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Comcast NBCUniversal and The Arc Collaborate to Make Life-Changing Impact With Digital Skills Efforts for People With Disabilities

For people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), digital access and skills are a critical component of gaining independence. In 2021, The Arc and Comcast NBCUniversal once again teamed up to open digital doors for and with people with IDD.

The Arc and Comcast NBCUniversal have a long-standing partnership to do this work – in 2020, the corporation renewed its support with $400,000 for our Tech Coaching Centers and to buoy chapters that have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Arc’s national network of nearly 600 chapters provides vital resources and services to individuals with IDD and their families to promote greater independence and opportunity in the community. Through this partnership, since 2017, more than 2,160 clients have received basic digital skills training at 19 sites around the country.

This year, the needs were dire, and the impacts of this tech expertise spanned many aspects of life, including vital health support, access to education and employment opportunities, and a remedy for ongoing isolation in the pandemic.

“For years, our partnership with Comcast NBCUniversal has laser-focused on how technology can improve the lives of people with disabilities. What stands out this year is the stark, life-changing impact of this work. We have all experienced challenges since the start of the pandemic, but for many people with disabilities, the disruption to their lives could have been catastrophic. Our chapters supported people to withstand this storm, and gain new skills and grow,” said Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc.

Here is a sample of how this program impacted the lives of people with disabilities across the country.

Improving Health

Candy, The Noble Arc of Greater Indianapolis (Indiana)

Recently, Candy has begun experiencing the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. When Candy becomes frustrated with lapses in memory, her tech coach reminds her to visit the computer lab. There, they work together on pulling up websites where she can listen to her favorite country songs. With Candy taking the lead as much as possible and a tech coach providing support, Candy logs onto YouTube and chooses her music. Music activates a different part of the brain than the areas impacted by memory loss, so Candy can remember the lyrics and sing along with all her favorite artists. Sometimes all she needs is 20 minutes of relaxing to her favorite songs to reset her day.

Cesar, The Arc of Weld County (Colorado)

In a previous job as Office Assistant years ago, Cesar demonstrated his aptitude and interest in computer work. In fact, many of his electronic forms are still used at the organization today. This year, Cesar received a Chromebook from the chapter and his tech abilities improved even more, allowing him to participate in many virtual engagement opportunities. In particular, Cesar has benefitted from telehealth. At times, Cesar experiences significant anxiety when preparing to travel via bus to medical appointments. In a tech coaching session, he learned how telehealth could ease his apprehension and maximize his self-care and health management. A bonus from this session was Cesar met a new friend who shared that she would be delighted to support Cesar when he needed to travel to an appointment. Cesar’s connections are growing online and offline, leading to overall improved health and outlook.

Remedying Isolation in the COVID-19 Pandemic

Joseph, The Arc of Lane County (Oregon)

Joseph is very social. Before the pandemic, he would spend his days visiting with friends and volunteering at a local food pantry. With no social media, technology, or even internet, he was extremely sad when in-person programming shut down. With tech coaching, Joseph was able to acquire a tablet, create a Facebook account and send messages to people he has missed over the last year and a half. He quickly reconnected with about 50 friends! Joseph has also learned how to use a transportation app to find bus routes to places he wants to visit. He is now able to communicate with some of his favorite people and cherishes this newfound social outlet.

Wesley, New Star Services (Illinois)

Wesley wanted to learn how to use an iPad, specifically to learn how to use Zoom to have meet ups where he could see his friends. Through four in-person sessions, he learned how to access Zoom on the iPad, begin and end the session, and adjust the volume as needed. Gaining the ability to connect with friends and family, especially during this time, is important to help combat feelings of isolation and support mental health. Wesley is able to virtually connect with the people who are an important part of his life.

Accessing Education and Employment Opportunities

Mari, The Arc of Lane County (Oregon)

Mari wants to get her GED and go to cosmetology school. She had tried taking the GED prep classes at community college but was often unable to attend due to a lack of transportation. Although her home has Wi-Fi, she had nothing more than a gaming console. Now, she has purchased a laptop and works on educational modules at her convenience from home. With the support of a tech coach, she has learned to utilize Google Docs to write essays, Grammarly to help her with spelling, punctuation, and grammar, and Khan Academy to work through academic education modules. She is also using other websites to practice her reading and writing skills. Mari is now enjoying the learning process and is feeling more independent and confident as she works at her own pace toward her educational goal.

Samantha, The Arc of Southern Maryland

At the beginning of 2021, a clerical position at the chapter opened, and Samantha saw the opportunity to learn more skills and take on more hours and responsibilities. She trained diligently until she was comfortable with the computer program necessary to do this job. Samantha knows she is making an impact, sharing “I like being able to help employees.” Her boss says, “She is a great resource to the department.”

“When we provide access to digital skills training, we create opportunities and pathways to independence that can be life-changing, especially for those living with disabilities,” said Dalila Wilson-Scott, Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer of Comcast Corporation. “Partnerships like the one we’re proud to share with The Arc – and as a result, the many lives we’re able to help impact – are at the heart of what drives us each and every day at Comcast. We’re so very honored to continue to grow our work together and help enrich even more lives.”

Comcast NBCUniversal’s partnership with The Arc is part of Project UP, the company’s comprehensive effort to address digital inequities and help build a future of unlimited possibilities. Backed by a $1 billion commitment to reach 50 million people, Project UP is focused on connecting people to the Internet, advancing economic mobility, and opening doors for the next generation of innovators, entrepreneurs, storytellers, and creators.

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Federal Court Allows Lawsuit Challenging Georgia’s Voter Suppression Law to Proceed

WASHINGTON, DC —Today, a federal court denied the three motions to dismiss litigation filed by The Arc and others challenging Georgia’s anti-voter law S.B. 202, allowing the case, Sixth District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, et al. v. Kemp, et al. to proceed.

The Arc is counsel and a plaintiff in the litigation along with plaintiffs the Georgia Muslim Voter Project, Women Watch Afrika, Latino Community Fund Georgia, and co-counsel with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), ACLU of Georgia, and law firms Davis, Wright, Tremaine and WilmerHale.

“We are pleased that the Court has denied the motions to dismiss, allowing this case to move forward. Voter suppression is a disability rights issue. People with disabilities have the fundamental right to vote and participate in our democracy, but this right has too often been denied. S.B. 202 disenfranchises voters with disabilities and denies them equal access to voting in violation of federal disability rights laws,” said Shira Wakschlag, Senior Director, Legal Advocacy & General Counsel at The Arc.

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 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 Mourns Former U.S. Senator and Disability Rights Champion Bob Dole

Washington, D.C. – The Arc mourns the death of Former U.S. Senator Bob Dole, who was an important champion in the disability rights movement. Senator Dole served as a faithful ally in fighting for equality for people with disabilities.

A disabled war veteran, Senator Dole exemplified steadfast dedication to the Americans with Disabilities Act, helping to lay critical groundwork and ensure passage of the landmark bipartisan law. He also supported the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and continued to advocate for the treaty after he retired from the Senate. The treaty would have banned discrimination against people with disabilities but ratification failed in the Senate in 2012.

Senator Dole also started the Dole Foundation for Employment of People with Disabilities, established in 1984. He recognized the importance of job training and job placement for people with disabilities and the personal growth and opportunities employment can provide. Senator Dole also supported legislation in the 1980s to make improvements to Supplemental Security Income to help people receive benefits while working.

Senator Dole fought for the rights of people with disabilities throughout his public service. He shared his personal experience with disability to grow bipartisan support on the issues.

“The Arc will remember Senator Dole as an impactful public servant on disability rights issues for decades. We honor Senator Dole’s commitment and his many years on the front lines of the movement,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc. “We look to today’s elected officials carry on Senator Dole’s legacy of doing what is right to ensure equal treatment and human rights for people with disabilities.”

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CDC Announces Rise in Autism Rates Among Children, as Leading Scientists and Clinicians Call for New Approach to Understanding Autism – Focused on Toxic Chemicals and Genetics

Washington, D.C. – The Centers for Disease Control announced that autism rates are once again rising among children. The new data says 1 in 44 children in the U.S. is on the autism spectrum, or 2.3% of children. The CDC made the announcement Thursday.

In a commentary published this week in Pediatrics, a group of epidemiologists, toxicologists, and physicians with decades of expertise in research, public health, and clinical practice says the interaction of toxic chemicals with genetic susceptibilities is a major contributor to autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The experts, members of Project TENDR, urge a national shift in research, funding, and regulation toward protecting children’s developing brains from harmful exposures.

Heather Volk, PhD, associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and lead author says: “Mounting evidence tells us the key to understanding autism is to examine toxic chemicals and pollutants in combination with genetics. Typically, researchers look at genetics separately from environmental factors. But the greatest risks for autism and its related impairments may result from gene-environment interactions.”

Deborah Hirtz, MD, pediatric neurologist and professor at University of Vermont Medical Center and co-author notes, “My practice sees children who are on the spectrum and their parents. To make a real difference moving forward, we need to focus our efforts where the science is clearly pointing – toward preventing toxic exposures that may do lasting harm to children’s brains.”

The commentary outlines three starting points for action based on growing scientific evidence:

  • Air pollution exposures during pregnancy and early infancy, resulting from fossil fuel combustion and at levels typically found in large cities, have been associated with ASD in multiple studies.
  • Children exposed prenatally to certain pesticides (“organophosphates”) appear more likely to develop ASD.
  • Emerging evidence indicates prenatal exposures to phthalates– ubiquitous endocrine-disrupting chemicals used in plastics, food processing and packaging, and personal care products – are associated with ASD.

Likewise, some environmental factors can reduce the probability of ASD.  Folic acid around the time of conception may protect the developing brain from toxic chemicals. Exposures to air pollutants, pesticides, and phthalates appear to be more strongly related to ASD in children of women who did not take folic acid or needed higher levels of folate during pregnancy.

Irva Hertz-Picciotto, PhD, professor at UC Davis and co-author, states, “We need far more research studying how environmental exposures are altering brain development, and identifying those that are more potent in combination with underlying susceptibilities.”

“From what we’ve already learned, we know what is necessary to protect pregnant women and children: regulation to prevent exposures to neurotoxic pesticides and phthalates, and to quickly achieve further reductions in air pollution from fossil fuels, starting with communities most highly impacted.”

Project TENDR is a collaboration of leading scientists, health professionals, and advocates working to protect children’s brains from toxic chemicals and pollutants. Project TENDR is a program of The Arc, the largest national organization advocating for and with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and serving them and their families.

Heather Volk, PhD, is an associate professor, Dept. of Mental Health, and Dept. of Environmental Health and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. Dr. Volk is Associate Director of Johns Hopkins’ Wendy Klag Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities and co-Director of the Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center (IDDRC) at the Kennedy Krieger Institute. Her research seeks to identify factors that relate to the risk and progression of neurodevelopmental disorders. Dr. Volk has particular expertise in how air pollution exposures combined with other factors, including genetics, impact autism risk.

Deborah Hirtz, MD, is a pediatric neurologist and attending physician at the University of Vermont Children’s Hospital, and a professor of neurology and pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. Prior to her tenure at U. of Vermont, Dr. Hirtz was a director of clinical trials for the Office of Clinical Research at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes (NINDS) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Her work as a clinician and scientist has had a profound impact on child neurology, neuroscience, and children’s health and welfare.

Irva Hertz-Picciotto, MPH, PhD, is Professor of the Department of Public Health Sciences and Director of the NIH-funded Environmental Health Sciences Center at UC Davis, representing over a dozen disciplines. A renowned epidemiologist, her 300+ publications have examined environmental chemicals, social factors, and gene-environment interaction associated with pregnancy and child development, and most recently, health effects of climate change. For the last 17 years, Dr. Hertz-Picciotto has directed a research program on Environmental Epidemiology of Autism and Neurodevelopment, which has shaped the field by generating seminal results linking autism to an array of risk and protective factors.

A mom, dad and young man stand around another young man who is in wheelchair. They are standing in their living room.

Families Like Debbi, Josh, and Victor Need Your Support.

The Arc has been advocating for decades to help family caregivers—advocating for health insurance, for paid family and medical leave, and respite services and other family supports. And this advocacy has taken on even more urgency during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Families like Debbi, her husband Victor, and their son Josh need our support more than ever.

“Josh was born about eight weeks early with a grade four brain hemorrhage, so he was one of the sickest babies in the neonatal intensive care unit. It started our roller coaster of a journey of having a child with complex medical needs and disabilities.”

Debbi and Victor struggled to hold onto their jobs while managing Josh’s complex medical needs and raising their two other children. Victor was often called away for active duty with the military. Debbi often worked during the night to meet her deadlines and hold onto the health insurance they depended on to pay for Josh’s medical care.

“And that insurance, it was always in the back of my mind, was what was keeping Josh alive.”

The challenges of balancing work and family caregiving responsibilities began to mount. Debbi struggled to get approved for unpaid leave and as Josh’s care needs increased, Debbi had to reduce her working hours substantially. This was a financial burden for the entire family and increased her worry about losing her job altogether.

Reflecting on that time, Debbi explains:

“It was a very difficult time emotionally, physically, and also financially. If I had been able to get paid leave, our struggles would have been so much less critical.”

Like Debbi, most Americans cannot take extended unpaid time away from work to care for a family member. Nor are they able to wait on years-long waiting lists for supports and services that may never come.

That’s why The Arc is working to make a national paid family leave program a reality for ALL who need it.

That’s why we’re advocating for home and community-based services to be available when they’re needed most.

Family caregivers, and their loved ones with intellectual and developmental disabilities, experience challenges in their daily lives that you and I never even have to think about. The Arc must be there alongside them. But we can’t do it without you.

You can help overwhelmed families navigate the complex developmental disabilities services systems for infants, children, and adults with IDD by giving to The Arc.

Can we count on you to stand with family caregivers by supporting The Arc today?

Join us and make a difference. Donate to support our critical advocacy today and sign up for updates to advocate with us when it matters most.

Your gift will be matched!


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House of Representatives Passes Historic Disability Funding Through Build Back Better Plan

“We need the Senate to understand all that is on the line”

Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed President Biden’s Build Back Better plan, bringing us one important step closer to making significant investments in our country, in the lives of people with disabilities and their families, and the direct support workforce. The reality is change can’t come soon enough for millions of people.

The proposal includes $150 billion for Medicaid home and community-based services, or HCBS, which provide the support people with disabilities need to be a part of their community, and better pay for the workers who support them.

“This plan is major progress in our country doing what we know is right: putting vital dollars behind something that really should never come with a price tag – basic humanity. People with disabilities, families, and the direct support professionals who support them are struggling to persevere through the hardest of times while suffering in unprecedented ways. And the clock is ticking on how much more they can take,” said Peter Berns, Chief Executive Officer of The Arc.

For years, the service system that people with intellectual and development disabilities (IDD) and their families rely on, Medicaid, has been underfunded. Millions of adults and children all over the country are stuck on waiting lists for HCBS, the direct care workforce is underpaid and undervalued – the quality of services suffer, and too often, unpaid family caregivers are left to fill the gaps, struggling to balance work and family responsibilities.

Build Back Better expands access to services for people with disabilities on waiting lists and starts addressing the direct care workforce crisis, including raising wages and creating more jobs. We need this plan – and more, and we urge the Senate to move swiftly and further humanize this deal, by adding more funding for HCBS.

Congress has heard the outcry from across the country on the need for paid leave, and included a national program so no one has to choose between taking care of themselves or a family member, and their paycheck. The Arc has long advocated for a national paid leave program for family caregivers. The pandemic forced millions of people to choose between their own health, the well-being of their families, and their livelihood.

“Taking time off to care for the people we love should not be so hard. The pandemic has only underscored the urgency of implementing a national paid leave policy, and so the time is now to do the right thing for all caregivers,” said Berns.

The Arc is also pleased that the proposal includes:

  • The expansion of the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program to over 3 million people with disabilities living in U.S. territories
  • The extension of improvements to the Child Tax Credit for one year and permanent expansion of the credit to the lowest income families
  • The expanded Affordable Care Act premium tax credits through 2025
  • The extension of improvements to the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-wage workers with disabilities.

“We need the Senate to understand all that is on the line. The futures of people with disabilities, families, and this critical workforce depends on this moment,” said Berns.

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The Arc Celebrates CVS Health Commitment With Disability Leaders to Affordable and Equitable Access to Health Care

Yesterday, CVS Health announced the withdrawal of its appeal before the Supreme Court that sought to limit the scope of civil rights protections for people with disabilities under federal law. In collaboration with leaders of a number of national disability organizations, CVS Health will seek policy solutions to protect equitable access to health care for all Americans. We celebrate this victory for the disability rights community.

“Disability rights laws were enacted to provide comprehensive protections against discrimination—including unintentional conduct with discriminatory effects—and to ensure people with disabilities have meaningful access to public life. We are pleased that CVS Health came to the table with the disability community, listened, and acted to ensure the rights of people with disabilities continue to be enforced to the full extent of the law as they were intended,” said Shira Wakschlag, Senior Director of Legal Advocacy and General Counsel at The Arc.

The Arc was part of a large coalition of disability and civil rights organizations that filed an amicus brief in CVS V. Doe arguing that long-standing Supreme Court precedent makes clear that much discrimination against people with disabilities comes from “benign neglect” or thoughtlessness — and that removing the ability to get relief from such discrimination would undermine the purpose and history of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Along with a number of other organizations, The Arc also sent a letter to the CVS Board of Directors calling on the company to drop its Supreme Court appeal.


Child Tax Credit Helps Working Moms Like Molly Stay Afloat and in the Workforce

A woman sits on the ground with mulch and a fallen tree around her. On her lap is her young son. She is wearing a mask and holding him affectionately. For moms like Molly, the past four months have meant long-overdue help in making ends meet. Molly works full time and manages the care for her 15-year-old son, Reid, who has a condition called Angelman’s Syndrome. Reid requires specialized caregiving for feeding, diaper changes, and constant monitoring for safety due to seizures and mobility issues.

What has been the difference in the last four months? The Child Tax Credit (CTC), a monthly cash benefit for children for which low and middle-income families can qualify. It has helped families like Molly’s pay for rent, food, child care, health care co-pays, school supplies, and other expenses across the country. For caregiver parents, it’s an especially needed benefit. As Molly says, “I am using this to pay for help, food, and transportation so I can stay afloat when forced to leave work to be a caregiver when no one else can and give Reid’s elderly grandma a break once in a while so she can continue to help with his care going forward.”

But Congress is currently debating if they should continue these crucial payments. Some legislators want to reduce this credit, limit the families who can receive it, and take it away from some of the lowest-income families by instituting a work requirement. This change would disproportionately impact parents who took time away from work to care for their child with a disability or complex medical needs. As Molly says:

“We have always had a hard time getting caregivers to help in the home and rely heavily on Reid’s 73-year-old grandma to fill in the scheduling gaps.  A few years ago I gave up working in the clinic as a prosthetist and as an instructor at the University of Washington and took on a work-from-home role with the corporate office of my company.  This was necessary in order to have enough schedule flexibility to ensure Reid is cared for in the summer and enabled to attend school the rest of the year.  Reid qualifies for Medicaid and has a Basic Plus Waiver for in home caregivers and other assistance. Over the past two years, I have had to take unpaid time off work, accept furlough from my job, and rent out half my house in order to make up for Reid not being in school and the lack of available Medicaid-paid caregivers.” The CTC is making a critical difference for Molly, Reid, and many more families, so penalizing caregiver parents is unacceptable.

As we learned when a work or earnings requirement was proposed in Medicaid a few years ago, these unnecessary rules only create costly, bureaucratic processes that restrict access. They often penalize people who are working, but who need to leave the workforce for a period of time for their own health reasons or to take care of a loved one. As Molly says: “Every time I’ve had to take time away from my paid job to be a caregiver for Reid, I am scared to death that I will lose my job and jeopardize my career prospects.  I have worked for years to be a good prosthetist and excellent corporate employee.  The small amount of assistance the tax credits give for caregiving is not in any way an incentive to leave my paid job. They are only enablement to continue working at BOTH of the jobs in which I am fulfilled as a productive member of society.”

A work requirement would disproportionality harm parents with disabilities and families with children with disabilities. It is past time for Congress to recognize that caregiving is work and provide essential supports to families through the Child Tax Credit.

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Disability Is Not a Crime. Support Our Fight for Justice.

Too often, disability is criminalized due to a lack of understanding—by both the public and first responders. Disability-related behaviors can be perceived as threatening or suspicious, and it’s estimated that one third to half of all people in the U.S. killed by police have a disability. The Arc is working hard to protect the rights of people with disabilities to exist safely in their communities—people like Neli Latson.

In 2010, Neli Latson was an 18-year-old special education student with autism who was sitting on a bench outside his neighborhood library waiting for it to open. Someone called the police reporting a “suspicious” Black male, possibly with a gun. Neli had committed no crime and was not armed, but being a young Black male with autism,  he would soon experience the tragic results of a system stacked against him.

When approached by a deputy, who quickly found that he was unarmed, Neli tried to walk away but was grabbed by the deputy several times. He reacted with a fight-or-flight response, a common instinct for people with autism.—resulting in an altercation. Neli was arrested and charged with resisting arrest and assaulting the officer.

What should have been an innocent chance encounter with the police spiraled out of control and marked the beginning of years of horrific abuse in the criminal legal system. Prosecutors refused to consider the role Neli’s disability played in his reaction to the police officer, dismissing it as a diagnosis of convenience. They refused to understand that he needed developmental disability services, rather than incarceration. Instead, Neli was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison, where he was punished with long periods of solitary confinement, Taser shocks, and the use of a full-body restraint chair for hours on end for behaviors related to his disabilities.

As Neli languished in prison, The Arc joined forces with Neli’s attorneys and a coalition of advocacy and racial justice organizations to demand justice. In 2015, we won a conditional pardon for Neli. But he was forced to live in a court-supervised residential setting, where he was treated harshly by staff who lacked understanding of autism. He lived in fear that he could be sent back to jail at any time.

The Arc and the coalition never gave up the fight.

In 2021, Neli was finally granted a full, unconditional pardon and provided with the disability support services he should have received in the first place. Neli is on his way to living a full—and free—life.

But our work is not done. The sad reality is that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families are too often forgotten and left behind in our society. Many like Neli are denied justice, and frequently hurt, due to the unjust biases of people who simply fail to recognize and respect their humanity.

For more than 70 years, The Arc has worked to change that as the only nationwide advocacy and social services nonprofit that works solely on behalf of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. We work across the criminal legal system to support victims, suspects/defendants, and incarcerated persons with disabilities to receive the accommodations they need and are entitled to while navigating the system.

Can we count on you to stand with them today?

Join us and make a difference. Donate to support our critical advocacy today and sign up for updates to advocate with us when it matters most.

Your gift will be matched!


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Disability Rights Groups Urge Supreme Court to Uphold Protections Against Disability Discrimination

Disability rights organizations filed friend-of-the-court briefs today urging the Supreme Court to uphold disability rights by rejecting CVS’s attempt to dismantle non-discrimination protections under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

The case, CVS v. Doe, involves a CVS-managed prescription drug plan that requires people who need “specialty medications” to receive them by mail, instead of at their local pharmacy. Five individuals living with HIV sued over the requirement, arguing that it effectively prevents them from receiving adequate care for their condition and represents discrimination based on their disability.

CVS is arguing in the case that Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act does not protect against claims of “disparate impact,” or when neutral policies or practices have disproportionate impacts on a protected class, in this case people with disabilities.

In one of the amicus briefs filed today by 17 disability and civil rights organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Association of People with Disabilities, The Arc of the United States, the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center, Public Justice, and the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, the groups argue that long-standing Supreme Court precedent makes clear that most discrimination against people with disabilities comes from “benign neglect” or thoughtlessness — and that removing the ability to get relief from such discrimination would undermine the entire purpose and history of Section 504. The court explained in Alexander v. Choate that congressional intent would be decimated if Section 504 were interpreted to require intent to discriminate.

In the other amicus brief, filed by the Paralyzed Veterans of America, Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, National Disability Rights Network, and eight other disability rights organizations, the brief argues that the Supreme Court should not decide the issue of whether disparate impact claims are permitted under Section 504 in this case because the claims brought are, at their core, claims concerning differential treatment and failure to make reasonable accommodations rather than disparate impact claims.

“People with disabilities continue to experience widespread discrimination in all areas of life. Congress passed federal disability rights laws to ensure people with disabilities have comprehensive protections to be included in society and have meaningful access to public life. The disability community has fought hard for these rights over the course of decades and we will continue fighting to ensure the broad protections intended by Congress are not undermined,” said Shira Wakschlag, Senior Director of Legal Advocacy and General Counsel at The Arc of the U.S.

“CVS’s position is not just wrong on the law, it’s dangerous. Disparate impact claims are the backbone of disability rights litigation. If the Supreme Court agrees with CVS, disability rights could be set back decades,” said Susan Mizner, director of the ACLU Disability Rights Program. “CVS cannot in good faith say it supports people with disabilities while simultaneously urging the Supreme Court to gut disability rights. The company should withdraw this case from the Supreme Court docket.”

“The Section 504 regulations were finalized in 1977 after years of serious negotiation between the disability community and government and business representatives,” said DREDF board member Judith Heumann, a leader of the disability rights movement who is featured in the 2020 documentary Crip Camp. “We knew that we had to cover neutral policies — we are so often excluded that way. So that’s what we did. It was foundational.” Heumann was a key witness during the hearings leading up to the Americans with Disabilities Act, and testified about her many experiences with discrimination based on paternalism, restrictive criteria, and stereotypes that were couched in neutral terms.

“The protections of the Rehabilitation Act have existed for almost 50 years. Disabled people rely on the protections within the Rehabilitation Act and section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act to assert our right to demand accountability and recourse when we experience discrimination,” said Maria Town, President and CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities. Despite the progress spurred by both disability community advocacy and the presence of these civil rights laws, discrimination is still a daily occurrence for most disabled people. If the Supreme Court sides with CVS, people with disabilities will lose one of the primary avenues we have to defend our rights and seek justice.”

The Rehabilitation Act was passed in 1973, and alongside the Americans with Disabilities Act, established safeguards against disability discrimination. As a result of these laws, society has become increasingly accessible for people with disabilities. Before the Rehabilitation Act, people with disabilities had no resource to challenge discriminatory practices. A decision in favor of CVS would eviscerate the ability to challenge policies and practices that have a disproportionate impact on people with disabilities.