A volunteer in a tie dye shirt holds a paper bag of food donations

That’s Amore: Volunteers With Disabilities Address Food Insecurity Through Pasta Kits

In honor of National Volunteer Month, The Arc is highlighting the efforts of volunteers with disabilities. While these individuals are serving their neighbors, they are also a living example of the tremendous value they bring to their communities.

A volunteer in a wheelchairs sits at a table. He is working on meal kit assembly, with various items strewn across the table, wile other volunteers stand nearby helping.

The staff and clients at AHRC Nassau know the value of a home cooked meal – and the comfort and joy it brings to a family. For their 2022 MLK Day of Service event, they wanted to extend that joy while offering tangible food assistance to their community in

Brookville, New York. They decided to create, pack, and deliver pasta meal kits to their neighbors experiencing food insecurity. Volunteers were empowered by learning what ingredients and steps were needed to cook a delicious meal. They also helped to show that people with disabilities are not always the ones in need of service and can give back to their communities as well.

Twenty volunteers with disabilities directed each phase of the process, from finding all the ingredients to setting up the event in January. Some of AHRC Nassau’s clients created hand-written cards celebrating the spirit of the initiative. Others designed artwork, each piece inscribed with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “Only in the darkness can you see the stars.” These items were placed in the meal kits alongside the ingredients.

A woman with red dyed hair in a black sweatshirt stands, smiling and holding a package of food, in the grocery store.As the big day arrived, volunteers with disabilities again led the way, including Nijah, who oversaw setup. Others prepared the boxes, packed the meal kits, and completed quality inspection. Once all boxes were packed and ready for distribution, the group delivered 100 meal kits to Island Harvest, Long Island’s food bank. In total, 400 individuals were served that day.

Long Islanders facing hunger weren’t the only beneficiaries of the day. Each volunteer shared a collective sense of accomplishment in combatting food insecurity in their backyard. More importantly, the volunteers with disabilities felt pride that they have demonstrated that everyone plays a critical role in making their community more equitable for all—showing the true meaning of the quote from King that “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve.”

Want to learn how to engage volunteers with disabilities? The Arc’s tip sheet Planning for Including People with Intellectual Disabilities in Volunteer Programs can help your organization get started.

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The Arc Reacts to Supreme Court Ruling Weakening Remedies Available to People With Disabilities Experiencing Discrimination

Washington, D.C. – Yesterday, in Cummings v. Premier Rehab Keller, P.L.L.C., the U.S. Supreme Court held that damages for emotional distress are not recoverable in lawsuits alleging violations of two federal civil rights statutes covering people with disabilities—Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) and the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This decision will harm people with disabilities who experience mental distress and emotional injury resulting from discrimination in all aspects of public life, including medical offices, schools, workplaces, state and local government programs, and other settings.

The plaintiff in this case, Jane Cummings, is deaf and legally blind. She sought physical therapy services from Premier Rehab Keller (PRK) and asked PRK to provide an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter at her therapy sessions. PRK refused and told Ms. Cummings that she could instead communicate with the therapist using written notes, lip reading, or gesturing. Ms. Cummings sued, alleging that PRK’s failure to provide an ASL interpreter constituted disability discrimination under Section 504 and the ACA and so she sought damages and other relief.

In partnership with other disability rights organizations, The Arc explained in an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court that without the availability of emotional distress damages, some individuals with disabilities who have been discriminated against on the basis of their disability in violation of federal law will have no relief. As the amicus brief stated: “Often, violations of the relevant statutes do not cost individuals with disabilities money, nor do they impose physical harm. Instead, they are humiliated, singled out, mocked, or made to go without regular access to the service to which they are entitled….Such core harms to human dignity are the very injuries that the Rehabilitation Act, Title VI, Title IX, and the Affordable Care Act are meant to prohibit.” The amicus brief also explained that the standards for proving the level of emotional harm that justifies a damages award are already rigorous and courts carefully analyze awards for adherence to the law and evidence.

“This ruling deprives people with disabilities of justice. These civil rights statutes are intended to protect the rights of people with disabilities and other historically disenfranchised groups. In foreclosing relief for the emotional distress that may ensue from discrimination, this holding diminishes the dignity and respect that people with disabilities deserve and are entitled to as full members of our society. We are very disappointed in this ruling,” said Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc.

Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in dissent that people who suffer discrimination often feel humiliation or embarrassment and that damages for emotional suffering have long been available as remedies in cases alleging discrimination:

It is difficult to square the Court’s holding with the basic purposes that antidiscrimination laws seek to serve. One such purpose…is to vindicate “human dignity and not mere economics.” But the Court’s decision today allows victims of discrimination to recover damages only if they can prove that they have suffered economic harm, even though the primary harm inflicted by discrimination is rarely economic. Indeed, victims of intentional discrimination may sometimes suffer profound emotional injury without any attendant pecuniary harms. The Court’s decision today will leave those victims with no remedy at all.

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 nearly 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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Proposed Changes to Affordable Care Act and Executive Order Would Open Up Coverage to Millions of Families

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Arc is pleased that President Biden signed an executive order this week to strengthen the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a lifeline for people with disabilities. The changes could make health insurance more affordable to millions of Americans with disabilities and low-income Americans.

President Biden, joined by former President Obama, announced that the Administration is proposing a rule change to the ACA to close what is known as the “family glitch.” The “family glitch” leaves some families stuck with unaffordable coverage because it excludes many families from using the premium tax credit to purchase affordable health insurance on the ACA marketplaces. These families, including those who have disabilities or have family members with disabilities, face totally unaffordable premiums.

“For people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), access to health care can be a matter of life or death. It is uniquely difficult for people with IDD to obtain affordable and adequate health insurance coverage despite depending on health care services more than those without disabilities,” said Marty Ford, Senior Advisor at The Arc, who was invited to and attended the White House announcement.

The ACA is critical to the lives of people with disabilities, their families, and the direct support workforce who rely on the ACA for access to health coverage for preventative care, to maintain good health, and secure vital medical treatment. The importance of the ACA is underscored by the pandemic. The public health crisis is a glaring reminder of the inequities in health care and discrimination faced by people with disabilities, other groups that are marginalized, and people holding multiple marginalized identities.

We also support other elements of President Bident’s new executive order directing federal agencies to continue to find ways to make coverage under the ACA, Medicaid, and Medicare easier to enroll in and strengthen the benefits available.

The Arc and our allies have fought relentlessly to defend the ACA to preserve this lifeline for people with disabilities. In 2020, The Arc, with a coalition of disability and civil rights organizations, joined an amicus brief filed in the U.S. Supreme Court urging the court to uphold the ACA in its entirety. The Arc also provided an amicus brief in support of upholding the law before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2019.