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The Workplace in 2020: How Employers Can Support Jobseekers With Disabilities

This is the second of a two-part series that The Arc@Work will publish this month to speak on the new and emerging challenges faced by workers with IDD and how employers, disability services agencies, and individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) can work together on creating solutions that create inclusion and workplace equity.

In the first part of this blog series, we discussed how hard the disability labor force has been hit by the pandemic and the various barriers that now face these individuals as they look for work. At the same time, the fact that many companies have had to either temporarily or permanently cut staff as a result of COVID-19, which means that employers will be hiring as the economy begins its slow climb back up to its pre-pandemic levels. Now is the perfect time for employers to assess where they stand in their disability inclusive culture and recruiting strategies. Below is a list of considerations and strategies that employers can consider to mainstream disability-inclusion in rebuilding their staff.

Make your online job application accessible. One of the first barriers that many job candidates encounter in the process is an inaccessible online job application process. Web accessibility is a growing field and there are now several resources for web developers to use to learn how to develop accessible job descriptions and webpages and test their accessibility after the fact. Accessible job descriptions are screen reader compatible, are in plain language and use the The World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1.

Cut out limiting language from your job description. Are all the stated job functions essential to performing the job?Have you ever put a physical requirement on a job, like being “able to lift 40 lbs repeatedly” or “needs to be able to stand for long periods of time”, but neither were actual requirements for the job? While these functions are sometimes included in boilerplate or standard job description language, these are also very real barriers for some applicants with disabilities. You must take a moment to identify and separate out the essential functions of the job from the non-essential functions of the job prior to beginning your recruiting efforts. You will then better be able to convey which parts of the job are actual versus desired skills and capabilities. Your business may be missing out on top talent by using standardized job description language that doesn’t actually apply to the position in question. Make sure that your job descriptions do not use limiting language or include physical “requirements” that are not appropriate for the job.

In the same vein, it is also important not to list having a valid driver’s license as a job requirement if driving is not an essential part of the job. Some individuals with disabilities are either unable to drive or do not have a valid driver’s license and either take public transportation to work or are driven by a family member or caregiver. It is important not to limit individuals by listing this as a requirement unless driving is an absolutely necessary part of the job.

Your job description should also state that individuals with disabilities are encouraged to apply and reasonable accommodations will be provided. This will not only be reassuring for prospective applicants with disabilities, but using these terms in your job description will also help your job application show up among the top results in a search on popular job boards like Indeed or Idealist.  

Ensure that your interview process is equitable and accessible to people of all abilities and communication styles. Many recruiters and HR professionals subscribe to a standardized approach to recruiting and interviewing job candidates for open positions. For hourly positions, this may take the form of an initial phone screen interview followed by an in-person or virtual interview. The phone interview is where many people who communicate differently, have a processing delay or a cognitive disability, or are deaf or hard of hearing may encounter barriers. Interviewers who take dozens of phone screening calls a day may get the impression that a person who speaks or communicates differently may be doing so out of disinterest in the job. This, in turn, can cost a candidate with a disability a fair shot at employment. One of the small ways to accommodate job candidates with disabilities is by offering alternative formats for interviews. Recruiters can offer a phone screen as a default option but also offer to either connect via a teleconferencing platform or an in-person interview based on an individual’s preferences and strengths.

Be intentional about recruiting individuals with disabilities. It is important for employers to remember that maintaining a diverse workforce creates competitive advantages and positively impacts the bottom line in the long-term. This is especially true for new or reopening businesses: committing to inclusive hiring from the outset and establishing your brand as an inclusive employer in your community will boost your brand among your target consumers. In order to reach and provide a bridge for job seekers with disabilities, recruiters should seek out the support of local disability service agencies to identify and recruit qualified job seekers. Partnering with these agencies can also inform an employer’s approach to making sure that new hires abide by OSSHA COVID-10 safety protocols at work.

Follow local government and OSHA guidelines for safety but allow for flexibility. It’s critically important that all employees feel safe enough to return to work. Employers should continue to follow the work safety guidelines provided by OSHA and the CDC as they reopen to guarantee employee well-being.

It is also important to ensure that employees are able to meet those standards and are not adversely impacted (such as individuals with sensory difficulties, individuals who have social awareness difficulties, and others). Speak to your employees that may have issues meeting these safety requirements and think creatively on alternatives to these protocols that better suit people with disabilities. For example: if an individual has trouble wearing standard issued masks with thick fabric, help them find an alternative mask that better suits their needs. If an employee has trouble with social distancing, place them in a role that requires less customer interface.

Make remote work a standard option—even after COVID stay-at-home restrictions are lifted. One of the few positives that have emerged from the pandemic is popularization of remote work as an alternative to in-person work. Numerous articles have emerged since the pandemic began on how remote work has become a boon for workers with disabilities because of the absence of commuting (primary barrier) and the built-in accommodations in the individual’s home.

There is a case of a tech company that has at least two hundred individuals with autism on staff whose CEO has said that remote work has actually improved productivity and communication among staff. The remote work option, though, is only available to individuals whose job requirements can be met via remote work. Not all individuals have this opportunity.

Staying connected and encouraging the feedback loop. Another key success that has emerged from an increasingly remote workforce has been the emergence of alternative modes of communication that employees and managers can use to stay connected. Watercooler conversations have been replaced with tools like Slack, which have been traditionally used in the tech industry. In-person meetings are now taking place over Zoom, Webex, or Microsoft Teams—the latter of which has built-in accessibility features such as AI generated live captioning. Training is key for everyone to access these platforms.

Improve digital accessibility. While remote work is a great accommodation, it is also important to guarantee access and participation of employees with disabilities in the company’s virtual spaces and meetings. Employers should make sure that virtual meetings are accessible (closed captions, ASL interpreters, recording meetings when possible, providing written materials before meetings and summaries after, etc.) and should invest in making shared documents and spaces accessible as well.

The Arc@Work works with public and private sector companies to either create disability-inclusive hiring programs or build upon existing initiatives. Through our work, we’ve placed more than 1000 individuals with disabilities into jobs at a 97% retention rate. We’ve also supported more than 500 businesses become more disability-inclusive. Wherever your company might be in your disability inclusion journey, we’re here to help. Contact us to set up a free consultation now.

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The Arc Deeply Troubled by U.S. Supreme Court Voting Rights Decision

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Arc is deeply troubled by the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Merrill v. People First of Alabama, effectively banning curbside voting in Alabama, a critical accommodation to ensure the health and safety of voters with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of voters with underlying health issues who were concerned about the health risks of in-person voting during COVID-19. Nearly 1.6 million people—almost half of the state’s electorate—are high-risk individuals who are more susceptible to death or serious illness from COVID-19 and are protected as individuals with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). People First of Alabama—a group of people with developmental disabilities dedicated to self-determination and autonomy—served as an organizational plaintiff in the lawsuit to fight for the rights of people with disabilities in Alabama to receive the accommodations they need to access the polls.

“The Supreme Court’s decision endangers and disenfranchises voters with disabilities in Alabama who are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 and experiencing life-threatening complications and death from the virus,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc. “The Arc has been a leader in fighting for the rights of people with disabilities during this pandemic and has long advocated for necessary accommodations that enable many with intellectual and developmental disabilities to exercise their right to vote—a right which has all too often been denied. We are deeply disappointed the Court would deny the option for such an important accommodation days before Election Day, and without legal explanation, thereby depriving more than one million people with disabilities in Alabama of equal access to the polls.”

Because of the risks it poses during the pandemic, Alabama’s in-person voting program is essentially inaccessible to voters with disabilities who face a heightened risk from COVID-19. Curbside voting allows voters to receive and return ballots from inside their vehicles, enabling them to avoid crowds of other voters and limit contact with poll workers, thereby limiting their exposure to the virus. This accommodation is especially critical during COVID-19, but it has also been a widespread practice in nearly thirty states and encouraged by the U.S. Department of Justice even before the pandemic as a reasonable accommodation for voters with disabilities who face a variety of barriers accessing polling places. While Alabama has an absentee voting program, the ADA still requires states to make in-person voting accessible to people with disabilities. Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Election Assistance Commission have recommended curbside voting as a safer alternative to traditional in-person voting during COVID-19.

The right to vote is fundamental. People with IDD have the right to participate in our democracy, though this right has all too often been denied. It shouldn’t have to come at serious risk to a person’s health or life. In her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted that “absentee and in-person voting are different benefits, and voters with disabilities are entitled to equal access to both” and quoted plaintiff Howard Porter, Jr., a Black man in his seventies with asthma and Parkinson’s, who told the district court: “‘[S]o many of my [ancestors] even died to vote. And while I don’t mind dying to vote, I think we’re past that – we’re past that time.’”

Ensuring voting independence, accuracy, and access are key issues for The Arc. Too many polling places and voting technology and practices throughout the country remain inaccessible and disenfranchise voters. To access resources for voters with disabilities during this election season, please visit our Voting page.

The Arc advocates for and serves people wit­­h intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), including Down syndrome, autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, cerebral palsy and other diagnoses. The Arc has a network of over 600 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with IDD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes and without regard to diagnosis.

Editor’s Note: The Arc is not an acronym; always refer to us as The Arc, not The ARC and never ARC. The Arc should be considered as a title or a phrase.

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The Arc Recognizes Comcast NBCUniversal With the 2020 Catalyst Award

The Arc today announced it will honor long-standing partner Comcast NBCUniversal as the recipient of its 2020 Catalyst Award for their collaborative efforts to provide people with disabilities increased access to technology and more independence. The award recognizes businesses, individuals, and other organizations that have made extraordinary contributions toward greater social inclusion and the advancement of the human and civil rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).

“We are thrilled to award Comcast NBCUniversal with one of The Arc’s greatest honors. The Catalyst Award recognizes Comcast NBCUniversal’s commitment to people with IDD through its efforts in technology, services, and public awareness. In 2020, people with disabilities face unprecedented challenges, amidst a global pandemic. Comcast NBCUniversal continues to step up as an ally and outstanding corporate leader in accessibility, and a champion of inclusion of people with disabilities,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

The 2020 Catalyst Award recognizes Comcast NBCUniversal’s expansion of internet access before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, and its advances in accessibility such as voice-activated remote control, X1 eye control, and the company’s dedicated services center for customers with disabilities.

“It’s a fact that people with disabilities are less likely to have access to the internet and the technology necessary to lead more independent lives. It is our belief that everyone should have access to affordable internet, relevant assistive technology and the appropriate digital skills training.  We are honored to both partner and be recognized by The Arc for our collective efforts,” said Dalila Wilson-Scott, Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer of Comcast Corporation.

In recent months, as the nation was abruptly shifting into stay-at-home orders and virtual connection became paramount in the pandemic, Comcast NBCUniversal acted quickly to expand the Internet Essentials high speed internet adoption program for low-income households, with 60-day free service offers to new customers and increasing internet speeds for all subscribers. They are working directly with school districts across the country to help connect families to the internet and provide access to devices for virtual learning. The company’s commitment builds upon their largest-ever expansion of Internet Essentials in 2019, when the eligibility was broadened to all qualified low-income households including those with people with disabilities. And their ongoing efforts to innovate and respond to their customers have resulted in tech advances that meet the needs of people with disabilities, and customer support in American Sign Language.

This year, Comcast NBCUniversal has also made important contributions in raising public awareness of the negative impacts the pandemic is having on people with IDD by including meaningful coverage of key issues on TODAY, MSNBC Live with Craig Melvin, and the NBC News digital platform.

The Comcast NBCUniversal Foundation has also provided flexible funding to community partners including The Arc so we could support immediate needs in our chapter network. Throughout our partnership, Comcast NBCUniversal’s continued and generous support of The Arc’s Tech Coaching Centers to expand digital technology opportunities for people with IDD has changed lives and opened doors for people with IDD. The company has a deep and meaningful commitment to advancing digital equity for people with disabilities, and that encompasses support of other disability organizations such as Easterseals and the American Association of People with Disabilities.

Comcast NBCUniversal is the sole recipient of The Catalyst Award this year.

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The Affordable Care Act: What’s at Risk?

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) made significant progress in expanding access to health care for individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (IDD). Access to consistent and reliable healthcare is critical for individuals with IDD, and the ACA created much-needed reforms to health insurance, addressed systemic discrimination, and expanded coverage. Yet it will all be at risk on November 10 when the U.S. Supreme Court hears a case seeking to overturn the law. Leading up to the ACA’s day in court, here is a primer on what the ACA does for people with IDD, and what’s at stake if the law goes away.

The ACA:

  • Helps people get health insurance
  • Requires that plans can’t exclude you or charge you more based on preexisting conditions
  • Bans benefits caps (annual and lifetime caps)
  • Requires all plans to cover “essential benefits”
  • Provides financial assistance for low-income people to access healthcare 

Loss of Health Coverage: Without the ACA, millions of adults and children may lose their health coverage, or it may become unaffordable. Millions of families may be left with limited and expensive options, with inadequate coverage. 

Pre-existing Conditions: We are concerned about the possible loss of protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions, including people with IDD. Millions of Americans have “pre-existing” medical conditions that could disqualify them from buying a health insurance policy if the ACA is dismantled. A “pre-existing condition” is any health problem a person has before new health coverage starts. It includes a broad range of common conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, or seizure disorders, including all types of disabilities. 

Without the protections of the ACA, any “pre-existing condition” could mean a person or family buying insurance would pay much more for a policy, if they could get one at all. Before the ACA, an insurer could outright deny people coverage for a specific pre-existing condition, charge them more, cancel a policy after the fact for utilizing needed health care, or deny health insurance coverage overall. Without the ACA, employers could drop coverage for any or all of the conditions they are now required to cover. The Trump Administration publicly committed to “protecting individuals with pre-existing conditions” but there are no specifics on how this would be accomplished.  

COVID Connection: Some of the millions of Americans infected by COVID-19 will have long-term health conditions that are “pre-existing conditions.” This new reality could make it challenging to find health insurance.  And millions of Americans are now also without jobs and without employer-provided health insurance, so the need for affordable care is even greater.

Lifetime and Annual Limits: Before the ACA, lifetime and annual caps were permitted. Even with insurance, this meant enormous out-of-pocket costs or losing your insurance if medical bills cost more than the capped amount. Individuals and families face going without needed treatment or bankruptcy when the caps are exceeded.

Essential Benefits: Before the ACA’s passage, many plans did not cover important services, like maternity care or mental health treatment. The ACA requires all plans to cover 10 “essential health benefits,” including rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices that are vital to people with IDD.

Preventive Care: If we lose the ACA, we also lose preventive care with no out-of-pocket cost. This means adults and children would no longer be able to access important services including immunizations, preventive screenings, well baby and well child visits without cost-sharing. Fewer people may get preventive exams to catch medical issues before they became serious or life-threatening (and more difficult and expensive to treat).

Expanded Coverage for Children until age 26: Prior to the ACA, many health plans removed adult children from their parents’ coverage, regardless of whether they were a student or lived at home with their parents. Under the ACA, plans that offer coverage for children must cover them until they turn 26. It’s been an important coverage expansion for millions of young adult children who have been able to stay on their family health insurance plan.

Affordability Provisions and Loss of Federal Subsidies: The ACA allowed states to extend their Medicaid programs to childless adults earning up to 138% of the federal poverty level. This change has provided coverage to millions of people, including individuals with IDD and other disabilities who were not otherwise eligible for Medicaid. If we lose the ACA, States would be forced to cover the 90% of the cost of the Medicaid expansion that the federal government currently pays, which may be all but impossible in the current economic situation. We may also lose refundable tax credits and cost-sharing assistance that helps reduce the burden on lower-income individuals and families.

Long Term Supports and Services: Several provisions of the ACA were designed to assist states to rebalance their long termsupports systems and invest in the community instead of costly and outdated institutions. States who expanded these options could face a devastating blow if the ACA is struck down. For example, with Community First Choice or 1915(k), 392,7000 individuals in 8 states (California, Connecticut, Maryland, Montana, New York, Oregon, Texas and Washington) would lose services totaling $8.7 billion per year. With respect to the State Plan Home and Community-Based Services Option or 1915(i), 81,000 individuals in 10 states and DC (California, Connecticut, Delaware, DC, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, Nevada, Ohio, Texas) would lose services totaling $641 million per year.  This change would hurt people with IDD and curtail their opportunity for a full life in their community.

Protecting Civil Rights in Health Care: The ACA also includes the fundamentally important Section 1557 nondiscrimination provision, that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability (and other protected categories) in health programs and activities.

Impacts on the Health Care System: Overall, a court decision that strikes down the ACA (or important parts of it) could have a broad, harmful impact on the health care system, especially during a pandemic when resources and staff are already strained. It would also increase uncompensated-care costs for hospitals. Health care systems and hospitals that serve disproportionately high numbers of low-income people will be the most at risk, and could be forced to cut services.

A mother, father, and their two adult children stand smiling with their arms around each other in front of trees,

Care During COVID-19: An “Essential” Working Family’s Story

By Sethany Griffin

A mother, father, and their two adult children stand smiling with their arms around each other in front of trees,

I am a member of The Arc and both a provider for adults and children with disabilities and a mother of an adult with autism and an intellectual delay. My son Karl is 19, and he typically attends an adult transition program five days a week where he learns vocational skills in the hopes of someday finding him a paying job. He also focuses on social interactions, self-advocacy, problem solving, self-care skills and strength building through physical therapy. 

My son’s transition program, like so many others, closed temporarily and without notice in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic. Like many families, we were left scrambling to ensure his needs were being met and that he wasn’t left alone, grappling with the unknown timetable of when things would be back to normal.

I work as the Director of Family supports for a large non-profit agency for families like myself, with children and adult family members with disabilities. My husband, Dana, had just started a new job and was not yet eligible for leave time. Our older son DJ, who is also Karl’s co-guardian, works as a direct service professional at a day program for the same non-profit as I do. All three of us are considered “essential workers.” We are also the only people who can effectively support Karl at home.

It has been—and continues to be—a huge struggle trying to juggle the work schedules of three “essential” adults while ensuring someone is staying with my son who can both understand and meet his needs. Karl is a wonderful young man. He loves all things Marvel and can tell you anything you ever wanted to know about Marvel heroes and the TV show “Supernatural.” He likes to ride his adult tricycle around the neighborhood and swim, and he wants to make money to buy all the Marvel Legends action figures in existence. When he is anxious, which is almost always, he knits his brows and rocks in place. For the unfamiliar onlooker, he can appear terrifying. He is also 6’6 and 330 pounds and can become aggressive when he is frustrated or scared. This isn’t something that just anyone could handle.
Ultimately, we decided that DJ would take an unpaid leave of absence to care for his brother. DJ is still living with us, so we covered his rent and paid for his food. But, going without a paycheck meant that he was no longer able to purchase non-essentials or save any money. By covering his bills, we have made our family financial situation even more precarious.

It is unfair to all of us that he had to make this sacrifice, but we weren’t left with any other choices.

Now that our state has started to re-open, we find the struggle even harder. All four of us are in one form or another back to work. When Karl returned to his program, he did it in a hybrid fashion, He doesn’t do well with “remote teaching” so those times were essentially useless and required a full-time caregiver. I am lucky enough to be able to work some hours from home, and my husband has started earning his paid time off. We are making it work, but this isn’t what “vacation time” was supposed to be used for. Right now, if Karl were to spike a fever for any reason, he would be required to stay home for two weeks. I don’t know what we are going to do when that happens, but we are a strong and resilient family, so we will continue to brainstorm and try to find viable solutions.

For people with disabilities and their families, it is so important that paid leave policies include all caregivers—not just parents. Siblings, cousins, Godparents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents have all stepped in and tried to help us. Paid leave for all caregivers would remove so much pressure from families who are already struggling with the expenses of caring for an individual with additional emotional and healthcare needs. A paid leave option for all caregivers is long overdue.

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The Arc Reviews Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s Record on Issues Impacting People With Disabilities: What Is at Stake

By Shira Wakschlag, Senior Director, Legal Advocacy & General Counsel

On September 26, President Donald Trump announced his nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court following the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Judge Barrett’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee began today. The Arc is not taking a position on Judge Barrett’s nomination. As the confirmation process for this lifetime appointment unfolds, here we provide an overview of Judge Barrett’s disability and civil rights record to ensure our members and constituents in the disability community are fully informed about issues that impact people with disabilities.  

Judge Barrett was nominated by President Trump to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals on May 8, 2017 and confirmed by the Senate on October 31, 2017. Prior to her appointment to the Seventh Circuit, she was a professor at Notre Dame Law School and a judicial clerk for Justice Antonin Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court. Given her relatively short time on the bench, this overview includes sources such as law review articles and public speeches, in addition to key opinions from her judicial record. 

Health Care

Background: The Arc has long fought for the rights of people with disabilities to have timely access to high quality, comprehensive, accessible, affordable health care that meets their individual needs, maximizes health, well-being and function, increases independence and community participation, and is aligned with principles of non-discrimination and equity. Through its public policy and legal advocacy work, The Arc has vigorously advocated for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as essential for people with disabilities in providing affordable and necessary health care, Medicaid expansion, and protections for pre-existing conditions and against discrimination. The ACA also protects against lifetime coverage limits, guarantees coverage of services for mental health and developmental disabilities, and provides access to long-term home-based health care, allowing people with disabilities to live in the community, rather than institutions. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated healthcare disparities and underscored the critical importance of the ACA given the millions of newly unemployed Americans who would not otherwise be able to afford health insurance, the increase in disabilities and long-term healthcare needs resulting from COVID-19, and the possibility of discriminatory medical rationing prohibited by the ACA.

Judge Barret’s Record: Though Judge Barrett has not ruled in a case involving the ACA, she has been a vocal opponent of the law in a number of public forums. In a Notre Dame law review article discussing various approaches to judicial interpretation of statutes, Judge Barrett criticized the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2012 NFIB v. Sebelius decision upholding the ACA, writing that Chief Justice John Roberts had “pushed the Affordable Care Act beyond its plausible meaning to save the statute. He construed the penalty imposed on those without health insurance as a tax…had he treated the payment as the statute did—as a penalty—he would have had to invalidate the statute as lying beyond Congress’s commerce power.”

In 2015, in King v. Burwell,the U.S. Supreme Court again upheld the ACA, with Chief Justice Roberts writing the majority opinion and noting: “Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them.” Justice Scalia dissented based on his interpretation of the law to prohibit subsidies in states with federal exchanges. Judge Barrett supported Justice Scalia’s interpretation in an interview on public radio. On November 10, the Court will hear oral arguments for California v. Texas, a case in which the constitutionality of the ACA has been challenged, threatening the law’s overall validity. Given Judge Barrett’s previous remarks on ACA-related cases and the shifting makeup of the court, the future of the ACA is under great threat, putting the health care of millions with disabilities in jeopardy.

Federal Disability and Civil Rights Laws

Background: The history of living with a disability in the U.S. has largely been one of discrimination, segregation, and exclusion from education, work, housing, and routine daily activities. Over its 70 year history, The Arc has been instrumental in the enactment of federal disability civil rights laws—including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act—which have helped society make great strides in protecting the civil rights of people with disabilities. The Arc has fought vigorously against a variety of attempts to narrow the scope of these protections. A robust interpretation and enforcement of federal disability and other civil rights laws is critical to ensuring the right of people with disabilities to live, work, learn, and play in the community, free from discrimination.

Judge Barrett’s Record: In 2019, Judge Barrett joined a decision out of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upholding the state of Wisconsin’s open-enrollment program allowing public school students to apply to transfer from their resident school district to a nonresident district with available space. Plaintiffs—parents of students with disabilities who were denied transfers based on their special education needs—challenged the program as discriminatory.  The program allows districts to distinguish between “regular education and special education spaces” and nonresident districts can deny a student’s transfer application if the district lacks the services or space necessary to meet their disability-related needs.

The court found for the state, holding that: “Differential treatment of special-needs students doesn’t make the program unlawful. Federal law ‘forbids discrimination based on stereotypes about a handicap, but it does not forbid decisions based on the actual attributes of the handicap.’ The program makes decisions based on the actual needs of disabled students, so it complies with federal law.” The ADA was enacted to provide a “clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities.” The court’s interpretation that the law is narrowly limited to protecting against “stereotypes” rather than discrimination based on the actual needs of people with disabilities is deeply concerning and inconsistent with the purpose of the statute.

More broadly, outside of the disability realm, Judge Barrett has consistently interpreted civil rights laws extremely narrowly to the detriment of marginalized groups, including people of color, older adults, and the LGBTQ+ community.[1]

Discrimination in Immigration Policy

Background: In 2018, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced the “public charge” rule which allows the federal government to deny admission into the U.S. based on the likelihood of an individual relying on public benefits for support. Through public policy and in the courts, The Arc has fought this rule because it discriminates against people with disabilities by allowing the government to deny admission into the U.S. based solely on a person’s disability and the use or expected use of public benefits like Medicaid. It also discourages immigrant families from utilizing critical public services—such as Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, housing assistance, and other important programs—out of fear of harming their immigration status. Overall, the rule unfairly restructures immigration in a way that is detrimental to people based on their disability.

Judge Barrett’s Record: Earlier this year, in Cook County v. Wolf, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a preliminary injunction of the “public charge” rule, holding that it discriminates against people with disabilities by making it more difficult for immigrants with significant disabilities to come to the U.S. because of their increased likelihood of relying on government benefits for support: “The conclusion is inescapable that the Rule penalizes disabled persons in contravention of the Rehabilitation Act.” Judge Barrett dissented, writing that she would vacate the injunction based on her understanding that “DHS’s definition is a reasonable interpretation of the statutory term ‘public charge.’”[2]

[1] See, e.g. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. AutoZone (7th Cir. 2017) (denying petition for en banc rehearing of a case in which the lower court ruled for the employer where the EEOC claimed that AutoZone had an unlawful practice of segregating employees by race when it assigned Black employees to stores in Black neighborhoods, which the dissent criticized as an unlawful “separate-but-equal arrangement”); Kleber v. CareFusion Corporation (7th Cir. 2019) (joined majority opinion holding that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act protects only current employees from discrimination due to disparate impact, not outside job applicants. One dissenting judge criticized the opinion, noting: “Wearing blinders that prevent sensible interpretation of ambiguous statutory language, the majority adopts the improbable view that the Act outlawed employment practices with disparate impacts on older workers, but excluded from that protection everyone not already working for the employer in question.”); Amy Coney Barrett, Hesburgh Lecture, Jacksonville University Public Policy Institute, 2016, available at: (criticizing Obergefell v. Hodges (U.S. 2015)—Supreme Court decision establishing a constitutional protection for marriage equality for same sex couples—and noting that Title IX should not be interpreted to extend its protections to transgender people.). Judge Barrett also provided paid speeches in 2015 and 2016 to the Alliance Defending Freedom, an organization designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

[2] For more information on Judge Barrett’s disability record, see The Bazelon Center, “Amy Coney Barrett’s Record on Issues Affecting People with Disabilities”

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The Workplace in 2020: Getting People With Disabilities Back to Work Safely During COVID-19

This year’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month arrives at a precarious time in our country’s history: we continue to face the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic and one of the direst economic recessions in recent memory. The coronavirus pandemic has caused more than 200,000 deaths and infected more than 7 million people, while also creating immense challenges for the American business community and workforce. Despite some signs that the economy is beginning to pick back up again, the Bureau of Labor Statistics still reports that more than 11.5 million jobs were lost since the beginning of the pandemic in February.

When you dig into the numbers, the research shows that this recession has not been felt evenly across the labor force, and that systematically marginalized communities—such as communities of color, immigrants, women and others—have experienced higher unemployment than average. Jobseekers with disabilities are among the groups that have been hit the hardest. Research conducted by Global Disability Inclusion suggests that close to 40% of people with disabilities were laid off or furloughed as a result of the pandemic.

The struggles for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) to gain access to employment were already apparent: research indicates between 80 – 90% of people with IDD of working age were unemployed in the years leading up to 2020. This is the first of a two-part series that The Arc@Work will publish this month to speak on the new and emerging challenges faced by workers with IDD and how employers, disability services agencies, and individuals with IDD can work together on creating solutions that create inclusion and workplace equity.

Negative Impact and New Barriers for Job Seekers With IDD

For jobseekers with IDD, the safety threat posed by the coronavirus—coupled with pre-existing barriers to employment and a now struggling national economy—creates compounding barriers that now make finding a job in the community extremely difficult. Industries such as brick and mortar retail, hospitality, and others that have historically been open to hiring people with IDD have suffered tremendous losses. Many small businesses in the community have shut down either temporarily or permanently.

  • Barriers in public transportation and ridesharing: Many individuals with disabilities—especially those living in urban or suburban settings—rely on public transportation to get to work. There are very few public transportation networks around the country that are fully accessible to people with disabilities, and this problem is only further compounded by the threat of contracting the coronavirus in transit.
  • Increased competition: Millions of work-eligible Americans are out of jobs and are competing for the same jobs as people with IDD, many of whom are first-time job seekers and risk being overlooked in favor of more experienced applicants. This means that the hourly jobs that were previously available to people with IDD have now become harder to obtain as the demand for jobs drastically outweighs the supply.
  • Disappearing supports: Many individuals with IDD require the support of direct support professionals and job coaches to live independently and be successful in their jobs. The pandemic has hit the disability services industry hard, where many agencies have either been forced to close or have cut staff.

In a survey conducted by The Arc in May 2020 to gauge the effect of the pandemic on our network of chapters and affiliates, 44% of our agencies reported having to lay-off or furlough staff due to funding cuts. Nearly a third reported having trouble hiring and retaining staff due to prevailing economic conditions and fear of the virus.

  • One-size-fits-all approach to workplace safety: Safety should not come at the cost of inclusion in the workplace. For some, abiding by COVID-19 safety protocols is difficult, especially as it relates to social distancing and using personal protective equipment (PPE). Many people with IDD have sensory difficulties that make it difficult to wear masks or gloves at all times, while others may have difficulties observing social distancing etiquette. This may impact an employee’s ability to interface with customers in person or be in the workplace at all.

Individuals with disabilities face these barriers—and more—in their efforts to get back to work, but these are all challenges that employers and disability services agencies can work together to solve. In the next part of this two-part series, we will go over some of the things that employers can do right now and in the future to support individuals with IDD to overcome these challenges and return to work.

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Comcast NBCUniversal and The Arc Team up to Support Local Disability Agencies and Digital Literacy for People With Disabilities

The Arc of the United States and Comcast NBCUniversal today announced a three-year renewal of their national partnership to expand digital technology opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Comcast NBCUniversal is providing $400,000 to The Arc’s Tech Coaching Centers, which operate their national digital literacy program, as well as chapters that have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are immensely grateful for Comcast NBCUniversal’s continued support for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families, and the work we do to protect their human rights and support their participation in society,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc. “Many of our chapters have been hit incredibly hard during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are truly fortunate to have such a longstanding and steadfast partner in Comcast NBCUniversal in our work to support our chapters and expand access to digital technology that will open up doors online and offline for people with disabilities.”

The Arc’s national network of more than 600 chapters provide vital resources and services to individuals with IDD and their families to promote greater independence and opportunity in the community. With the support of Comcast NBCUniversal, The Arc will continue the important work of connecting its clients with digital skills to enhance their paths to independence through digital literacy training and financial support. Since 2017, more than 1,800 clients have received basic digital skills training at 16 sites around the country. Additionally, for the next year, Comcast will help fund general operating costs for some chapters of The Arc that face financial challenges as a result of the pandemic.

“Through the Tech Coaching Centers and our long-standing partnership with The Arc, we’ve witnessed so many examples of individuals gaining employment, learning digital skills, navigating the internet, and more,” said Dalila Wilson-Scott, EVP & Chief Diversity Officer, Comcast Corporation. “We believe it is vital to continue supporting these efforts to help create economic mobility for people with disabilities.”

About Comcast Corporation

Comcast Corporation (Nasdaq: CMCSA) is a global media and technology company with three primary businesses:  Comcast Cable, NBCUniversal, and Sky.  Comcast Cable is one of the United States’ largest video, high-speed internet, and phone providers to residential customers under the Xfinity brand, and also provides these services to businesses.  It also provides wireless and security and automation services to residential customers under the Xfinity brand.  NBCUniversal is global and operates news, entertainment and sports cable networks, the NBC and Telemundo broadcast networks, television production operations, television station groups, Universal Pictures, and Universal Parks and Resorts.  Sky is one of Europe’s leading media and entertainment companies, connecting customers to a broad range of video content through its pay television services.  It also provides communications services, including residential high-speed internet, phone, and wireless services.  Sky operates the Sky News broadcast network and sports and entertainment networks, produces original content, and has exclusive content rights.  Visit for more information.