Thank You! You Mean the World to The Arc

This year at The Arc’s National Convention we asked the over 800 attendees, “What Does The Arc Mean to You?” and the response blew us away! With Thanksgiving right around the corner, we here at The Arc have been contemplating the same question and our resounding answer is YOU!

The Arc is incomplete without you and your dedication to our mission to ensure that those with intellectual and developmental disabilities live a fully inclusive life. You breathe life into our mission and together we will be successful.

From the board and staff of the National office of The Arc, please accept our sincere and deep appreciation of YOU and your ongoing support of our cause nationally, statewide and locally.

We could not have accomplished all that we did this year without you, so this holiday season we wanted to THANK YOU for your commitment, support and generosity to The Arc.

From all of us here at The Arc, we wish you a safe and happy Thanksgiving.

Case Dismissed: National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability Provides Critical Support to Bring Justice in Illinois

The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability (NCCJD) fields calls from all over the country regarding people with disabilities in the criminal justice system. From a first encounter with a police officer to their time behind bars, the horrors people with disabilities regularly face are shocking and appalling. All too often, it’s simply a blatant disregard for human rights that set off a chain of events that deny people with I/DD justice. And the fact that this continues to occur in 2014 is unacceptable. However, every so often, a case comes to our attention and events unfold in a way that looks a little bit more like “justice.”

Pathways to Justice - First Contact

A few months ago, an Illinois family contacted NCCJD to search for assistance. Their son, Jack1, who has intellectual and developmental disabilities, had been charged with felony assault at the group home he had recently moved into. After a verbal altercation between Jack and another resident, a third resident called the police. Jack was arrested and, in the process, struck a police officer who grabbed him by the hoodie from behind as he attempted to exit the situation. The officer threatened to taze him if he did not cooperate while they had Jack on the ground trying to handcuff him.

Pathways to Justice - Jail

Jack spent 24 hours in jail without support or access to his medication. His parents called and spoke to the supervisor of the Adult Detention Center to inform them of Jack’s needs. Jack’s parents were told that their son should be able to tell the nurse himself about his needs and pharmacy information. Jack was unable to do that, leaving him at risk and without access to his medications. Jack was read his Miranda rights without assistance and he did not understand what he was agreeing to. His parents were never called while he was jailed.

Jack was assigned a public defender the day he went to bond court. The judge initially put a large bond on Jack because he struck a police officer. However, the public defender argued for low-no bail because of Jack’s disability. The judge reduced bond from $30,000 to $10,000, after asking Jack’s parents if they could afford the $1,000 on a $10,000. Jack was out on bond when, as part of the legal process, his competency was evaluated and he was found unfit to stand trial. The state attorney refused to dismiss charges and the public defender was forced to send Jack for a sanity evaluation—which was completed by the same state appointed psychologist that earlier saw him for competency. Jack was found not sane at the time of the incident.

Pathways to Justice - Trial

These sets of circumstances are all too common for people with disabilities, and are a great injustice. Thankfully, Jack had a public defender that insisted upon a competency evaluation and a sanity evaluation. And Jack’s parents contacted NCCJD and The Arc of Illinois Life Span Program looking for resources. Jack’s mother found NCCJD through The Arc’s main webpage and used the “Request Assistance” form to e-mail NCCJD. Working together with family members, Jack’s service providers, The Arc of Illinois Life Span Program, and NCCJD, advocates were able to put together a personalized justice plan for Jack. The plan outlined resources and possible alternatives for assisting Jack in the community and the plan was supported by the Director of Illinois Department of Human Services, Division of Developmental Disabilities. The report was submitted to Jack’s public defender, who used the report to get the case dismissed. Because the public defender was able to demonstrate that Jack had appropriate services in the community and that there were additional supports being made available as needed, the case was dismissed.

Jack was arrested in mid-March of 2014 and the case was finally dismissed in mid-October. There were almost monthly hearings throughout the ordeal, causing a great amount of stress to everyone involved. When the case was finally dismissed, the family felt like Jack had been misunderstood by the legal system from the beginning. They believe the court did not understand the difference between mental illness and developmental disability, because the judge often spoke to Jack as though he had a normal IQ but was experiencing mental illness. The parents continually questioned the public defender as to whether the judge and state attorney were aware that Jack had a developmental disability. Despite all the shortcomings in this case, the public defender took the necessary steps to ensure dismissal of the case, and the Judge was open to reading the personalized justice plan and making a dismissal.

When asked how he felt when he was arrested, Jack said:

“My heart was racing 290 because I was in the back of a squad car, handcuffed.” [At the police station] “I pretty much felt like a nervous wreck.” [When I went to the Adult Detention Center] “I felt sick to my stomach because I was around people I didn’t know.” [A couple of days before court] “I felt scared and nervous.” [At court] “I felt scared I was going to jail.” [On the last day of court] “the judge calmly talked to me and explained what would happen the next time I got in trouble.” [When the court case was dismissed] “I was still edgy.” “I feel more calmly now” [that it is over.]

The family said of their experience:

“Although this experience was excruciatingly painful for us, there was a positive outcome. The experience has helped our family realize there is work to be done in this area to make sure this never happens to anyone else. We are on board with helping NCCJD and The Arc of Illinois in any way we can to get legislation changed and the first responders, courts, etc. trained in handling the I/DD population. This needs to happen in all communities across the U.S. with group homes. NCCJD is a great national center to dispense this information so that each state/community doesn’t have to keep reinventing the wheel, which would make this happen even faster! We would also like to thank Leigh Ann Davis and Kathryn Walker for their time and efforts. Leigh Ann took time out of a business trip to make contact with me to make sure information was being shared. This is what we need — go to people!!!”

Deb Fornoff, Director of The Arc of Illinois, Illinois Life Span Program said:

“The staff of The National Center on Criminal Justice and Developmental Disability provided support, information, and connection with experienced legal advocates who provided the information we needed to put together a Personal Justice Plan. This Plan was assembled with tremendous collaboration between this man’s family and their son’s service providers, and facilitated by the staff from Illinois Life Span. It provided much needed information to the court about this individual and the services and supports in place and available to him. The plan included details that were otherwise very difficult to address. Thank you, Leigh Ann Davis and Kathryn Walker for your time, your help, and your ongoing commitment to alleviating the injustice that currently exists for individuals with ID/DD in our legal system nationwide.”

NCCJD would not be the resource it is without the dedication of advocates like Deb and families like Jack’s. To anyone with a criminal justice and disability issue, please request assistance! For more information on Personalized Justice Plans, view NCCJD’s archived webinar.

To find a list of resources by state or submit a resource, please visit our state by state map.

1 Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

Fall Is Racing Season!

If you’re a runner or have any runner friends you might have heard them talk about fall being race season. To many runners, the crisp autumn weather is considered the “perfect” running weather and a lot of people head out to local parks, community centers, etc. to take part in the fun of running a race – whether it’s a 5k (3.1 miles) or a marathon.

CDC’s Vital Signs earlier this year sent out shocking statistics that half of all adults with disabilities get no aerobic exercise at all and are three times more likely to have heart disease, stroke and diabetes. For those that are able, running/walking is a great way to get in daily exercise without having to have a special place to go or expensive equipment to use. The only real equipment that is needed is proper shoes and comfortable workout clothing.

While running may be hard for some to start off with walking can actually provide many of the same health benefits as running without all the impact that running endures on the body. Running and walking are both great cardiovascular activities that help to build muscle and endurance, make your heart stronger, and help relieve high blood pressure. They also burn calories which aid in weight loss and reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes.

While running/walking is a very individualized sport that you don’t need anyone else to do it with, it can actually be a very social activity as well. A walking club is a great way to stay active and socialize with friends at the same time. All over the country are runs and walks of various distances that anyone can take part in, regardless of if they have an intellectual disability or not. Now-a-days more and more races are taking the initiative to specifically reach out to individuals with intellectual disabilities to be a part of the action. Girls on the Run (GOTR) is a 12 week running program for girls ranging from 3rd to 8th grade with the goal of finishing a sponsored 5k race at the end of the program. GOTR in Columbia has reached out to The Arc of Midlands to work with them to recruit individuals to join in one of their upcoming races. The Spartan Race is an off-road race combined with different obstacles throughout the course and has grown significantly more popular in past years. The Spartan Race has recently modified their course in certain locations to develop a Special Needs Obstacle Course so that individuals with intellectual disabilities can participate as well.

Completing a race is more than just doing the miles. In addition to the many physical benefits from running or walking there is also a great sense of accomplishment and pride that comes from crossing the finish line filled with the support of spectators cheering you on. It helps to boost overall self-esteem and mood, which is what draws many people back to do another race. Many races give out shirts and some even give medals to everyone who finishes, which is a great bonus to all the hard work and training that has been accomplished.

A popular fun race to do every year is a Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving Day morning. It’s a great way to get the entire family and friends out to be active and do an activity that includes individuals of all ages and fitness levels. It’s also a great way to burn some calories before that big turkey dinner later in the day! So this fall think about joining a running/walking group in your community or start one with friends and family to help increase your fitness level. To find local races in your area, check out the race calendar. Learn more ways to stay healthy and active by checking out The Arc’s HealthMeet page.

New Congress: Opportunities for New Champions

The midterm elections are over and many wonder how they will impact the disability community in the 114th Congress. And with all of the 24/7 news coverage, it can be hard to know what really matters for us. Here is a quick synopsis to make it easier:

  • Republicans gained control of the Senate and further strengthened their majority in the House. However, they will need to work with Democrats to pass legislation which the President will sign for it to become law in the next two years.
  • Party majorities are really important, mostly because they determine control of the Congressional agenda and calendar and the Committees where most of the work gets done.
  • The three committees in the Senate that are most important to people with I/DD are the Appropriations Committee, the Finance Committee and the Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee. The Appropriations Committee determines funding for federal agencies and most discretionary programs. The Finance Committee handles funding and program details for Social Security, Medicaid, and other entitlement programs. The HELP Committee handles most federal programs related to health, education, and employment.
  • The Committee chairpersons (from the majority party) determine a committee’s priorities based on their interests, sense of national needs, and political judgment.
  • Senators Richard Shelby (R-AL), Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN), are expected to become the next chairmen of the Appropriations, Finance, and HELP Committees, respectively. However, chairmanships won’t be finalized until early 2015.

Every election provides an opportunity for The Arc to make new friends in Congress. In the coming weeks and months, we will be engaging our vast network in reaching out to their new Members of Congress as well as those who continue to represent them. There are new faces and new dynamics in Congress, but our work remains the same.

Disability is a bipartisan issue and The Arc is a non-partisan organization. Disability affects all Americans in one way or another, sooner or later. We remember that landmark disability legislation like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) became law through the support of Republican and Democratic Members of Congress alike. The Arc’s grassroots and chapters will do what we have always done. We work hard to get to know our elected officials and what they care and know about. We let them know what we care and know about. Most importantly, we let them know why we care. We tell them about our children, brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles, neighbors, friends, etc. with I/DD. We let them know that we matter. We do this by paying attention to what they do and letting them know how we feel about it. We also do this by serving as a resource for them. If they try to do something that helps our community, we thank them.

The 114th Congress begins with the new year. We will need action at every level of The Arc to ensure that Members and staff are fully aware of the issues that are important to people with I/DD.