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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.