Students smile for the camera while sitting at a desk

Spotlight: Inclusion From the Start With The Arc Montgomery County

Photo: Ann Maas Photography

The Arc Montgomery County Karasik Family, Infant & Child Care Center, affectionately known as KFICCC, is a family-centered child care program. In every classroom, typically-developing children, children with developmental disabilities, and children with special health care needs play and learn together. The program has been a smash hit in the community, due in no small part to the thoughtful planning and implementation led by CEO Chrissy Shawver.

By modeling and teaching inclusion from the start, The Arc Montgomery County is ensuring that the next generation knows the value of inclusion and spreads love and acceptance in whatever path they take. In case you missed their presentation at this year’s National Convention, learn more about how they’ve built such a successful program below!

How did the program start?

The current KFICCC program was originally two separate programs. Karasik Child Care Center was for children ages 2-10 years old with and without disabilities. It was named after Monroe and Joan Karasik, very strong advocates for people with disabilities. Family, Infant & Child Care Center was for children ages 6 weeks to 5 years old who were medically-fragile, or who had complex medical conditions.   

In 2011, these programs merged, becoming KFICCC (Karasik Family, Infant & Child Care Center). KFICCC is the only fully-inclusive child care center in Maryland, where children with and without disabilities and special health care needs play, grow, learn and explore together in all classrooms. Approximately one-third of the children enrolled have identified disabilities; the remaining two-thirds are typically-developing.

What is your training and onboarding process like for new staff?

All KFICCC teachers have college degrees and all other KFICCC staff must hold a 90-hour child care certificate geared toward the ages of the children with whom they work. The Arc provides a comprehensive on-boarding and training process, which includes CPR, first aid, Maryland State Department of Education trainings, and other trainings specific to working with people who have disabilities. 

The most important quality for KFICCC staff is a really strong background in early childhood education. The child is a child first; any disability is simply part of the child. If you understand child development, you can work with all children by simply getting to know them and being willing to make accommodations to meet their individual learning styles and needs.

What about new children? How do you ensure the transition into the program is smooth and that everyone is set up to succeed?

KFICCC offers a seamless delivery of services, including therapies, special education, pre-kindergarten, and on-site nursing support. It’s all about coordination of care and giving parents an integrated support team.

New children come with their parents to meet with the staff and tour the building. During this visit, the child spends time in the identified classroom. Once a commitment is made, the child attends for his/her first week, spending progressively longer periods in the classroom. 

If the child has an IEP or IFSP, the staff will meet with the child’s team to learn how to best meet the child’s needs in the classroom. If the family is not yet linked to services, staff may recommend them to Child Find or Montgomery County Infants & Toddlers Program.

What should chapters who are trying to implement a similar program in their community know?

Operating KFICCC is expensive, primarily because child-staff ratios must be higher than what is required by licensing. Community partnerships are essential for success.  Staff must believe in inclusion and understand the benefits of having children with and without disabilities in the same classroom. When done right, it should be hard to tell who has a disability and who doesn’t—the program should feel very natural.

What has been the most challenging part of building the program, and how did you overcome it?

Adequate funding was and continues to be a challenge, especially when trying to keep the cost of child care affordable for families with lots of other financial pressures. It’s key to have someone who can write grants and connect with other funding sources because the program cannot run on tuition alone.

Another big challenge was breaking down barriers. Parents had many misconceptions about their typically-developing children “catching” disabilities or being held back because the attention was directed to children with special needs. The only way to overcome that was to demonstrate that it was untrue. Today, KFICCC’s greatest advocates are children without disabilities, because they just see their friends—not the disability.

Students pose for a photo wearing orange shirts
Photo: The Arc Montgomery County
The Arc logo

The Arc Supports Clemency for Brendan Dassey

October 24, 2019

The Honorable Governor Tony Evers
Office of the Governor
Attn: Pardon Advisory Board
PO Box 7863
Madison, WI 53707

Re: Clemency For Brendan Dassey

Dear Governor Evers:

As leaders and experts in the disability community in Wisconsin and nationally working to seek justice for those with I/DD who find themselves entangled in the criminal justice system, often without necessary accommodations or understanding of their disability, we write to urge you to grant the executive clemency petition of Brendan Dassey.

We have deep sympathy for the family and friends of the victim in this case, and we support appropriate punishment of all responsible parties. However, as Mr. Dassey’s attorneys explain in detail in his clemency petition, Mr. Dassey’s record is replete with evidence of intellectual and developmental disabilities and shows that he did not receive proper accommodations during the interrogation process, resulting in a coerced confession. He has now served nearly thirteen years in prison based solely on this unreliable confession.

Sadly, our prisons and jails hold too many people with disabilities, including I/DD, who are robbed of fair treatment within the justice system. Since Mr. Dassey was convicted, there has been significant growth of knowledge and understanding of how certain individuals, including those with I/DD, can be more susceptible to authority figures, coercion, and misleading tactics. Police officers, investigators, attorneys, correctional officers, and others are not adequately trained to identify people who may have I/DD or how to accommodate their needs, which is especially critical during interrogations. This lack of understanding and failure to provide accommodations all too frequently leads to tragic results, such as individuals giving incriminating statements or false confessions because the individual with I/DD is manipulated, coerced, misled, confused, or desires to please the questioner. As noted in Mr. Dassey’s petition, psychological testing performed at trial indicated that challenges related to his disabilities rendered him more susceptible to coercion than 95 percent of the population.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, incarcerated persons are at least three times as likely to report having a disability as the nonincarcerated population. Cognitive disabilities—such as Down syndrome, autism, dementia, intellectual disabilities, and learning disorders—are among the most commonly reported: Prison inmates are four times as likely and jail inmates more than six times as likely to report a cognitive disability than the general population. Specifically, people with I/DD make up 4-10 percent of the prison population, but only 1.5 percent in the general population. Some are incarcerated because, like Mr. Dassey, they were coerced into giving confessions and many do not receive the accommodations to which they are entitled, putting them at greater risk. Our prisons and jails hold too many Brendan Dasseys, too often forgotten, some not even recognized as being robbed of justice.

We do not seek to eliminate punishment of people with disabilities, but rather, to ensure that justice is served and the rights of all parties are protected. We are committed to seeking lawful outcomes for people with I/DD and will continue working to ensure that jurisdictions across the country provide the accommodations to which people with disabilities are entitled by law.

Mr. Dassey, and others with disabilities, have the right to justice and fair treatment in all areas of the criminal justice system and must be afforded the supports and accommodations required to make justice and fair treatment a reality. This did not happen in Mr. Dassey’s case and we call on you to consider this miscarriage of justice when reviewing Mr. Dassey’s executive clemency petition.

 

Respectfully,

Peter Berns
Chief Executive Officer 
The Arc of the United States

Lisa Pugh
State Director
The Arc Wisconsin

Maria Town
President and CEO
American Association of People with
Disabilities

Claudia Center
Senior Staff Attorney
Disability Rights Program
American Civil Liberties Union

Natalie M. Chin
Joe Rosenberg
Co-Directors
Disability & Aging Justice Center
City University of New York School of Law

Andrew J. Imparato
Executive Director
Association of University Centers on
Disabilities

Amy F. Robertson
Co-Executive Director
Martha M. Lafferty
Director of Accessibility Projects
Civil Rights Education and Enforcement
Center

Robert D. Dinerstein
Professor of Law and Director, Disability Rights Law Clinic
American University, Washington College of Law*
*For identification purposes only

Prianka Nair
Director
Sarah Lorr
Deputy Director
Disability and Civil Rights Clinic:
Advocating for Adults with Intellectual
and Developmental Disabilities
Brooklyn Law School

The Arc Partners With Advance Auto Parts for Hiring Initiative for People With Disabilities

In honor of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), The Arc is pleased to announce that it has partnered with Advance Auto Parts on a pilot program to create meaningful job opportunities for people with disabilities at Advance’s Distribution Centers. The program’s first pilot site is at Advance’s Distribution Center in Denver. The plan is to expand the pilot program to include Distribution Centers in other locations in the coming months.

Spearheaded by Advance’s “Different Abilities” Employee network and The Arc@Work, the project aims to build upon Advance’s current disability-inclusion initiatives and offers competitive, dynamic, and meaningful job opportunities to individuals with disabilities throughout Advance. This year’s theme for National Disability Employment Awareness Month is “The Right Talent, Right Now,” which calls upon employers around the country to address the persistent gaps in employment between people with and without disabilities. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the national unemployment rate for people with disabilities is twice that of people without disabilities (7.2% vs. 3.6%), a gap that has remained static for years. Advance and The Arc@Work are working together to not only narrow this gap, but also support Advance in realizing the value of hiring employees with disabilities.

“The Arc@Work is thrilled to kick-off this great initiative with Advance,” said Jonathan Lucus, Senior Director of Workforce Strategy at The Arc. “People with disabilities are proven to be reliable, loyal, and productive employees, but employment rates for these individuals remain critically low compared to those for jobseekers without disabilities. Research shows that hiring people with disabilities gives a competitive edge and is better for business. This partnership gives jobseekers with disabilities a chance to realize their potential and Advance an opportunity to discover how much hiring the individuals we serve will positively impact their business.”

This pilot program launched in Denver and will move to other markets in the coming months. For the project, The Arc@Work and Advance are working with disability services agencies to identify, train, and hire motivated and qualified job seekers with disabilities. The Arc@Work is also providing disability awareness training and accessibility consultations to enhance the Distribution Center’s ongoing disability inclusion efforts. The main objective of the project is to create a sustainable and scalable methodology for hiring people with disabilities that can be replicated at other Advance Auto Parts distribution centers and stores in Colorado and around the country. For questions on the project or on how to get involved, contact The Arc@Work.

Public Charge Amicus Brief

The Arc Applauds Federal Injunctions Against Public Charge Rule

Washington, D.C. – The Arc applauds a slew of decisions from Federal Courts in New York, Washington State, and California that grant preliminary injunctions against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) implementation of its discriminatory public charge rule. The injunctions block the rule that would have a dire impact on people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, that had been scheduled to take effect on Tuesday, October 15th. Two of the three decisions explicitly acknowledge the strength of the disability discrimination claims under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, noting that “there is a significant possibility that disabled applicants who currently reside in the Plaintiff States, or legal permanent residents who return to the U.S. after a 180-day period outside of the U.S., would be deemed inadmissible primarily on the basis of their disability.”

“These injunctions were necessary to recognize the rights of people with disabilities and their families. The courts recognize that the DHS regulations may violate federal and constitutional law and will cause irreversible harm to immigrant families in need of public benefits and services.

“The public charge rule blocked today would discourage immigrant families from utilizing critical public services out of fear of harming their immigration status. It discriminates against people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families, and others who use vital programs like Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, housing assistance, and other important benefits. The policy would have allowed the federal government to deny admission into the U.S. based on disability and unfairly restructure immigration in a way that is detrimental to people based on their disability,” said Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc.

In September, The Arc and seventeen national disability advocacy groups filed amicus briefs in support of three cases to block the Trump Administration from implementing the public charge rule. One of the decisions explicitly references our work, noting that “amici provide a compelling analysis of how the factors introduced by the Public Charge Rule disproportionately penalize disabled applicants…” We continue our efforts to ensure that non-citizens with any type of disability have a fair opportunity to enter and live legally in the U.S.

A woman in a scooter and a dog play on a grassy field in front of houses.

The Arc and Partners File Amicus Brief Challenging Discriminatory Actions of Dallas Housing Authority

This week, The Arc and other national and local disability and civil rights advocacy groups—represented by the law firm WilmerHale—filed an amicus brief before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in the case Community for Permanent Supported Housing et al v. Housing Authority of the City of Dallas. The brief provides background on the affordable housing crisis facing people with disabilities and explains that the promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act’s (ADA) “integration mandate” cannot be fully realized without affordable, independent housing opportunities in the community. The brief was joined by the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, The Arc of Texas, Disability Rights Advocates, the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, and the National Disability Rights Network.

The case, filed in federal district court in the Northern District of Texas in 2018, challenges the Housing Authority of the City of Dallas’s (DHA) refusal to use the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Project-Based Voucher (PBV) rent subsidy program to provide otherwise scarce affordable, independent housing opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) in the community. DHA was poised to offer such PBVs—each of which would permit a single-family house to be rented at subsidized rates to several people with I/DD who can live independently with appropriate supports—but then canceled its offering and has refused to offer any substitute, without any good reason. The lawsuit alleges that DHA’s actions violate the ADA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Fair Housing Act, and state law. The district court dismissed the case in April 2019 and Plaintiffs appealed to the Fifth Circuit. Plaintiffs are represented by Relman, Dane & Colfax PLLC, a Washington, D.C. based civil rights law firm, and Disability Rights Texas, a statewide protection and advocacy organization. The amicus brief supports Plaintiffs’ request to reverse the district court’s dismissal order and let the case move forward.

As the brief explains, in 1999, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Olmstead v. L.C. that “unjustified institutional isolation of persons with disabilities is a form of discrimination” under the ADA and, as such, the ADA requires public entities to administer programs “in the most integrated setting appropriate to the needs of qualified individuals with disabilities.” But this integration mandate cannot be fully realized without affordable housing opportunities in the community that enable people with I/DD to live outside their family homes. For many adults with I/DD currently living with family, opportunities that allow them to live in the community separate from their families are often preferable because these opportunities provide greater independence and autonomy. Additionally, living in the community separate from their families can be critical for adults with I/DD to avoid homelessness or institutionalization when a supporting family member inevitably ages and reaches a point where she or he can no longer provide shelter or support. Of the more than 100,000 people with I/DD living in North Texas, around 75% live with at least one family member into adulthood because of a shortage of affordable housing that would enable them to access community-based support services in homes apart from their families.

“Defendant DHA has publicly acknowledged that two-thirds of adults with I/DD in North Texas ‘may be at risk of institutionalization or homelessness’ due to a severe affordable housing crisis. These numbers are unacceptably high and represent a crisis that must be urgently addressed,” said Shira Wakschlag, Director of Legal Advocacy & Associate General Counsel for The Arc. “DHA’s actions violate numerous federal and state civil rights laws and harm Plaintiffs by unduly restricting opportunities for community-based housing that offer more independence and autonomy and puts individuals with I/DD in North Texas at risk of homelessness and institutionalization. Plaintiffs should have the opportunity to prove their allegations on an issue as critical as community-based, affordable housing opportunities for people with disabilities.”

“We are proud to represent a number of disability and civil rights advocacy organizations as amici on this important issue,” said Christa Laser, an attorney with the global law firm WilmerHale. “We hope that this amicus brief helps to advance the rights of people with disabilities by ensuring meaningful access to affordable housing opportunities in the community.”

man in hospital bed comforted by friend as doctor looks on

The Arc Rejects Proclamation Barring Immigrants Without Approved Health Insurance

The Arc is distressed by the Trump Administration’s repeated attacks on immigrants and people with disabilities who are seeking admission to the U.S. We have major concerns about the latest threat, President Trump’s harmful Proclamation, issued October 4, mandating that immigrants applying for visas to the U.S. prove that they will have approved health insurance 30 days after they are in the country or show that they have the ability to pay medical expenses.

The Proclamation means that people who are not “covered by approved health insurance” can’t come in to the country legally, based on the burden they supposedly place on taxpayers, and the strain on publicly funded programs. Medicaid and publicly funded programs are essential for many people with disabilities, and private insurance may not include the services people with significant disabilities typically need. Medicaid is the only insurer that covers many home and community-based services, including personal care services, specialized therapies, and treatment. These are services that support people with disabilities to live, work, and participate in their communities. This new standard from the White House is the latest note in a larger chorus of policies that would exclude immigrants based on their disabilities.

The new policy also does not include coverage under subsidized plans offered in the individual Affordable Care Act (ACA) health insurance market as “approved” insurance. Under the ACA, many people with disabilities now have access to quality, appropriate, comprehensive, affordable, portable, and non-discriminatory coverage and benefits through the exchanges. At the same time, the Proclamation does count “catastrophic” coverage and short-term limited duration policies as approved coverage, neither of which provides the services that a person with significant disabilities may need. 

“Once again, we are called to stand up for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) as contributing, valued, and respected members of their communities. The President’s recent Proclamation is unreasonable for people with I/DD and their families who are seeking to immigrate to the U.S. Immigration and naturalization policies and rules must recognize the humanity of all persons who wish to enter the U.S. and provide for humane and fair opportunities,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc. “In addition to creating more barriers for people with I/DD and their families, the Proclamation is yet another shameful action by the Administration to undermine the Affordable Care Act. Together, we must continue our work to protect the significant achievements of the ACA and its important provisions for people with disabilities and their families, and remain vigilant and active in protecting the human and civil rights of all people with I/DD.”

The Arc logo

The Arc Demands Charges Against Officer in Costco Shooting

The Arc is outraged by the decision not to file criminal charges against the Los Angeles police officer who shot and killed Kenneth French, a man reported to have had intellectual disability, at a California Costco store in June. Kenneth was nonverbal and also lived with mental health issues, according to his family.

While Officer Salvador Sanchez was holding his child, he was pushed or hit by Kenneth — who was unarmed. Sanchez used excessive force and recklessly ended the young man’s life, despite reported warnings and pleas by Kenneth’s family explaining that he had intellectual disability. Sanchez fired 10 shots, also critically wounding Kenneth’s parents.

“Officer Sanchez should face criminal charges. Based on the evidence made public, we are outraged by the grand jury’s recommendation. We are infuriated that Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin also declined to file charges. Both decisions raise serious concerns for the disability community and all communities disproportionately impacted by unwarranted police violence, a problem that has plagued our country far too long.

“The criminal justice system has failed the French family. At a minimum, charges should be filed and a full trial held. Let a judge or jury decide whether a crime has been committed after all the evidence is presented.

“Kenneth French and other people with disabilities have the right to be in the community, shopping with their family or doing any other ordinary activity, without a police officer shooting and killing them. Kenneth’s death is a senseless tragedy that magnifies the troubling divide between law enforcement and all people they are sworn to protect and serve,” said Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc.

The Arc makes it a priority to build strong, respectful relationships between the disability community, the criminal justice system, and law enforcement personnel across the country. Our National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability (NCCJD) trains attorneys, judges, law enforcement officers, and victim advocates nationwide through Pathways to Justice. We educate them on issues facing the disability community and how to safely and effectively interact with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, who are at least two times more likely to become victims of violent crimes.

“There is an urgent need for officer training, intentional relationship-building with people with disabilities and agencies that serve them, and the use of de-escalation techniques. The Arc will continue to follow the case closely, as LAPD investigates and Kenneth’s family pursues legal action,” said Berns.

Spotlight: Giving Schools and Students the Tools to Succeed With The Arc of Philadelphia

Joe-ManciniAlthough federal laws describe the services and supports available to students with disabilities, it is not always easy for students and parents to advocate on their own for appropriate educational services, so many families seek help from a special education advocate. Chapters of The Arc are well positioned to meet this need. Through advocacy, resources, and training, The Arc of Philadelphia is working hard to improve their local school system and ensure ALL students are set up to succeed. We spoke to the chapter’s Executive Director, Joe Mancini, about the work required to make this effort successful and how others can do the same.

Chapters of The Arc are well-positioned within their communities to make a difference in the education system. Tell us about the work The Arc of Philadelphia is doing in this area.

Our chapter provides educational advocacy for students in Early Intervention Programs through graduation. We serve approximately 80 families in a school year with support during the IEP process and provide countless others with resources. We also provide adult advocacy for individuals above the age of eighteen who are no longer enrolled in school.

Along with our Advocacy Services, The Arc of Philadelphia provides a variety of trainings to individuals, families, and providers on a several different topics. Self-advocacy, the IEP process, ABLE accounts, and tech coaching are some of the many trainings provided through The Arc. The Arc also works with the Philadelphia School district to hold a one-day conference on self-advocacy for transition age students in the district. This conference is free and provides a host of trainings on self-advocacy, technology, healthy living, money management, employment, healthy relationships, and secondary education.

The Arc has built a tech showroom that highlights technology to encourage transition age youth to consider independent living when transitioning from high school. We showcase the technology that would assist this age group to work towards independent living while teaching them the self-advocacy skills to get these goals implemented into their support plans.

How does a successful education advocate balance being a strong supporter to families while also building relationships with the school officials in systems they’re working to improve?

This is a very difficult task. An advocate has to manage achieving the best for the families and individuals we are serving while maintaining a relationship with a school that we will more often than not have to work with again. It starts with remaining professional and not allowing yourself to become emotional when working with all parties. We often see some very upsetting situations when advocating but keeping a steady hand and working professionally through the process will allow us to be seen as a partner and not a punishment to the schools. We must not be seen as biased and ensure that we are at the table to make sure our individuals voice is being heard and that the answers to the best supports do not lie just with the family or just with the school but with the entire team. Our goal as advocates is to work ourselves out of a job by transferring the needed skills to the people we serve. If we do that and allow the meetings to be run by the families, our relationship with the schools has a better chance to remain positive.

You recently completed The Arc@School’s advocacy curriculum training. How has it strengthened your work?

The breath of information we received in this training has increased all members of our team’s overall knowledge or the rights and responsibilities of everyone in the advocacy process. We have a variety of experience levels in our advocacy department and this training has increased the base knowledge of everyone on our team. All members of our team now feel better equipped to serve our families because of the increased knowledge this training brings.

What advice do you have for chapters interested in building a special education advocacy program? Where should they start?

Start with identifying the right members of your team. Finding a staff that has a balance of professional and personal experience is extremely important in building an advocacy team. Equally as important is having the right training for your team. Allowing an individual to shadow an experienced advocate for some time will greatly reduce the learning curve for such a difficult position. Trainings like The Arc’s Advocacy Curriculum will also act as a valuable support for anyone thinking of building an advocacy department at their chapter.

The Arc Commemorates National Disability Employment Awareness Month

Each October, The Arc joins the national disability community and public and private sector employers in celebrating National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). The campaign sheds light on critical issues in disability employment and promotes best practices in hiring employees with disabilities and creating inclusive workplaces.

This year’s theme “The Right Talent, Right Now” recognizes the contributions of people with disabilities to the workforce, and challenges employers looking to hire leading creative minds and top-tier talent to consider the disability community, one of the largest and least utilized labor markets. According to the US Department of Labor, the national unemployment rate for people with disabilities is roughly twice that of people without disabilities (7.2% vs. 3.6%), a gap which has remained static for years. Paradoxically, research shows hiring people with disabilities can significantly bolster productivity, boost creative thinking and problem-solving, and positively impact the bottom line.

In order to narrow this gap, The Arc@Work — The Arc’s national employment program — partners with employers nationwide to create meaningful and inclusive employment opportunities for people with disabilities. To date, they have placed over 1,000 individuals in gainful and competitive jobs in the community. The Arc@Work leads trainings and corporate education events to promote greater understanding of disability issues, enhance workplace inclusion and accessibility, and to share the positive outcomes of hiring people of different abilities.

“The most important element to an employer’s success at hiring people with disabilities is understanding the value and significance to their workforce,” said Jonathan Lucus, Senior Director of Workforce Initiatives at The Arc. “We work with our clients to look at the whole picture and realize that hiring jobseekers with disabilities isn’t just the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do. We are celebrating National Disability Employment Awareness Month by spreading this message far and wide so that jobseekers with disabilities in communities across the country can get a fair shot at meaningful employment.”