bring value to the membership and let chapters shine. They have created an infrastructure with a list serve, real-time contact lists, and shared group workspace to share tools and processes. Significant community involvement from a plethora of stakeholders is an important part of the North Carolina model.

The Arc of New Jersey is working with The Arc of Atlantic County, The Arc of Camden County, The Arc of Essex County, The Arc Gloucester, and The Arc of Monmouth to implement HealthMeet events. The chapters complete assessments as part of their day program services and at ambulatory care centers. Publicity efforts have included print and broadcast media, including guest appearance on a local radio show, podcasts and interviews with local television stations.

And in San Francisco, The Arc San Francisco hosts Wellness Wednesdays, an organized drop in health assessment for the people they serve. The program is held on site so it’s easily accessible to individuals, allows for private screenings, and is easy to quickly set-up/breakdown. The Arc San Francisco developed their own registration system and uses Nurses and volunteers to conduct the assessment. In addition, they are developing processes to identify potential health issues on an ongoing basis by training Direct Support Professionals to be aware of hidden health issues.

In each state, Chapters are facilitating life-changing events that are helping people with I/DD identify health concerns and training medical health professionals and students to become more familiar with interacting with people with disabilities.  Each Chapter has developed a customized approach, which is one of the hallmarks of our responsive network.  The Arc of the United States is also helping with systems level changes through innovative and timely training via our HealthMeet webinars, partnering with the University of Minnesota to advance self-advocacy training in health promotion and other essential life areas at www.selfadvocacyonline, and advancing in-community health promotion program training.

This effort is bringing into clear relief the chronic and often unattended health care needs of the people we serve.  Who is looking?  The CDC is, for one.  The health systems of the five states in which HealthMeet runs are, for another.  And the thousands of medical health professionals that are contributing their time and interests into this effort are, as well.  We are changing the world.

This thing is, health is – and should be considered – a civil right.  Chapters of The Arc are helping to get this word across to many who may be hearing this message for the first time.  Simply stated, with gratitude:  thank you.

Highlighting the Talent of Self-Advocates in Evansville, Indiana

By Denise Seibert, Director of Development
Evansville Arc

Last month, Evansville Arc was proud to partner with The Arts Council of Southwestern Indiana to host our first ever art show in The Arts Council’s Bower-Suhrheinrich Foundation Gallery located in downtown Evansville, Indiana.  The show opened on May 10 and runs through June 12.  The show features fabric mosaics that have been completed by individuals served by our chapter, along with volunteers and staff of Evansville Arc.

The project began in 2009 as a one-time project to engage community volunteers with the clients served in our Adult Day Services program.  However, the project was such a success that we have continued work on the mosaics thanks to the help of local vendors, such as fabric stores and interior design professionals, who generously donate wall paper samples, fabric samples, scrap materials and other items.

I believe our President,  Deidra R. Conner, described the project best when she said “This project truly demonstrates that the love of art is universal and that everyone – regardless of physical or cognitive abilities – has talents or gifts that should be shared with others.”

Description of pieces

Freedom of Religion“Freedom of Religion.”

This mosaic represents the right for all people to practice their religion or beliefs. Seclusion of individuals with disabilities in the past and societal attitudes impeded their ability to express and practice their religion or beliefs. Many individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities indicate that being able to participate in worship services of their choosing greatly enhances their lives.

Beverly attended church with her sister before her sister passed away. With supports, Beverly is now able to attend religious services. ““I’m happy to go to church.  I haven’t been since my sister died.  I really miss the music & want to sing.” – Beverly W.


Freedom of Expression“Freedom of Expression.”

This mosaic represents the right to speak openly and fully without fear of undue criticism or punishment. Too often, persons with disabilities have not been given the opportunity to speak for themselves. Due to social and cultural attitudes, their opinions were not always given the same value as those without disabilities and their efforts to speak up were stifled. Individuals with disabilities have much to say and are encouraged to speak up about issues that impact their lives and their community.

“I am able to speak my mind and follow what’s in my heart”- Matt B


Right to Access“Right to Access”

This mosaic represents the right of freedom of movement in the community. Freedom of movement is two-fold: being allowed to be a part of one’s community and being able to access it. In the past, persons with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities were encouraged to be placed in institutions and hidden from the rest of society. They were not able to attend public schools and take part in the daily activities such as employment, shopping, using recreational facilities, etc.  Prior to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) even if they were allowed to participate, many individuals with disabilities were limited due to physical or other barriers. Today we are seeing more and more individuals with disabilities contributing to their communities as employees, volunteers and taxpayers as they are given opportunities and reasonable accommodations.

“The best thing about getting my job is that I’m earning my own money and I now have responsibilities. Having responsibilities is the important thing, like showing up for work and being on time.” – Nathan B.