The Arc logo

Sexual Assault Could Happen to Anyone

By James R. Meadours

This month is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and it makes me think about when I was sexually assaulted as a teenager. When I got assaulted the first time, the girls made me have sex with them, but other times it was touching me and fondling me. They made me go into the backyard where it was muddy and I got dirty. My mom asked why I was dirty, and I told her I was playing football. I felt like the girls stole something from me, like a piece of me was stolen from my body. They stole my innocence.

My self-esteem was very low, and I was afraid to tell anyone. I thought about running away from home, but I had no money. I was forced to be the man of the house and was hurt mentally and physically by family members. I was afraid to tell my family what happened since they were hurting me too.A close up of a man smiling. He is wearing glasses and has a black shirt and a beard.

I moved to a new state and didn’t know who I could talk to. I tried to find a place of worship in Baton Rouge, but they talked down to me and I did not feel welcomed. I feel like I hit a wall. I didn’t have the same connection as I did in Oklahoma with the church.

I was assaulted again when a sex worker took advantage of me, and I didn’t know how to ask for help. She tricked me into thinking it was a relationship but then she asked me for money.

My last sexual assault was also in Baton Rouge when I went to LGBTQ church service and met someone who I thought wanted to be my friend. His name was Jay. I told him I was straight through the phone TDD service because he was deaf. I thought I found a new friend. When he came to my apartment, he instantly did something that scared me and he made me do sexual things and he raped me. I tried to get him to stop by signing NO! over and over. I told him I am not gay and didn’t want that, but he forced me do things like the girls did to me when I was a teenager. Again, I felt like a big part of me was missing. Someone stole my innocence from me again. I decided to step outside my comfort zone to tell my boss and two friends, and they helped me get the help I needed. My boss called 211 and a colleague of mine took me to the hospital where I saw a sexual assault nurse examiner, Ms. Wanda. I pressed charges and Jay was arrested.

It’s been hard to have a relationship since going through this. I did find someone to be with before the rape, but we broke up. It took a year to recover from losing her. Finding a soulmate has been a big challenge ever since then. I am almost 60 years old now and I’m getting older. I do not want to be alone in my later years.

With those experiences behind me, now I have the skills to help others stand up and talk honestly about their own sexual assaults. During Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I want to thank Ms. Wanda for all she did to help me. She has been a great advocate and supporter of my sexual assault advocacy work. She is very proud of me and my work, and I would not be the strong advocate I am today without her belief in me. People like me need to know they are not alone. There are people who will believe you and want to help.

A Note From The Arc:
James’ story is unfortunately common. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities are the victims of sexual assault at a rate seven times higher than those without disabilities. The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice & Disability works with self-advocates like James every day to educate professionals and empower survivors.

If you’ve been a victim of sexual violence, The Arc and the University of Cincinnati are organizing focus groups to learn about barriers preventing accessible health care and reporting crimes to law enforcement. The focus groups will take place virtually in May and June 2024. To learn more and participate, click here.

Red, white, and blue stickers that say "I Voted."

Make Plans to Exercise Your Right to Vote in 2024

On Tuesday, November 5, 2024, eligible voters will have the opportunity to vote in federal, state, and local elections. The leaders who are elected will have a big impact on people with disabilities and their families, because they influence what policies are made and how tax dollars are spent. Your vote has the power to shape future policy on issues critical to the disability community!

What’s on the Ballot This Year?

  • Federal: Voters will decide on a president and vice president. The U.S. House of Representatives will be choosing leaders for all 435 seats and the U.S. Senate will be electing 33 members.
  • State: Eleven states will hold governor’s races. State executive official elections will also take place this year.
  • Local: You can find information on this year’s elections, polling locations, and more for your county and city here.

Prepare to Vote in 2024

Use The Arc’s Election Center (available in English and Spanish) to:

  • Review your voter information. Make sure your voter information is up to date with your current name, address, email, and phone number.
  • Register to vote. You can register online or get information on how to register by paper.
  • Find your candidates. See who is running for office in your area.
  • Find your elected officials. See who currently represents you at the federal, state, and local levels.

Want More Information on Voting?

  • Visit You will find resources that cover how to vote, your voter rights, and what to do if your rights are violated. You will also find information about major issues that impact people with disabilities and their families and sample questions you can use to ask candidates about these issues.
  • Follow The Arc on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), Instagram, and LinkedIn. We will be sharing voter updates, resources, and stories all the way to Election Day.
  • Connect with your local or state chapter of The Arc. Use our Find a Chapter tool to find a chapter near you. They may host candidate forums and other events you can join.
  • Follow your elected officials on social media. Learn about their current campaign activities by following them on X (formerly Twitter). You can find their official Twitter handles here.
  • Sign up for our action alerts and email updates.

Now is the time to let your opinions be heard on the critical issues that affect the lives of people with disabilities and their families. Get out there, register, and make plans to exercise your right to vote in 2024!

The Arc logo

The Arc Fights for the Rights of Homeless People With Disabilities in Landmark Supreme Court Case

The Arc Joins Law Enforcement Associations, Faith-Based Organizations, Medical Professionals, Legal Experts, Academic Leaders, Advocates, and Members of Congress in an Amicus Brief Urging an End to the Criminalization of Homelessness

Washington, DC — In a historic move to protect the rights of people with disabilities experiencing homelessness, The Arc of the United States has joined a powerful coalition of advocates in submitting an amicus brief for the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case Johnson v. Grants Pass. This case could end the cruel and unconstitutional criminalization of homelessness nationwide, a crisis that disproportionately impacts the disability community.

Johnson v. Grants Pass is the most important case regarding homelessness in the past 40 years. It will address the critical issue of whether laws punishing homeless individuals for sleeping outdoors with basic protections such as a pillow or blanket—when no safe and accessible shelter options are available—are violations of the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protects against excessive bail, fines, and cruel and unusual punishment.

As noted in the amicus brief, the members of Grants Pass’ homeless community do not choose to be homeless. Instead, in a city with no public shelters, they have no alternative but to sleep in parks or on the street. The Ordinances do not deter disabled homeless people from sleeping in public places because they have no alternative. They do not rehabilitate homeless people from their involuntary conduct but make it even less likely that they will be able to obtain adequate housing.

People with disabilities face daunting barriers to accessible, affordable housing. Less than 5% of housing is accessible for moderate mobility needs, and under 1% is accessible for wheelchair users. Widespread discrimination compounds the problem. Housing costs are also prohibitive for many disabled people who rely on public assistance for basic costs of living. The average cost of a one-bedroom apartment in the U.S. exceeds the maximum monthly Supplemental Security Income a person can receive. With limited income and a lack of affordable options, people with disabilities are at heightened risk of homelessness and institutionalization.

“Criminalizing homelessness exacerbates the systemic injustices impacting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” said Shira Wakschlag, The Arc’s Senior Director of Legal Advocacy & General Counsel. “People with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) face a serious lack of safe, affordable, accessible, and integrated housing and experience significant housing-related discrimination. People with IDD are also among the nation’s poorest citizens due to inadequate benefits and services, putting many at risk of unnecessary institutionalization or homelessness. Punishing them for having no choice but to sleep outdoors is a moral failing that perpetuates discrimination, poverty, and segregation. It also does nothing to provide the supports and services homeless people with disabilities need to end the cycle of poverty.”

The Arc joins over 20 disability rights organizations and scholars in an amicus brief that demands justice for the rights of homeless individuals across the U.S. They are joined by the National Homelessness Law Center (NHLC) and a broad array of hundreds of organizations and public leaders who have submitted a total of 39 amicus briefs on behalf of the plaintiffs.

“This case challenges us to face the reality that using things like jails and fines do nothing to solve homelessness and actually make homelessness worse,” said Jesse Rabinowitz, campaign and communications director for NHLC. “Punishing our neighbors who have no choice but to sleep outside pushes them further into poverty and makes it harder to secure work and housing. The overwhelming support from a diverse array of organizations that we see in these amicus briefs underscores the need for our elected officials at every level of government to solve homelessness with housing and support, not make homelessness worse by using jail cells and bulldozers.”

Currently, more than 600,000 people in the U.S. experience homelessness on any given night, with nearly half—250,000—sleeping outside. Data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development shows a rise in homelessness for both sheltered and unsheltered individuals in nearly every state. The primary cause of the record levels of homelessness we see today is the unaffordable housing market, according to research from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies.


About The Arc of the United States: 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. Founded in 1950 by parents who believed their children with IDD deserved more, The Arc is now 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. Through the decades, The Arc has been at the forefront of advances in disability rights and supports. There are over 7 million people with IDD in the United States, which encompasses over 100 different diagnoses. Visit or follow us @TheArcUS to learn more. 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.

About the National Homelessness Law Center: The National Homelessness Law Center (NHLC) is at the forefront of the fight against homelessness in America. Our mission is to fearlessly advance federal, state, and local policies to prevent and end homelessness while fiercely defending the rights of all unhoused persons. We work to shape and advance policies at the federal, state, and local levels aimed at preventing and ultimately ending homelessness. By fostering partnerships, influencing policy, and mobilizing communities, the NHLC is dedicated to transforming how society addresses homelessness, striving for a future where everyone has a place to call home. Learn more at

The image is in black and white. There are four adults standing against a white background. They're smiling and looking at each other.

Autism Acceptance Month: Celebrate Differences

April is Autism Acceptance Month, celebrating the talents, contributions, and diversity within the autism community. At The Arc, autistic people and their loved ones are a part of our staff, volunteer leaders, and key people guiding our work every day. Their lived experiences are vital, as an estimated 1 in 36 children in the U.S. have autism—reflecting a large yet persistently underserved population.

The big picture: Autistic people deserve to be embraced and valued by our society. Too often, they face misunderstanding, discrimination, and lack of access on all fronts—in education, employment, justice systems, and community life. True inclusion means creating environments where diverse needs are accommodated, allowing people with autism to thrive as their authentic selves.

History and shift to acceptance: The roots of Autism Awareness Month trace back to the Autism Society’s first celebrations in April 1970. In 1988, President Reagan issued the first presidential proclamation for National Autism Awareness Month. The paradigm shifted in 2021 when Autism Awareness Month became Autism Acceptance Month, a powerful reframing putting the emphasis on creating an inclusive society that celebrates autistic people all year long. This evolution moved beyond awareness to dismantling stigmas, fostering respect, and enabling autistic people to fully participate in society as their authentic selves. This shift matters because the language we use holds profound importance in affirming identities and human dignity.

Another note on language: Many in the autism community prefer identity-first language (“autistic person”) over person-first language (“person with autism”). Many autistic people view their autism as an inseparable part of their identity and take pride in who they are.

What we’re doing: The Arc is uplifting the voices and perspectives of autistic people in April and beyond. Learn from two powerful leaders on our national Board of Directors:

Join us in embracing the unique strengths and boundless possibilities within the autism community.

🧡 Donate to The Arc’s life-changing services and advocacy for people with autism.
⭐ Volunteer with your local chapter of The Arc to champion inclusion.
📣 Amplify stories from autistic people by following #ActuallyAutistic and use #AutismAcceptanceMonth to join the conversation.

“True inclusion is ensuring people with autism have every opportunity to live life to the fullest. When we listen deeply and make spaces truly welcoming and inclusive—that’s when everyone can shine brightest.” – Katy Neas, CEO of The Arc

A photo of Ken Oakes wearing a suit with a flower in the lapel. He is outside at an event, speaking into a microphone.

Spotlighting The Arc’s Changemakers: Kenneth Oakes, Immediate Past President

A childhood friendship sparked Ken Oakes’ lifelong dedication to the disability community. His mom’s cousin Louise had Down syndrome and was only 10 years older than him, making her part of Ken’s inner circle growing up. This early exposure ignited a drive to serve, though he didn’t know where it would lead him yet. Ken always wanted to teach, but had his sights set on high school social studies. A college observation requirement opened the doors to teaching children with disabilities. Though hesitant at first, as Ken shares, “I fell in love with it.” That summer, he applied to teach at a summer school for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), the G.A. Barber Center run by The Arc of Erie County. For the next 47 years, he devoted his career to special education and as an advocate for children and adults with disabilities and their families.Newspaper clippings about Ken Oakes.

The Arc has continued to shape Ken’s career and volunteer work since 1976. He spent college summers working at the Barber Center and volunteering with The Arc of Erie County, becoming President of the Erie Youth Arc. Every summer, he and his fellow Youth Arc volunteers from across the state would go to a state-run institution for people with IDD. They would spend the weekend there to paint rooms and “brighten up their world.” While in college, Ken was working part-time in the group homes operated by the G.A. Barber Center. He helped former residents transition to life outside of the institution that they had spent decades confined within. Ken explains, “My whole family got involved. I brought folks to my parents for dinner—and even the holidays if they didn’t have family to spend it with. I just wanted a better life for them.”

After college, Ken went on to spend four decades as a teacher, a program consultant, and an administrator. As Ken says, “special education was my world.” But he will never forget his first day. His students, 7 of whom were full-time wheelchair users and 3 of whom had IDD, arrived 45 minutes later than everyone else and spent their whole day in one classroom. “They didn’t get art, they didn’t get physical education, they didn’t go to the library,” explains Ken. “Because of The Arc, I knew that was wrong. We started eating lunch at a separate table in the cafeteria and going to the gym and library by ourselves. After a couple of weeks, I told my principal that I’d like my students to go to general education classes. By the end of the first quarter, all my kids were in some general education classes, which helped them make friends outside of our classroom. Soon, my kids were having lunch with their new friends, not at a separate table in the cafeteria or in our classroom.” He beams with pride as he remembers Amy, a second grader who had Cerebral Palsy. Her parents were skeptical of her being included in general education. He ran into Amy at the mall four years ago, and, as Ken adds, “she went to college, got married, and is now a social worker. To know she’s achieved so much, I like to think I was part of inspiring her and changing her mother’s mind about what’s possible.”

An old black and white photHis impact on students didn’t stop in the classroom. After his career as a teacher, he went on to become the Special Education Director in Philadelphia and now teaches graduate school, supervises teachers, and was just appointed by the Governor to serve on Pennsylvania’s Special Education Advisory Panel. He also continued to volunteer with The Arc. “I think I did everything possible with The Arc.” In 2005, The Arc of Pennsylvania asked Ken to represent The Arc on the state’s Right to Education Task Force, which later led to his joining the Boards of The Arc of Philadelphia and The Arc of Pennsylvania, where he served as president of both organizations. He learned more and more about The Arc of the United States and was eager to get involved. He went to National Conventions, joined Committees, and eventually joined the national Board. “I went from organizing days at the zoo to becoming the national President—I was flabbergasted,” shares Ken.

His proudest moments aren’t in serving as President of his local chapters or the national organization. Ken explains, “Because of The Arc, all kids go to public school now and in my state, nobody lives in an institution anymore. To know I had a tiny bit to do with that is what I’m most proud of. I’ve met thousands of teachers, kids, and parents over the years, and I like to think I made life just a little better for them.”

When asked what continues to drive his involvement, Ken emphasizes, “There’s still so much work to be done.” Though life in 2024 is exponentially better for people with IDD than it was five decades ago, issues of isolation and underemployment persist today. He hopes to expand understanding and acceptance of people with IDD in our society. He says, “Be good to them because they’re good neighbors, good students, good friends to your kids, and may make a difference when they grow up.”A photo of Ken Oakes wearing a suit with a flower in the lapel. He is outside at an event, speaking into a microphone.

Ken is eager to continue contributing however he can, whether serving on a Board committee or consulting state leaders on teacher shortages. As Ken adds, “I want people to understand that The Arc has been here from the beginning and will be here for the future. We’re never going to stop making life better, one day at a time. The national office and local chapters are driven by families and self-advocates, and you can always count on The Arc.”

As for Louise, her parents kept her sheltered at home well into her adulthood. They passed away when she was in her 40s, and Louise was placed in a group home run by the G.A. Barber Center. She hated it at first. “When she first got there, she ran away twice,” describes Ken. “But little by little, she came to love it. Louise blossomed in the community, and those years were her best. What makes that so special to me is that The Arc made that happen for her, and has done that for hundreds of thousands of people.”