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Talk About Sexual Violence: Chris’ Story

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Sexual assault and violence disproportionately affect people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), with findings from NPR revealing that people with I/DD are assaulted at seven times the rate of people without disabilities. The first step to tackling this epidemic is talking about it.

Read more from one survivor:

Chris Miller poses for a selfie in a blue shirt.

Chris Miller

“For as long as I can remember society has had the idea that men do not show emotion. We are told to be strong, not to cry or share feelings. These ideas are communicated from an early age; the expectations of manhood are very high and never include opening up about any type of abuse, especially sexual assault and violence perpetrated against them, as an adult or child.

We are told and it is believed that rape and assault do not happen to us – but the fact is that 1 in 6 men have been victims of sexual assault and the rate of men with disabilities is even higher. Men with disabilities face an even more difficult hurdle of not being believed or seen as credible when they do report because they have a disability, and can be even more difficult for those who are LGBTQ, who are at greater risk for sexual assault due to their sexual orientation. Some people with disabilities communicate in non-traditional ways, meaning not verbally or use a communication device, so they are often looked at as not reliable witnesses or just simply not believed. Another reason people do not speak up is simply a lack of having someone they trust. Many live segregated lives and reporting an assault can be threatening and result in loss of home, caregiver or job. Those in authority have looked the other way when we have disclosed. When disclosure happens we are not asked how we feel. For those that are not able to tell, they act out their fear and frustration and then are medicated and the abuse continues. Many of us do not believe there will be any consequences even if we do tell. This is a deep-reaching issue that we must deal with to have a healthy, inclusive and safer society. Every sexual assault survivor needs to know they matter, are respected and can be safe.”

During Sexual Assault Awareness Month, join us in the movement to Talk About Sexual Violence! And, sign up for our criminal justice emails to receive resources, timely news, and ideas on how to advocate and get involved throughout the year.

Our Call to Action

Recommendations for Schools and Students

  1. Provide age-appropriate sex education for students with disabilities.
  2. Discuss safe vs. unsafe relationships.
  3. Identify who to report a sexual assault incident to.
  4. Ensure a personal safety plan is included in Individualized Education Plans (IEPs).

Recommendations for Individuals

  1. Reach out to a trusted person if you have experienced sexual assault.
  2. Learn about your rights as a crime victim and what can happen if you report.
  3. Locate and attend sexual assault support groups.
  4. If you are interviewed by law enforcement, request privacy.
  5. Know your rights about your accommodation needs.

Recommendations for Disability Service Providers

  1. Require sexual trauma training for providers.
  2. Demand deeper background checks for all employees.
  3. Listen and believe when someone discloses sexual assault.
  4. Provide accommodations when a person reports an incident.
  5. Ensure privacy when a person reports sexual violence.

Recommendations for Criminal Justice Professionals

  1. Required training for first responders, law enforcement, the courts, and sexual assault and rape crisis professionals about serving crime victims with I/DD.
  2. Learn effective strategies for interviewing crime victims with disabilities.
  3. Use disability specific accommodations.
  4. Consider community outreach to reduce fear of talking with law enforcement.
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Sexual Assault Awareness Month: Shining the Light on a Silent Epidemic

Chris Miller, James Meadours, and Kecia Weller

Every day, in every community across the U.S., people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) are being sexually assaulted. Too many have a story to tell, and yet few are ever heard. The Talk About Sexual Violence project aims to change that by educating health care providers about sexual violence in the lives of people with I/DD. Here are just three snapshots of this epidemic, shared directly by those affected by it:

Chris Miller

Chris Miller poses for a selfie in a blue shirt.For as long as I can remember society has had the idea that men do not show emotion. We are told to be strong, not to cry or share feelings. People don’t believe that rape and assault happens to us, but the fact is that 1 in 6 men have been victims of sexual assault and the rate of men with disabilities is even higher. Many of us do not believe there will be any consequences if we tell someone about what happened to us. This is a deep reaching issue that we must deal with to have a healthy, inclusive and safer society. Every sexual assault survivor needs to know they matter, are respected and can be safe.


James Meadours

I never thought lightning could strike twice in the same place, but in my life it happened. I was sexually assaulted four times during my life and this is not uncommon for men or women with disabilities. My friends believed me and were helpful at different stages, but when I talked to the local rape crisis center two weeks after the rape, they didn’t know how to provide support since they do not usually help many men, especially men with disabilities. It was a new experience for them, but even though they didn’t have any training, they tried to be helpful. No one taught me the steps to recovery. I did remember what the SANE nurse told me – she looked me in the eye and said I needed to take care of myself before helping others who have suffered. After two years of recovery work, I realized when I was at a meeting to discuss sexual assault that I wanted to tell my story. This was the beginning of my journey to become an advocate to support others with disabilities who have suffered with sexual assault. I am now a national advocate and speaker at many conferences sharing my story and recommending changes so others can find healing and if they want they can become part of the MeToo movement.


Kecia Weller

Kecia Weller poses for a photo against a gray mottled background with a blue shirt on.Get involved. Help people with disabilities learn about safe relationships and prevention of sexual assault. Special attention must be provided at peer advocacy meetings to teach people how to support survivors when they report the abuse and create their own safety plans. There are many ways people with disabilities can be supportive. A few ideas include volunteering to be a listener on a hot line, educating school teachers about the frequency of abuse against students with disabilities and most important, learning more yourself about the alarming rate of sexual and other kinds of assault happening to men and women with disabilities.


Learn more about educating health care providers about this silent epidemic and supporting people with I/DD to tell their truth. Men with disabilities and other marginalized individuals are especially alone and need outreach now more than ever. This Sexual Assault Awareness Month, join us in the movement to Talk About Sexual Violence!

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#HandsOff Our Kids: Advocating Against Restraint and Seclusion

#HandsOff is a series on The Arc Blog. Each month, we feature a story from individuals and families across The Arc’s network about how some of today’s key policy issues impact their day to day lives.

By: Erik Smith

I went to Washington last month to support my wife in sharing our family’s story about restraint and seclusion. A few weeks before, the new executive of The Arc Rhode Island Family Advocacy Network put out a call to find families who would be willing to provide testimony at a Congressional hearing on this topic. Needless to say, my wife Renee and I jumped at the opportunity. We had mixed feelings about making our family’s experience so public, but felt strongly that we needed to advocate for all families to help them avoid the painful and unnecessary practices of restraint and seclusion that our son Dillon, who has autism, had experienced repeatedly in kindergarten and the first grade.

Renee Smith sits in front of Congress testifying, as an audience sits behind her.

Renee started her testimony by describing what our daily lives used to be like. She recounted the regular instances of restraint and seclusion that Dillon experienced, the multiple calls to 911 made by the school, Dillon’s increasing dislike of school, his missed educational opportunities, and the overwhelming stress on our family. I felt proud of Renee as I watched her recount, sometimes through tears, how much harm this had caused our then 6-year-old son and our family as a whole, including our marriage and our jobs. Fortunately, Renee was able to end her testimony on a very positive note. After we moved Dillon to a different public school in the same district that uses positive behavior intervention and support, Dillon is thriving.

In preparing for the hearing, we had the chance to learn more about the history of federal legislation to limit restraint and seclusion. We learned about a law (the Children’s Health Act of 2000) that includes serious limits on these practices. The only problem is that it doesn’t include school settings.

As I listened to Renee, I was struck by the contrast between my professional and personal life regarding the limitations on restraint and seclusion. I am a nurse and I work in a long-term care facility. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) strongly regulate the use of restraints in LTC facilities, with these regulations to be enforced through state Health agency survey and certification. I have always been well aware of what I can and cannot do when our patients exhibit challenging behaviors. I have received training by my employer on patient’s rights, on what we are legally barred from doing, and on effective alternatives to restraint and seclusion. I see firsthand how this benefits our patients and staff alike. But as a parent, I see how the lack of such protections have hurt my son.

This point was made in 2009 by the former chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, Rep. George Miller, the last time there had been a hearing on restraint and seclusion:

Federal law restricts the use of seclusion-restraints to emergency circumstances for children in hospitals and community-based residential treatment facilities and other facilities supported by federal dollars. Yet these rules do not apply to public or private school. This means an untrained medical professional is forbidden from inappropriately restraining a patient and, if they do, there are laws specifically targeted to address such behavior. But untrained classroom staff are abusing student in schools without any accountability because of a lack of federal oversight. Our children are bearing physical and emotional burden of a system designed to fail them”

It is now almost a full decade later. Far too many children like my son continue to be restrained and secluded in school. It is past time to correct this problem.

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Rhode Island Advocate to Testify in Congress on Impact of Restraint and Seclusion on Son With Autism

On Wednesday, February 27, Rhode Island advocate Renee Smith will testify in Congress before the U.S. House Education and Labor’s Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education hearing on the use of restraint and seclusion in schools.

The hearing is titled “Classrooms in Crisis: Examining the Inappropriate Use of Seclusion and Restraint Practices”, and Smith was invited to testify because of her now eight-year-old child’s traumatic experiences in school. When Dillon, who has autism spectrum disorder, was in kindergarten and first grade, he and his parents struggled with the school administration for proper, positive supports for him. Restraint and seclusion were repeatedly used to manage Dillon’s behavior, despite the fact that his parents knew other positive methods would lead to a better outcome, and positive reinforcement was a part of the documented individualized education program (IEP) for Dillon with the school.

Far too many times, Dillon was restrained and dragged into the “blue space” – a walled and padded area, with a small opening with a pad cover to keep a child from leaving the space. Again and again, situations escalated to the point where 9-1-1 was called, and if Dillon’s parents didn’t arrive before the ambulance, he would be taken alone to the hospital. The repeated trauma of restraint and seclusion, the threat of going to the hospital, and continued interruptions to his education were having a major impact on Dillon and his family.

“Dillon’s work avoidance, we now know, was in direct reaction to the restraint and seclusion he was experiencing. The more he was restrained and secluded, the less he was interested in school work, which resulted in more restraint and seclusion, a constant downward spiral. It broke my heart when Dillon told us that he no longer trusted any of the adults in that school. Without the school working with us to change this dynamic, we had to do something – we found another public school with a different approach,” said Smith.

Dillon started fresh at a new school, where the behavior program allows children to float between a special education classroom and a regular education classroom for work. There are several cool down spaces and one open space within the office of the school behaviorist. Teachers provide positive reinforcement in their classrooms and one-on-one with their students. Within only two weeks of the new placement, Dillon was in a regular education classroom 100% of the time with supports.

“At his old school, Dillon was trying to communicate that the strategies used were not working for him and not allowing him to develop coping skills for the future. Today, Dillon is doing really well. With the proper supports, he has blossomed as a student and enjoys school,” said Smith.

The Arc Rhode Island (RI) Family Advocacy Network (FAN) recruited Smith to bring this perspective to the halls of Congress. The Arc RI FAN is a newly created office that will lead state-level public policy activities as well as provide training, public awareness and education, and grassroots advocacy building to protect the rights of Rhode Islanders with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). The Arc has tapped Joanna Scocchi, founder of Rhode Island Advocacy for Children, as the Director. The Arc RI FAN joins a network of more than 620 state and local chapters of The Arc that provide direct support services and advocate for the rights of people with I/DD around the country.

“Dillon’s experience is horrifying, yet it’s happening in schools across Rhode Island and across the country. Nationally, students with disabilities are roughly 20 times more likely than their peers without disabilities to be restrained and secluded. Our kids deserve better – the approach to their education and the environment in which they learn are key ingredients to their success,” said Scocchi.

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February #HandsOff: Advocating With Young Children

#HandsOff is a series on The Arc Blog. Each month, we feature a story from individuals and families across The Arc’s network about how some of today’s key policy issues impact their day to day lives.

By: Julie Ross, The Arc of Texas


My almost seven-year-old daughter Niko is fun and full of energy, loves dancing, singing, and doing daredevil stunts. Niko adores her big sister, playing with her homeschool friends and caring for younger children. In addition to keeping up with her, my job has also been to advocate for her healthcare, inclusion, and civil rights – and it began the day she was born. Niko has Down syndrome and congenital heart disease. While she was still recovering in the NICU, a social worker explained to us about Medicaid and “waitlists”. The social worker said to apply for state and federal healthcare services immediately, even though some of these were adult services, because the wait was 14 years and growing. Afterwards, I joined my state chapter of The Arc and The Arc of the United States and learned that we could impact these issues—and more. We have high expectations for Niko, so if we could eliminate barriers that prevent her from reaching her potential, we were willing to demand change. From the start, we knew Niko would be at the center of these advocacy efforts.

Policies at both the state and federal level greatly impact Niko’s access to services and healthcare she needs to live a full, happy life. And it often feels as if the impact of legislation on the disability community isn’t being considered by elected officials. In order to become a better advocate, I joined state and national disability advocacy organizations and attended rallies led by self-advocates. Niko and I made a host of new friends and I was mentored by other families. I drove with both of my daughters to our state capitol to meet with our elected officials to advocate for Medicaid and Early Childhood Intervention funding.

We took advice from The Arc and contacted our federal lawmakers. Niko and I made office visits to Senator Ted Cruz and Senator John Cornyn’s district offices. We talked about the importance of phasing out subminimum wage, fully funding Medicaid, saving the Affordable Care Act, and supporting legislation such as Money Follows the Person to ensure Niko could live free from the threat of institutionalization. At these meetings, I would carry a stash of snacks and coloring books to entertain Niko while I did most of the talking (although she would vocalize occasionally and toss cookie crumbs on the floor). Whenever I felt fear or intimidation of how lawmakers and staff may react to my child attending our meeting, I would remind myself that my taxpayer dollars pay for their offices and these lawmakers work for us! Most of all, I want lawmakers to know my daughter’s name, face, and story to remind them of what is at stake when they vote. And to make that connection, it is important for them to meet Niko in person.

We always try to make a lasting impression. Once we even celebrated Niko’s birthday in our Senator’s offices. I brought balloons, cupcakes, and birthday cards for their staff to sign and share with the Senators – urging them to protect Medicaid and ACA to preserve Niko’s healthcare protections so she could celebrate many more birthdays. And last Valentine’s Day, we asked our Congressman to “have a heart” and oppose a dangerous bill that would have weakened the protections afforded by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

We’ve seen the positive changes that result from state and national disability advocacy. When we exercise our constituent power and families, individuals, and self-advocates deliver our “ask” and our personal stories – we make a tremendous impact. And while Niko still acquires new interests and hobbies as she grows up, I’m delighted that she and I can include advocacy as an integral part of our family life.

julieross1 julieross3

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Supreme Court Reaffirms Commitment to Clinical Standards, Not Stereotypes, in Determining Intellectual Disability in Death Penalty Cases

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a per curiam (published in the name of the Court rather than specific judges) opinion today reversing the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (TCCA) and finding that Bobby Moore is a person with intellectual disability and his execution is prohibited by the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

“The Arc applauds the Court’s decision today which again embraces the standards-based approach in determining intellectual disability for which The Arc has long advocated. When it comes to matters of life and death, there is simply no room for courts to ground their determinations of intellectual disability in outmoded and baseless stereotypes. The Arc is grateful to the Court for taking a strong stance today to ensure that its precedent on this issue is properly interpreted in jurisdictions around the country,” said Marty Ford, Senior Advisor, The Arc.

This is the second time Mr. Moore has sought relief from the Supreme Court and won. In 2017, in the same case, the Court rejected Texas’ use of stereotypical and outdated factors—rather than well-established clinical standards—to determine intellectual disability in death penalty cases on the grounds that they “create an unacceptable risk that persons with intellectual disability will be executed.” The Court then sent the case back to the TCCA to determine whether Mr. Moore had intellectual disability in light of its opinion. Following the TCCA’s 2018 finding that he did not have intellectual disability, Mr. Moore again petitioned for Supreme Court review. Notably, the prosecutor in Mr. Moore’s case—the district attorney of Harris County—filed a brief in support of Mr. Moore noting that, in light of the Supreme Court’s 2017 opinion, Mr. Moore is an individual with intellectual disability who cannot be executed.

In its opinion today, the Court noted that “Moore has shown he is a person with intellectual disability” and that the most recent TCCA opinion must be reversed because it continued to exhibit “lay stereotypes” of people with intellectual disability despite the Supreme Court’s clear instruction to rely on well-established clinical standards instead. Chief Justice Roberts, in a concurring opinion, noted that while he still believes the original Moore opinion “lacked clarity,” “it is easy to see that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals misapplied it here…the court repeated the same errors that this Court previously condemned…” Justice Alito, joined by Justices Thomas and Gorsuch, dissented, noting that “The error in this litigation was not the state court’s decision on remand but our own failure to provide a coherent rule of decision in Moore.

The Arc filed amicus briefs on Mr. Moore’s behalf when he first went before the Supreme Court in 2016 and again when his case was remanded to the TCCA in 2017.

In its 2002 decision in Atkins v. Virginia, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the special risk of wrongful execution faced by persons with intellectual disability and banned their execution as cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. Subsequently, in Hall v. Florida (2014), the Court rejected an arbitrary cutoff for IQ scores in making the intellectual disability determination and emphasized the importance of courts consulting clinical standards in their analysis. The Court’s 2017 and 2019 decisions in Moore v. Texas have strengthened this precedent by emphasizing the need to rely on well-established clinical standards—rather than stereotypes—in making intellectual disability determinations in death penalty cases.

The Arc has deep sympathy for the family and friends of the victim in this case, and we supported appropriate punishment of all responsible parties. The Arc did not seek to eliminate punishment of Mr. Moore or others with disabilities, but rather, to ensure that justice is served and the rights of all parties are protected. The Arc is committed to seeking lawful outcomes for people with ID and will continue working to ensure that the U.S. Supreme Court rulings on this issue are abided by in jurisdictions across the country.

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The Arc Responds to Three-Month Extension of Money Follows the Person Passing Congress

Last week, the Medicaid Extenders Act of 2019 was signed by President Trump. A three-month funding extension for Money Follows the Person (MFP) was included in this bill. This program moves people with disabilities from institutions into the community by paying for programs not normally covered by Medicaid such as employment and housing services.

“Passage of this bill means individuals with disabilities who have been waiting to transition while funding for the MFP program was in danger, have the opportunity to move out of institutional settings and into the community. If the funding bill did not pass, MFP funds would have run out across the country. This is not only an investment in community-based services, but in the civil rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“It is a powerful testament to the value of this program that this legislation was passed so early this Congress, especially after the unsuccessful attempts to cut Medicaid by billions of dollars last Congress. This victory belongs to advocates nationwide who have been actively working to support people with disabilities to live in their communities. We look forward to working with leaders in Congress who supported this legislation on a strategy for longer or permanent extension of MFP.” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

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The Arc Expands “Talk About Sexual Violence” Project to Focus on Men With Disabilities

The Arc of the United States is pleased to announce the National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability® (NCCJD®) received a grant from the WITH Foundation to expand its successful initiative Talk About Sexual Violence (TASV). TASV was born out of a partnership between The Arc’s NCCJD and the Board Resource Center (BRC) and serves as a platform for educating healthcare professionals on how to talk to their patients with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) about sexual violence. The WITH Foundation’s grant will expand the program’s current focus on women survivors to include resources about male survivors and the unique barriers they face in disclosing or reporting sexual violence.

Efforts to address sexual violence—even movements like #MeToo—have typically focused on women. However, men also experience sexual violence and have comparatively few resources to support them. Research shows that 14% of men with disabilities will experience violent victimization compared to 4% of men without disabilities. Men are less likely than women to disclose an assault, and men with I/DD may be even less likely due to additional challenges they face if they do speak out about it or report it. Health care providers are generally not asking male patients about sexual assault and may not know how to respond if a patient does disclose. 

NCCJD’s Director, Leigh Ann Davis, who has worked in the field of sexual violence prevention of people with disabilities for over 20 years and is a survivor herself, states: “This is a topic of urgent national importance, and we’ve only begun to scratch the surface when it comes to addressing sexual trauma experienced by men with I/DD. With support from The WITH Foundation, we can expand our current project, reach new audiences, build new partnerships with male-focused sexual assault organizations and plant seeds for prevention, detection, and healing in the future.”

Health care professionals are in a frontline position to educate patients about and potentially prevent sexual violence. The primary challenge facing health care professionals is lack of training and experience in speaking directly to people with disabilities about this critical issue which can have dire consequences in the person’s life when left untreated, both emotionally and physically. TASV will work to reduce this gap in knowledge by creating brief video clips with supporting training materials healthcare professionals can use to educate and prepare themselves for these sensitive discussions.

While this project will focus its efforts in California, the initiative will have national reach and impact. This grant is part of a larger grant program by The WITH Foundation that is dedicated to addressing the issue of sexual violence against people with disabilities. The WITH Foundation has provided close to $258,000 to six organizations to fund a variety of programs that promote comprehensive and accessible healthcare for adults with I/DD.

“It is a privilege to support these efforts as they work to enhance healthcare delivery models, increase the understanding of supported decision-making, and/or address critical issues for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities” said Ryan Easterly, Executive Director of the WITH Foundation.


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December 2018 #HandsOff: Taking My Advocacy to Tennessee!

#HandsOff is a series on The Arc Blog where individuals and families across The Arc’s network share their stories about how some of today’s key policy issues impact their day to day lives.

This year The Arc was excited to be able to offer a limited number of scholarships to individuals with disabilities to attend the National Convention in Nashville, Tennessee One of the scholarship winners, Ivanova Smith from Washington, shares her experience below.

By: Ivanova Smith

Ivanova Smith takes a selfie and smiles with her husband and child to her right. On November 7th, I got to go to Tennessee for the first time for The Arc’s National Convention! It was a blast. When I found I won the scholarship, my husband and I saved up so he and my daughter got to come with me and see the sights.

While they were out having fun in the giant Gaylord hotel, I was gaining tons of knowledge and networking at the Conference! One of the first things I got to do was participate in the National Council of Self-Advocates Symposium. It was great getting to hear from other professionals and leaders with disabilities speak on topics such as transportation, housing, and how to be effective in advocacy around public transportation. I even got to speak during an open mic session!

I enjoyed the workshops around people who help women with disabilities who were victims of sexual assault. I also really enjoyed the general session where they spoke about legislative priorities and I got to meet new friends!

I support The Arc’s national efforts in wanting to improve education and promoting self-determination! Friday we got to celebrate awardees who worked on efforts on better inclusion at the Catalyst Awards. One of them is actually my Facebook friend, James Meadours. His speech inspired me to keep advocating in my home state of Washington. On the last day, we got to enjoy Nashville and listen to live music! It was a wonderful time!

Want to learn more about The Arc’s 2018 Convention? Check out pictures here.

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July 2018 #HandsOff Blog: Medicaid and SSI Equal Independence

#HandsOff is a series on The Arc Blog. Each month, we feature a story from individuals and families across The Arc’s network about how some of today’s key policy issues impact their day to day lives.

Meet Samera! Samera is 27 years old, a poet, and likes to read books, go to concerts, and spend time with her friends and family. She lives in a home in her community, supported by The Arc of Baltimore.

This month America celebrates its independence, but for Samera and many people with disabilities across the country, programs like Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) mean independence.

Samera says, “SSI and Medicaid help me to live in the community with independence. SSI helps to pay for my transportation to run daily errands, go to church, and cover the costs of medications and personal items that Medicaid doesn’t cover. Medicaid covers my wheelchair, and because it covers my wheelchair, I’m able to get around and go out, meet new friends, and do all of the things that everyone enjoys doing.”

Check out the video below to learn more about Samera: