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Improving Recovery From Sexual Assault With Trauma-Informed Care

Pam and Veronica from The Arc of New Mexico sit together at a table, reviewing a brochure.In communities across the country, a silent epidemic plagues the disability community. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) are seven times more likely than the rest of the population to experience sexual violence. Despite this, understanding of how to effectively provide services for people with IDD remains elusive, and survivors often find themselves unable to get the help they need in their communities. Organizations across the country are working to tackle this problem through training, education, and trauma-informed care. The Arc of New Mexico is one such organization, where Chief Executive Officer Veronica Chavez-Neuman and program lead Pamela Stafford are providing victim advocacy services for survivors of sexual assault with IDD and helping build the capacity of their community to respond in an informed, effective, and sensitive way.

What kind of victim services do you provide? How are you making yourself known as a resource to victims with disabilities?

We provide support to access the justice/legal system. We provide support to improve disability informed medical and mental health supports and trauma-informed disability services. We have presented at various conferences and provider forums, posted information on social media, and have had articles written in The New Mexican newspaper. We have also presented at various case management agencies, provider agencies meetings, and community access locations.

What are the steps you take when you become aware that someone with IDD has experienced sexual assault? Who typically reports the incident to you, and does that affect your next steps for addressing it?

It’s difficult to talk about typical when each situation is individually unique. The safety of the individual is always a priority. We get referrals from sexual assault providers, from family members and from self-referrals. The victim /survivor is the decision maker about how they want to proceed and what help they need. We are finding that the services we provide are distinct from other victim advocacy agencies in terms of the variety of supports needed.

How do you train and recruit staff to ensure confidentiality and appropriate response when someone needs help?

In order to assure we have legal privilege in courts, each person who may provide victim advocacy is required to take at least 40 hours of victim advocacy training. This first year in particular has been a very heavy training year. We also contracted with an attorney specifically for this program to help review policies and internal procedures. In terms of recruitment, we debated whether experience with disability or experience with sexual assault was a priority. The person we selected had educational experience with marginalized populations and a strong sense of community justice.

How does this program help the broader criminal justice community (including law enforcement, legal professionals, and victim service agencies) better respond effectively in sexual assault cases? What are some challenges you have faced that other chapters may need to be aware of?

Amanda Thompson, our victim advocate, participates in several sexual assault response teams and a high-risk victims’ task force. Her participation has increased awareness of the IDD population in general. One surprising challenge is how distinct perceptions and even language is between sexual assault providers and disability communities. Even the word “advocacy” means very different things in the two groups. Another surprise was the reluctance of a high school to comply with Title IX regulations in a case within a special needs classroom. The breadth of knowledge to do this job well surprises us daily.

What advice do you have for other chapters looking to build their own technical assistance and referral program for victims of sexual assault? How they can secure funding and build a successful program? 

The primary thing I would do differently is begin with two victim advocates instead of one to build a greater support team due to the emotional toll of the position. I also wish we had spent more time getting to know the players and politics of the sexual assault victim advocacy world in New Mexico prior to implementing the work. Our program is funded with state appropriations from the crime victims reparation commission but there is federal funding as well.

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Bringing Positivity and Inclusion to the Table: Sodexo’s Disability Hiring Program

Kevin’s Story

Kevin stands smiling in front of a black chalk wall with drawings on it, wearing his employee name tag, an apron, and a hat. Kevin will be the first to tell you that he is a people person — and it is easy to see why. His sense of humor, high energy, and positivity are hard to miss in National Geographic’s Food Court, where he works both in the front and the back of the house to ensure that the center’s employees are well taken care of during their lunch breaks.

“I love my job. I especially like speaking with our customers and making sure that they have what they need to be happy. My job is to make the customers happy and I take pride in that.”

Kevin is one of several employees with disabilities who were hired this year at Sodexo’s site at the National Geographic’s headquarters in downtown Washington, DC through a partnership between Sodexo and The Arc of the United States. Laura Monto, General Manager of Sodexo’s site at National Geographic, was inspired to create the internship program from the personal experience of being an aunt of a young man with autism. “Knowing how sharp, caring and eager to learn my nephew is, I wanted to provide people with disabilities with the opportunity to learn valuable professional skills and be part of an inclusive team of hardworking and dedicated individuals,” said Monto.

The Arc and Sodexo’s Long-Standing Collaboration on Disability-Inclusive Hiring

The Arc and Sodexo started a similar joint-disability hiring initiative in 2017 at a site in Philadelphia. The site’s General Manager, Dolores Abbonizio, has worked for Sodexo for three decades and has more than 20 years of experience in successfully hiring people with disabilities. More than just creating job opportunities for people with disabilities, Abbonizio believes that creating this program has positively impacted the lives of her employees without disabilities, a positive feeling which is also felt by guests and senior leadership alike. Abbonizio said that her site’s success at hiring and retaining employees with disabilities comes from her entire team’s buy-in to creating an inclusive working and learning environment. “There are certain things that need to happen and systems that need to be in place in order to create a disability-inclusive workplace, but it begins with the whole team’s commitment to making sure that all of our employees feel welcome and are set up to succeed,” said Abbonizio.

Managing a disability-inclusive workplace does have some challenges, but Laura Monto points out that these are no different than managing any other sites she has worked at in the past. “Whether an employee has a disability or not, there is always a learning curve and every individual has a unique work style and personality,” said Monto, “The key to creating a truly inclusive environment is to provide the right supports to your employees to create equity, while ensuring that you treat them all equally and with respect,” Similarly, Dolores Abbonizio said that understanding an individual’s skill set and career goals is critically important to setting them up for success in the workplace. “When you’re working with a new hire, regardless of their abilities, it is important to make sure that their skillsets are matched to the tasks and responsibilities given to them so that they can succeed, create positive momentum and grow,” said Abbonizio.

Bringing Disability-Inclusion to Scale at Sodexo

Back at Sodexo in DC, Kevin is now an integral part of Sodexo’s team at National Geographic and continues to improve his performance and gain autonomy. Aside from what he brings to the table professionally; Kevin’s positive attitude and energy is felt throughout his workplace. Kevin’s success at Sodexo is the result of his hard work, but also of the enabling and inclusive environment that Laura Monto and her team have created. The Arc and Sodexo plan to take the lessons learned from its local successes in Washington, DC and Philadelphia and work with other sites in Sodexo’s national network to bring disability-inclusion to scale at Sodexo. “[Hiring people with disabilities] has always been a positive experience,” said Abbonizio.

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

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

Caitie Jones, Alaska

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

Cameron Kell, Missouri

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

Karen McDowell Downer, Tennessee

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

Kim Keprios, Minnesota

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

Mary Valachovic, Massachusetts

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

Nayma Guerrero, California

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

Rachel Hafner, North Dakota

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

Sandra Tucker, Colorado

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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