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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.

A police woman wearing a hat a "police" vest stands looking out onto a crowd of people.

New Police Training Aims to Bridge Gap and Build Safety With Disability Community

Washington, DC – In the wake of the police killing of Ryan Gainer, a Black autistic teenager, The Arc of the United States and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office) are announcing a landmark program to protect the lives and futures of people with disabilities. Just Policing—made possible by a $750,000 grant from COPS Office—will provide disability awareness training to police officers across the country. The program, designed to bridge the gap between law enforcement and people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), aims to address the high rates of victimization and criminalization this community faces often due to a lack of understanding and support.

The new police training program, Just Policing: Disability Inclusion Training, will provide officers with comprehensive knowledge and tools to understand and better serve people with IDD. The training will focus on enhancing bias, effective communication, recognizing IDD, de-escalation techniques, and legal obligations to ensure effective and respectful interactions. By equipping officers with this specialized training, The Arc and COPS Office are committed to improving the safety, inclusion, and overall well-being of the disability community.

Here’s why it matters: People with IDD face overrepresentation and discrimination in all stages of the criminal justice system, from increased policing to harsher sentencing. This can lead to a cycle of victimization and criminalization, perpetuating the barriers faced by people with IDD. Although people with IDD represent up to 3% of the U.S. population, the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 20% of prisoners and 30% of jail inmates reported having a cognitive disability. People with IDD are often mistakenly perceived as suspicious due to behaviors related to their disability and may not be able to understand or respond appropriately to an officer’s commands. Not all disabilities are visible, and assumptions from officers can have deadly results. As victims, they are three times more likely than nondisabled people to be victims of violent crime and seven times more likely to experience sexual assault. Yet officers may question if people with IDD are credible witnesses, which leads to low levels of reporting these crimes.

Just Policing, launching in July 2024, will be offered both online and in-person, with the goal of training over 5,000 officers with the support of chapters in Indiana, Oregon, New Mexico, and Virginia. This would reach law enforcement who serve roughly 2 million Americans in their local communities with an additional 10 million with two statewide efforts. The in-person trainings will be led by The Arc’s local chapter staff, law enforcement trainers, and self-advocates—people with IDD who can share their lived experiences and perspectives. By addressing ableism and biases, increasing tolerance among officers, and supporting community policing strategies, the training aims to make the criminal justice system more accessible and trustful to people with IDD. Just Policing is based on a module of The Arc’s National Center for Criminal Justice and Disability’s Pathways to Justice training.

“Far too often, misunderstandings between law enforcement and people with disabilities have tragic consequences,” said Leigh Anne McKingsley, Senior Director of The Arc’s National Center for Criminal Justice and Disability. “People with disabilities should feel safe and protected in our communities. That’s why we’re bringing them together with officers and The Arc’s criminal justice experts to build awareness of the rampant, dangerous, and overlooked issues they face in our criminal justice system. Our aim is to build trust and replace fear with empathy and compassion on both sides,” she continued.

“The Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office) is the component of the U.S. Department of Justice responsible for advancing the practice of community policing which begins with a commitment to building trust and mutual respect between police and communities,” said LaToshia Austin, PhD, Policy Analyst at the Department of Justice, COPS Office. “We are excited to fund the Just Policing: Disability Inclusion Training project by The Arc which was provided through our FY23 Tolerance, Diversity, and Anti-Bias Training – Community Policing Development Solicitation. Our goal is to increase law enforcement training on tolerance, anti-bias, diversity, and cultural awareness which will help law enforcement agencies improve community engagement, increase trust, and enhance collaborative problem-solving efforts. We envision the project to be a great success and will improve cultural competency and police legitimacy by providing high quality, interactive training for law enforcement on their interactions with persons with disabilities.”

“My justice entanglement affected how social I was because many people were willing to accept the allegations,” said a young adult with autism and traumatic brain injury who was involved with the criminal justice system and participates in The Arc’s police trainings. “It impacted my education and my ability to apply for employment. It took a long time to show that the allegations against me were not true. I am fortunate to have a family who accepted me and fought to find out the truth. Those of us who have IDD need to be involved in the trainings. Officers should begin to identify, investigate, and preserve accommodations for people with IDD just like they do other evidence. When we share our experiences, it has greater impact.”

“I’m privileged to work with both law enforcement and people with IDD to improve communication and outcomes” said Misha Marie, Social Navigator and Just Policing Trainer at The Arc of Benton County. “The best part of the work is seeing both groups relax and begin to be comfortable with each other. This is a giant step in the right direction for all of us to live in safer, healthier communities.”

In addition to training frontline officers, the project will strengthen partnerships between law enforcement agencies and local chapters of The Arc invested in making their communities more inclusive, accessible, and just for all.

A man with a disability holds a sign up that says "Justice."

NCCJD Celebrates 10 Years of Disability and Criminal Justice Advocacy

By Leigh Anne McKingsley, Senior Director, Disability & Justice Initiatives

I had just completed my master’s in social work when The Arc hired me in 1994 to oversee a national project educating criminal justice professionals about safe interactions with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). That initial one-year project led to my life’s work of exposing the injustices facing people with IDD in the criminal justice system, both in the US and globally.

In 1997, I presented a paper at a symposium hosted by what is now known as The President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities. The paper laid out key issues and recommendations, including the need for a national center or clearinghouse dedicated to people with IDD in the criminal justice system. This dream was realized in the fall of 2013 when The Arc created the National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability® (NCCJD) supported by funding from the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA).

The Arc’s NCCJD is the first national center focused on justice-involved people with IDD. We continue to be the preeminent center in the US that advocates with and for victims, witnesses, suspects, defendants, and incarcerated persons with IDD who are involved at all stages of the criminal justice process. NCCJD is a bridge between the disability and criminal justice communities that pursues safety, fairness, and justice for people with IDD, especially those with hidden disabilities and in marginalized communities.

As we celebrate 10 years of advocacy, we reflect on where we were a decade ago, where we are today, and our goals for the future.

The Early Years

A group of people dressed in business attire poses for a photo. In the front row, there are three people in wheelchairs and one holding onto a walker.

During the mid-90s, few attorneys, judges, and court personnel were versed in the requirements of Title II of the ADA. Typical law enforcement training was often dated, and IDD was only briefly mentioned in training on mental health or crisis intervention. Seeing a need, we created the first law enforcement training on IDD in 1998 for chapters of The Arc and other advocates.

In 2013, the need for this type of training gained national attention after the death of Ethan Saylor. Ethan, a 26-year-old man with Down syndrome, died from a fractured larynx when he was placed in a chokehold by an off-duty police officer for not paying for a second showing of a movie.

Around that time, The Arc received funding from BJA to launch NCCJD and develop Pathways to Justice (Pathways), a unique, comprehensive, community-based program that seeks to improve access to justice for people with IDD. The funding also allowed NCCJD to provide no-cost Pathways training to communities across the US.

James Meadours, a man with a disability, is standing next two three police officers at an event. They are all smiling.

Understanding that training in and of itself can never address root issues, Pathways includes forming a Disability Response Team (DRT) that is created before the training occurs and is there long after the training ends. DRTs are multi-disciplinary teams made up of local law enforcement, legal professionals, victim service professionals, persons with IDD, and other IDD professionals or advocates. DRTs proactively build collaborative responses and reach agreed-upon goals to support the needs of people with IDD in the community who are justice-involved.

NCCJD’s other work has included hosting webinars and developing publications that provide valuable insight into issues that are not being addressed elsewhere. These groundbreaking white papers, handouts, and one-pagers touch upon critical areas of the criminal justice system, including tips for law enforcement and attorneys when serving people with IDD, know-your-rights information, resources for victims of crime, and materials on competency to stand trial.

Continuing the Movement

A large group of people with and without disabilities stand on stage at a conference.Today, Pathways to Justice remains one of the few IDD-specific programs in the US. It has reached over 2,000 stakeholders in over 12 states and has created Disability Response Teams around the country, creating sustainable change.

Through NCCJD’s information and referral services, we support victims and suspects/defendants with IDD and professionals in need of information, support, or training. We also created an online Community of Practice for The Arc’s chapter network to discuss issues in their community and hear from people with IDD and experts on timely issues, including funding opportunities.

The national center has even expanded internationally. In 2015, NCCJD began collaborating with leading experts worldwide on IDD and criminal justice. Our work with the Access to Justice International Hub involves over 20 countries. NCCJD staff learn from partners abroad, bring innovative ideas to the US, and share best practices. We have participated in several international webinars and presented at in-person conferences in England, Austria, and South Korea.

Some of NCCJD’s other projects and activities include:

On the Horizon

A man with a disability holds a sign up that says "Justice."NCCJD’s programmatic work must evolve and remain innovative as we seek to reform a criminal justice system that too often remains unaware of the unique needs of the IDD community. We are revisiting our strategic plan and the Pathways program to include the most up-to-date research, best practices in curriculum delivery, and effective ways to incorporate a lens of intersectionality by grounding the work in a disability justice framework. The updated Pathways will include a more robust technical assistance program focused on helping DRTs set achievable goals to begin a community’s path on sustainable change.

Our other priorities include:

  • Continuing to provide nationwide information, referral, and support to people with IDD, families, advocates, and criminal justice stakeholders.
  • Creating online tools, publications, and resources on in-demand topics.
  • Providing evidence-based training to criminal justice professionals and expanding community-based alternatives through DRTs.
  • Ensuring people with IDD are included in criminal justice related research.
  • Increasing collaborations with partners, especially with regard to intersectional work.
  • Ensuring meaningful criminal justice reform that prioritizes the ideas, needs, and voices of people with IDD through state and federal legislation.
  • Identifying and supporting people with IDD to lead reform efforts.
  • Advocating with people with IDD to become paid peer support specialists within criminal justice, including as co-trainers, in co-response, and other roles.
  • Advocating for equal access to sex education for students with IDD to decrease unsafe sexual practices and increase healthy sexual practices.
  • Increasing training for criminal justice professionals on the topic of sexual violence within the IDD community, especially sex crime investigators.

NCCJD’s rallying cry over the past decade can be summed up in one powerful word: inclusion. All people with IDD must be included in society in a way that is fair, just, and safe. NCCJD commits to continuing the movement for inclusion by breaking down barriers to inclusion and building pathways to justice for people with IDD and their families.

After 27 years working at the intersection of disability and criminal justice, I’ve learned that change doesn’t happen overnight. But small victories can build momentum and lead to substantial wins. I have seen wins through increased funding for research, supporting people with IDD to become trainers or co-trainers in national training for first responders, creating alternative response to crisis by prioritizing community-based responses, and building new collaborations and strengthening a unified solidarity internationally to further the movement in the US and beyond.

Together, we must believe and envision the world we hope to create with and for people with IDD, believing that both true inclusion and justice can and must prevail.

A medical professional in a white labcoat holds a black clipboard.

Let’s Talk About Sexual Violence: Addressing Miscommunication, Inexperience, and Bias in Health Care

By Pauline Bosma and James Meadours

As people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) who are also survivors of sexual violence, or work with survivors, we face many challenges when trying to get good health care.

We think it’s important to share our stories to help make things better for other people like us. We also want to help health care professionals understand where we are coming from.

Here are some things we have experienced before, or continue to experience:

Pauline Bosma and James Meadours

Pictured left: Pauline Bosma, Rainbow Program Coordinator (Rainbow groups are for self-advocates who are members of both the intellectual and developmental disability community and the LGBTQ+ community). Pictured right: James Meadours, Self-Advocate Survivor, Strategic Education Solutions.


  • I asked staff at my doctor’s office what they would do if someone with IDD came to them for help after being sexually assaulted. They admitted they didn’t know what to do.
  • After one of my assaults, I asked for help, but no one knew the right places or resources in the community that could help me.
  • I visited my doctor’s office recently about a health care issue, and the nurse who was helping me wouldn’t slow down. She was in a rush. I wasn’t even told my diagnosis. I had to learn about it later at another doctor visit.


  • There is a lot of miscommunication about how to report sexual violence and health care professionals not knowing what to do or not do.
  • As a transgender individual with IDD, I see and experience a lot of stigmas. Health care professionals think I’m not sexual because I have an IDD. They’ve told others they can’t be gay because they have a disability. Some health care professionals don’t feel comfortable using our pronouns.
  • Health care professionals often don’t look at or talk to their patients with IDD but will talk to their support person, parent, or other caregiver instead.
  • It’s really hard to find a therapist who will talk about transgender issues and who takes Medicaid. Transportation is also hard to find. It’s hard to find someone near me. It feels like I’m going through this all by myself.

We believe change can happen when health care professionals get to know us as human beings and listen to what we need.

Here are some ideas that doctors, nurses, and others can keep in mind to help communicate better and have more authentic connections and conversations with patients with IDD:

  • Listen and believe us! When people with disabilities have just experienced the most significant trauma of their lives, it is incredibly painful and lays additional trauma on top of the original trauma if we are not listened to, heard, and believed. The system that is set up to help us ends up re-victimizing us.
  • Have an open mind and be sensitive to us no matter what our disability or sexuality is. Please use our correct pronouns. It helps us feel “seen.”
  • As frontline health care workers, please learn about resources and agencies in the community that can help survivors with IDD and share those with us. We need to know how to find therapists who have experience working with survivors with IDD, including those in the LGBTQ+ community. We need to find support groups that can include us, even if we need accommodations to be included.
  • Don’t make assumptions about us. People with IDD are sexual, just like many people without disabilities! We may be straight, gay, or transgender. There’s a lot of diversity in the disability community.
  • Keep educating yourself about this silent epidemic! Learn about the data. People with IDD are more likely to experience sexual violence. In fact, they experience it at seven times the rate compared to people without disabilities.
  • Some of us may be afraid to speak out about sexual violence if it reveals our sexual orientation. We may not be ready to come out because we are afraid and lack support. Help us feel safe.
  • Normalize conversations with patients about sexuality, especially with those who have IDD. We want to talk about things like what is sexual violence; how to prevent sexual violence; and where to get help from people or agencies that understand the IDD community.
  • Give us information in plain language that is easy for us to understand. Use pictures so that we can understand if we have trouble reading something.
  • Ask if your office can get training on this topic from your local disability advocacy group, self-advocacy group, or LGBTQ+ advocacy community. We want to give the training ourselves because this means no one is putting words in our mouths. It also helps health care providers relate to us.

The Talk About Sexual Violence project trains health care providers about ways to ensure their appointments with survivors with IDD are accessible. We need your help to educate as many health care providers as possible about how important it is to use a trauma-informed care approach.

Taking action is important. Please share this blog and the Talk About Sexual Violence training tools with others, and sign the pledge to prevent sexual violence. YOU can be the change!

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Survivors of Sexual Violence With Developmental Disabilities in LGBTQ and Transgender Communities Speak Out

By: The Arc’s Talk About Sexual Violence Project and The Rainbow Program

How bias and discrimination impact survivors with developmental disabilities within the LGBTQIA+ community

Survivors of sexual violence with developmental disabilities (DD) within the LGBTQIA+ community often experience bias and discrimination which impacts their access to services:

  • There is a lack of sexuality education among this population which can increase their risk of being sexually violated
  • Society tends to minimize or ignore the sexuality of people with DD or not realize that they are sexual beings with sexual feelings, desires and needs.
  • Survivors often feel misunderstood and judged, so they don’t feel safe reaching out for help
  • They often try to hide who they really are
  • They face painful rejection by family and friends
  • They can also face discrimination at work
  • They are not allowed to make choices or supported by others to make their own choices
  • They can feel isolated because of a lack of support to help them meet and date others or establish long-term, fulfilling relationships
A woman in a bright pink sleeveless blouse stands smiling with her arms on her hips. She has blonde hair and behind her is the siding of a house.

Pauline Bosma

While there is little data on the percentage of disabled LGBTQ+ people who are victimized by crime, the statistics on the victimization of disabled people and LGBTQ+ people individually display the need for further investigation and support.

People might assume that everyone is heterosexual and so they assume that consensual same-sex relationships are abuse. They might feel like they have no one to trust if they want to report abuse. Sometimes when LGBTQ+ people with IDD report same-sex abuse, people think it was consensual, even if it was not.” – Pauline Bosma, Rainbow Program Coordinator

(Rainbow groups are groups for self-advocates who are members of both the disability community as well as the LGBTQ+ community.)

How can we address this bias and discrimination?

In order to address the bias, we have to educate society about two key things: how we can effectively include the LGBTQIA+ community in sexual education and violence prevention and  how to provide much-needed accommodations that allow survivors to feel and actually be included in their own sexual education, justice, or healing process.

Having an attitude and core value of inclusion means:

  • You actively listen to survivors with curiosity and compassion
  • You believe them
  • Your personal values don’t impact the quality of care you provide
  • You see them as a trauma survivor first, not their disability

Providing accommodations for survivors can look like this:

  • You speak to them directly, not to their care provider or family member
  • You ask them if they want peer support
  • You use active listening skills when talking to them
  • You show real concern for them and are patient with them
  • You comfort them in ways they can understand
  • You use everyday words and ask them if they understand what you are saying
  • You help them understand any paperwork they need to read or sign

How can society make real change for a new direction in the future?

Survivors with DD within the LGBTQIA+ community must be given the opportunity to lead the way to speak out when they are ready, provided training and education on this topic, be seen and trusted as experts on their own experiences, sought out by the community and policymakers for their valuable contributions, and not be seen or treated as a token in any way.

Survivors with DD within the LGBTQIA+ community shared their tips on how to make change:

  • We can learn how to speak up for ourselves and others!
  • We want to be active in our health care and recovery
  • We can train professionals about how they can speak to us, so we understand them and how to make our own choices
  • We can join coalitions related to this topic in our communities and states
  • We can be on the frontlines to help start a national conversation about sexual violence prevention
  • We can make sure to talk about self-care in advocacy groups so people feel supported
  • We can dream up ways to ensure long term support for survivors

“We believe Adult Protective Services, health care, and law enforcement can collaborate to strengthen their understanding about how people with disabilities and people in the LGBTQIA+ community have experienced discrimination when reporting abuse. We can all work together with survivors taking a leadership role in training. Nothing About Us Without Us!” – Patty Quatieri and Kecia Weller, Survivor Self-Advocates

Learn more about The Arc’s Talk About Sexual Violence project and more about the Rainbow Group.



Building Partnership Initiative, Peer Support Network

Pauline Bosma

Patty Quatieri and Kecia Weller, Co-Chairs

A man in a blue suit with a red tie stands in front of a doorway at the White House. In the background is a blue oval plaque on the wall with white text that reads "The White House" and behind him is an American Flag.

Disability Justice Advocate Neli Latson Joins White House Black History Month Event

Washington, DC – Neli Latson’s story of unjust prosecution and abuse in the criminal legal system was heard at the White House today, bringing attention to the need for better treatment of people with disabilities in interactions with law enforcement.

Latson was invited to speak with high level government officials during a Black History Month event with other young advocates on a variety of social justice issues.A man in a blue suit with a red tie stands in front of a doorway at the White House. In the background is a blue oval plaque on the wall with white text that reads "The White House" and behind him is an American Flag.

“Being at the White House today was not only an honor, it was a dream come true. For years, when I was locked up in solitary confinement, I daydreamed about getting out and telling my story. I wanted to stand up and speak out so that other autistic people, and other Black people, and other Black and autistic people, would not experience the terrible things that happened to me,” said Latson.

In 2010, Latson was an 18-year-old high school student, waiting outside his neighborhood library in Stafford County, Virginia for it to open. Someone called the police reporting a “suspicious” Black male, possibly with a gun. Latson, who has autism and intellectual disability, had committed no crime and was not armed. The resulting confrontation with a deputy who came to investigate resulted in injury to the officer when Latson, whose autism is accompanied by tactile sensitivity, resisted being manhandled and physically restrained. This was the beginning of years of horrific abuse in the criminal legal system. Prosecutors refused to consider Latson’s disabilities, calling it a diagnosis of convenience and using “the R-word,” and rejected an offer of disability services as an alternative to incarceration. Instead, Latson was convicted, sentenced to prison and 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.

The Arc of Virginia and national disability advocates, including The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability and the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, urged then-Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe to pardon Latson.  In 2015, he was granted a conditional pardon. Although this released Latson from prison, it required him to live in a restrictive residential setting and remain subject to criminal legal system supervision for ten years. The terms meant Latson could be sent back to jail at any time, causing constant anxiety.

Finally, in 2021, then-Virginia Governor Ralph Northam granted Latson a full pardon, giving him his freedom. Since this development, Latson now lives in his own apartment and receives community-based supports.

“It’s gratifying to have the White House acknowledge the importance of Neli’s advocacy for a society that treats all people with disabilities, particularly Black people, with dignity and respect. The painful truth is that Black people with disabilities live at a dangerous intersection of racial injustice and disability discrimination, and Neli’s life was forever altered by his experience,” said Tonya Milling, Executive Director of The Arc of Virginia, who attended the event with Latson.

“This case galvanized disability rights activists, bringing national attention to overly aggressive and sometimes deadly policing, prosecution and sentencing practices and to the horrifying mistreatment of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in jails and prisons. Neli’s advocacy is a testament to his strength and desire to make sure no one is treated like he was in that moment that forever changed his life,” said Leigh Ann Davis, Senior Director, The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability.

“I still have a lot of trauma to overcome. I am fearful and it’s hard for me to do a lot of things. At the same time, I am happy that the activism and publicity about my case not only helped me, but also helped to make change for others,” concluded Latson.

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National Disability Rights Groups File Amicus in Perez v. Sturgis

This week, The Arc of the United States joined eleven national disability rights organizations in filing an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court. The amici are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to protect students with disabilities and ensure that families of these students are able to pursue the full range of civil rights remedies directly in federal court. The case, Perez v. Sturgis Public Schools, is scheduled to be heard on January 18, 2023.

“Students with disabilities already face inordinate obstacles in getting the education they need to build their future,” said Shira Wakschlag, Senior Director of Legal Advocacy and General Counsel at The Arc. “From inadequate accommodations and low expectations to restraint, seclusion and poor support, parents and children are too often forced to become experts in self-advocacy and the law in order to obtain services and supports they are entitled to. If the lower court decision is allowed to stand, it will cause further harm to students with disabilities who already experience segregation and discrimination in school and will burden parents by forcing them to jump through futile and unnecessary hoops in order to pursue non-IDEA civil rights claims in federal court.”

In Perez v. Sturgis Public Schools, the plaintiff Miguel Perez, a deaf individual, was denied a sign language interpreter for 12 years while attending Sturgis Public Schools, which ultimately impacted his ability to read, write, and graduate. The Perez family filed a due process complaint alleging violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the parties settled the IDEA claims. The ADA claims were dismissed since these claims cannot be heard in administrative proceedings, so the family brought the ADA claims in federal court and sought compensatory damages. The lower court held that Perez gave up his right to sue under the ADA in federal court when he settled the IDEA claims because settlement does not constitute exhaustion of administrative remedies. Yet both claims are vital in his fight against years of discrimination and neglect – the IDEA claim addressed the school’s failure to provide the education and services he needed to learn, and the ADA claim addresses his unequal access to education and compensatory damages for his emotional distress resulting from that discrimination. If the U.S. Supreme Court does not rule in favor of the plaintiff, students with disabilities and their families will have to turn down full IDEA settlements, forgoing their ability to immediately receive a ‘free appropriate public education,’ in order to preserve their distinct non-IDEA claims.


About 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 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.

Media Contact: Jackie Dilworth, Director of Communications,

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A Review of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Disability and Civil Rights Record

On February 25, President Biden nominated Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson for Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court to fill the upcoming vacancy due to the retirement of Justice Stephen Breyer. This is the first-ever nomination of a Black woman to the Supreme Court as well as the first-ever former public defender. Judge Jackson currently sits as a circuit judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and has previously served as a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, a public defender, a Commissioner on the U.S. Sentencing Commission, and as a judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Judge Jackson has received Columbia Law School’s Empowering Women of Color Constance Baker Motley Award. Judge Jackson’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee begins on March 21.

Each nomination to the Supreme Court is incredibly significant. The Arc reviews the record of Supreme Court nominees to determine whether prospective members of the Court demonstrate a strong commitment to advancing disability civil rights and ensuring equal application of the law. The purpose of The Arc’s review is to educate the public about a given nominee’s record in order to contribute to greater understanding of the nominee with regards to the issues of greatest relevance to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and their families and supporters.

Judge Jackson has authored nearly 600 opinions since being appointed a judge in 2011. Here, we highlight some areas of her jurisprudence particularly relevant to people with disabilities.


The Arc’s position statement on Education states: “All children with IDD must receive a free appropriate public education that includes fair evaluation, ambitious goals, challenging objectives, the right to progress, individualized supports and services, high quality instruction, and access to the general education curriculum in age-appropriate inclusive settings.”

In her opinions related to the education of students with disabilities, Judge Jackson has generally demonstrated an appreciation for the obligations of school districts to provide the supports students with disabilities—including those with the most significant disabilities—need to thrive. For example, Judge Jackson has held that public schools must ensure a private placement for a student with a disability can “adequately address” the student’s needs and provide the level of supports required for the student to receive a free appropriate public education (required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) before making the placement.1 Judge Jackson has also rejected a school district’s argument that serving a student with intellectual disability and significant disability-related behaviors was “impossible” or that the student’s behavior excused the district from placing him in a program that could meet his needs and held that the school district violated the IDEA by failing to provide plaintiff an education following his expulsion.2


The Arc’s position statement on Criminal Justice states: “People with IDD have the right to justice and fair treatment in all areas of the criminal justice system, and must be afforded the supports and accommodations required to make justice and fair treatment a reality.”

Judge Jackson has generally shown a respect for the dignity of incarcerated people and upheld their rights to receive accommodations and fair treatment while entangled in the criminal justice system. For example, Judge Jackson has held that a jail violated the rights of a deaf inmate under federal disability rights laws when jail officials did nothing to assess the inmate’s need for reasonable modifications despite their knowledge of his disability and failed to provide him with a sign language interpreter, forcing him to communicate only through lip reading and written notes and sending him to solitary confinement.3 In her opinion, Judge Jackson wrote that although “[i]ncarceration inherently involves the relinquishment of many privileges,” incarcerated people retain important rights, “including protections against disability discrimination.”

Judge Jackson has granted a number of compassionate releases during the pandemic, including of prisoners with mental and physical disabilities.4 Judge Jackson has spoken out about the need for a robust public defense system in order to “protect the rights of the accused.”5 Judge Jackson has also expressed concern about the ability of people facing the death penalty to receive adequate opportunity to assert their innocence if new evidence emerges post-conviction.6 Such post-conviction evidence can also be critical in cases involving the death penalty and intellectual disability. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits the execution of people with intellectual disability as cruel and unusual punishment and has mandated that states cannot ignore clinical science or impose procedures that create an “unacceptable level of risk” that people with intellectual disability will be executed.7 But proving that an individual has intellectual disability in the death penalty context involves a fact-intensive, comprehensive review of records since childhood as well as expert testimony and all too many individuals who likely have intellectual disability are initially represented by counsel unfamiliar with this area of law and are precluded from presenting relevant evidence to the court later on in the process because of procedural hurdles, resulting in miscarriages of justice for these defendants.

Prior to becoming a judge, Judge Jackson represented criminal defendants with mental health disabilities, including those with co-occurring intellectual or developmental disabilities and, thus, has a keen awareness of the barriers such individuals can face in accessing justice.8


The Arc’s position statement on Employment states: “People with IDD can be employed in the community alongside people without disabilities and earn competitive wages. They should be supported to make informed choices about their work and careers and have the resources to seek, obtain, and be successful in community employment.”

Judge Jackson has generally demonstrated an appreciation for plaintiffs’ allegations in employment discrimination actions and has held that federal disability rights laws require employers to engage in a meaningful, interactive process with employees with disabilities to ensure the employees have the reasonable accommodations they need to perform their jobs.9 For example, Judge Jackson has held that employers must consider job reassignments for qualified employees with disabilities as reasonable accommodations where other accommodations have proved ineffective. Judge Jackson has also repeatedly emphasized the importance of allowing discovery to proceed to ensure that plaintiffs challenging workplace discrimination have a fair opportunity to present their case.10 Judge Jackson has also demonstrated a commitment to ensuring that pro se plaintiffs—plaintiffs who represent themselves—are able to meaningfully assert their rights in court, ensuring access to justice for those without legal representation who may have misunderstood legal processes and procedures, including for disability-related reasons, among others.11

At times, Judge Jackson has imposed a relatively high bar for proving employment discrimination and has, at times, read procedural requirements in restrictive ways that limit the avenues for relief for employees alleging discrimination.12


The Arc’s position statement on Human and Civil Rights states: “The human and civil rights of all people with IDD must be honored, protected, communicated, enforced and thus be central to all advocacy on their behalf.”

Judge Jackson has generally demonstrated an understanding of the robust protections provided by federal and disability civil rights laws. For example, in a case alleging that Uber discriminated against wheelchair users, Judge Jackson held that people with disabilities do not need to engage in the “futile gesture” of making themselves subject to Uber’s discriminatory policies in order to have standing to sue the company.13 This principle also applies in other contexts under federal disability rights laws and allows, for example, people with IDD who are at serious risk of institutionalization to challenge government policies that deny them community-based services and supports even if they have not yet been institutionalized. Judge Jackson also held that Uber is a public transportation company—not a technology company—and is subject to liability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, ensuring that the rights of people with disabilities are protected in a rapidly changing transportation industry.

Judge Jackson has also participated in a decision upholding President Biden’s eviction moratorium designed to keep renters in their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic, demonstrating a concern for the rights of the most vulnerable residents, which includes renters with disabilities who face a disproportionately severe risk of experiencing homelessness and complications from COVID-19.14

With over a decade on the federal bench, Judge Jackson has extensive relevant experience to serve as a Supreme Court justice. In her nearly 600 opinions on a wide variety of topics, Judge Jackson has demonstrated an understanding and appreciation of the robust protections provided by federal disability and civil rights laws. In disability and other civil rights cases, Judge Jackson has shown a willingness to hear claims from injured plaintiffs, a commitment to avoiding imposing unfair burdens on plaintiffs, and has acknowledged the hardships that drove plaintiffs to seek relief. Her unique background as a public defender prior to becoming a judge and her overall judicial record indicates that she is committed to a generally robust interpretation of disability and civil rights laws, fundamental fairness for all, and ensuring that plaintiffs receive their day in court. Judge Jackson’s historic nomination is important to The Arc as we are committed to access, equity, and inclusion in all we do, and our diverse and growing disability rights movement expects the institutions that uphold our democracy to reflect the full diversity of our country.

The Arc is grateful for a number of groups for publishing their research regarding Judge Jackson’s disability and civil rights record which this statement draws from. For a more thorough review of Judge Jackson’s record on a variety of topics, please see reports from the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, NAACP LDF, and the Alliance for Justice.


1 W.S. v. District of Columbia, 502 F. Supp. 3d 102 (D.D.C. 2020).

2 Schiff v. District of Columbia, Civil Action No. 18-cv-1382 (KBJ), 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 189606 (D.D.C. Nov. 1, 2019).

3 Pierce v. District of Columbia, 128 F. Supp. 3d 250 (D.D.C. 2015)

4 See, e.g., United States v. Greene, No. 71-CR-1913 (KBJ), 516 F. Supp. 3d 1 (D.D.C. 2021); United States v. Dunlap, No. 17-CR-207 (KBJ), 485 F. Supp. 3d 129 (D.D.C. 2020); United States v. Johnson, No. 15-CR-125 (KBJ), 464 F. Supp. 3d 22 (D.D.C. 2020).

5 Ketanji Brown Jackson, “Responses to Questions for the Record from Senator Ben Sasse to Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, Nominee to the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit,” Senate Judiciary Committee (2022) at 465 (of PDF), available at

6 Ketanji Brown Jackson, “Supreme Court as Gatekeeper: Screening Petitions for ‘Original’ Writs of Habeas Corpus in the Wake of the A.E.D.P.A.” (November 2001), available at (pp 1474-85).

7 See, e.g., Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), Hall v. Florida, 134 S. Ct. 1986 (2014), and Moore v. Texas, 137 S. Ct. 1039 (2017).

8 See, e.g., United States v. Kosh, 184 Fed. Appx. 4 (D.C. Cir. 2006); United States v. Lowe, 186 Fed. Appx. 1 (D.C. Cir. 2006).

9 See, e.g., Von Drasek v. Burwell, 121 F. Supp. 3d 143 (D.D.C. 2015); Mitchell v. Pompeo, No. 1:15-cv-1849 (KBJ), 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 54797 (D.D.C. Mar. 31, 2019).

10 See, e.g., Tyson v. Brennan, 306 F. Supp. 3d 365 (D.D.C. 2017); Ross v. United States Capitol Police, 6 195 F. Supp. 3d 180 (D.D.C. 2016).

11 See, e.g., Horsey v. United States Dep’t of State, 170 F. Supp. 3d 256 (D.D.C. 2016).

12 See, e.g., Alford v. Providence Hosp., 60 F. Supp. 3d 118 (D.D.C. 2014); Crawford v. Johnson, 166 F. Supp. 3d 1 (D.D.C. 2016).

13 Equal Rights Ctr. v. Uber Techs., Inc., 525 F. Supp. 3d 62 (D.D.C. 2021).

14 Alabama Ass’n of Realtors v. United States Dep’t of Health & Hum. Servs., No. 1:20-CV-03377- DLF, 2021 WL 3721431 at *1 (D.C. Cir. Aug. 20, 2021).


A young man sits smiling on a white couch with white blinds in the background. He is wearing a black shirt with the yellow word "ARMY" on it.

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.

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A young man sits smiling on a white couch with white blinds in the background. He is wearing a black shirt with the yellow word "ARMY" on it.

The Arc Recognizes Neli Latson and Lisa Alexander With Catalyst Award

WASHINGTON – The Arc is honored to announce Neli Latson and his mother, Lisa Alexander as recipients of our 2021 Catalyst Award. The award recognizes individuals, businesses, and other organizations that have made extraordinary contributions toward greater social inclusion and the advancement of the human and civil rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).

“We are honored to recognize Neli and his mother Lisa with The Arc’s most prestigious award. Their strength and commitment to fighting for what’s right and for the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities entangled in the criminal legal system is exemplary and should serve as a model to society. In the face of discrimination and mistreatment, Neli and his mother never stopped challenging injustice. They have been relentless in shining a light on the need to recognize and respect the humanity of all people, including those with disabilities. The Arc is proud to honor Neli and his mother as true catalysts of change,” said Peter Berns, Chief Executive Officer of The Arc.

Neli persevered in the face of unjust prosecution and abuse in the criminal legal system for more than a decade, throughout his 20s. Displaying courage and an urgency to bring about systemic change, Neli and his mother never gave up seeking justice and fighting for his freedom. They spoke truth: telling the world that Black people with disabilities and all BIPOC people with disabilities experience disparate treatment in policing, in the criminal legal system, and beyond.

Lisa displayed unwavering love and leadership, fighting for her son, throughout this long ordeal. The two are committed to ongoing advocacy to prevent other people with disabilities from suffering from such horrific abuse and discrimination.

In June of this year, after years of advocacy by Neli and his mother, The Arc of the U.S., The Arc of Virginia, a coalition of other groups, and Neli’s attorneys, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam granted Neli a full pardon.

The Catalyst Awards recognize individuals and organizations that are changing how society perceives and treats people with disabilities. Each honoree has done something remarkable that helps fulfill The Arc’s mission to promote and protect the human rights of people with IDD.

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 over 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.