Nurse holding the hand of a patient

Disability Advocates Urge for Investment in Launch of 988 Hotline: A Mental Health Crisis Deserves a Mental Health Response

The Arc of the United States through its National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability, and the Autism Society of America, two of the nation’s largest and oldest grassroots organizations representing people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), mark the national rollout of the 988 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, by calling for true transformation in crisis response across the nation.

On July 16, 2022, the U.S. will transition to using the three-digit 988-dialing code, nationwide. The expanded hotline will provide 24-hour access to people across the country experiencing a mental health crisis or behaviors that are part of their disability.

According to the National Center for the Dually Diagnosed, 30% -40% of people with IDD are likely to have co-occurring mental health disabilities (almost 70% for people with Autism). In addition, the Centers for Disease Control says adults with disabilities are almost four times more likely to report suicidal ideation compared to persons without disabilities (31% versus 8% in the general U.S. population).

Too often, people with disabilities in crisis have nowhere to turn and call 911, many times resulting in bad outcomes. In some instances, family or friends call 911, only escalating the situation. Research shows people with mental health conditions are 16 times more likely to be killed by law enforcement, people with disabilities make up 33% of people killed by law enforcement, and these risks increase for Black people and other people of color (Policing and Racial Injustice: A Disability Rights Perspective Impacts and Solutions, Disability Rights Ohio).

Disability-related behaviors can be misunderstood by law enforcement officers who are trained to gain control and compliance on a scene but typically not trained to identify a disability or know how to interact or communicate with persons with disabilities. Behaviors such as rocking back and forth, walking or running away when being approached or questioned, and having trouble communicating can be misunderstood and wrongly believed to be indicative of violent behavior or behavior associated with drugs.

“A mental health crisis deserves an emergency response that addresses behavioral health, as well as intellectual and developmental disability for people with co-occurring diagnoses. We applaud the launch of 988, but we believe more investment in the system is needed to ensure people with IDD who have mental health challenges, in every state, have access to the hotline and to make sure 988 effectively serves communities,” said Peter Berns, Chief Executive Officer of The Arc of the U.S.

“Suicidal ideations and attempts disproportionately affect the Autism community at a rate at least three times greater than the neurotypical rate. The Autism Society put together a Suicide Prevention Task Force, which is working to provide more actionable guidance for crisis centers, like the 988 Suicide Prevention Lifeline, to better support the Autism community,” said Chris Banks, President and CEO of the Autism Society of America.

We urge the federal government to:

  • Invest in the creation of community-based infrastructure that can effectively respond to individuals in crisis, and avoid inappropriate institutionalization, hospitalizations, or incarceration.
  • Require a national training curriculum for 988 call-center staff to understand how to respond to callers with intellectual and developmental disabilities, such as Autism, Down Syndrome and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). For example, The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability offers the Pathways to Justice training program. The program offers not only training, but also supports a community-based response through Disability Response Teams that address the topic of people with IDD and criminal justice issues. 988 call center staff can be part of Disability Response Teams, joining a community-side effort to support people with IDD in their own communities.
  • Expand the definition of “first responders,” generally thought of as police, paramedics and firefighters, to include civilian mental health crisis responders.
  • Develop nationwide mobile crisis teams equipped with trauma-informed mental health professionals, peer supports, and community de-escalators.
  • Invest in training mental health professionals, first responders, and related personnel in meeting the needs of people with IDD.

As 988 is rolled out in states and communities across the country, we must work to ensure community-based supports are in place for all callers, including those with mental health disabilities and IDD.

On September 13, The Arc is hosting a free, virtual teach in and workshop, titled “Disabled BIPOC: Disrupting Danger in Crisis Response”. Learn more and register.

A row of $20 bills

The Arc Supports Bill to Allow People With Disabilities to Earn and Save More Money

Washington, D.C. – The Arc supports a bipartisan bill introduced in Congress to finally give people with disabilities and older Americans significantly more freedom to earn and save money without risking the loss of vital benefits, their livelihoods, and their ability to support themselves and members of their family. The SSI Savings Penalty Elimination Act, introduced by U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman on Tuesday, updates Supplemental Security Income (SSI) asset limits for the first time since the 1980s. Current SSI asset limits prevent individuals who receive the modest benefit from saving more than $2,000.

The bill raises SSI asset limits from $2,000 to $10,000 for individuals and from $3,000 to $20,000 for married couples and indexes them to inflation moving forward. SSI provides money to 8 million adults and children with disabilities and older Americans. Many recipients are Black, Hispanic, and other people of color and further marginalized – making it even more critical that Congress pass this bill.

“The SSI Savings Penalty Elimination Act is a positive step forward in The Arc’s ongoing push to give millions of people with disabilities the economic opportunity they deserve and more financial security to save for emergencies and unexpected expenses. We see too many people with disabilities and their families forced to impoverish themselves in order to maintain critical SSI benefits, instead of being able to save for the future and for emergencies that arise in all of our lives,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc of the United States. “Raising asset limits would significantly improve the lives of people with IDD who receive SSI.”

For many years, The Arc has advocated relentlessly for changes to SSI asset limits and against the existing unfair and discriminatory caps. Along with advocates, we have continuously urged Members of Congress to update SSI asset limits to at least adjust for inflation, so that people with disabilities can take advantage of financial opportunity to provide for themselves and their families and feel a better sense of financial security.

The Arc sent a letter to Senators Brown and Portman in support of the bill. Read it here.

Woman on escalator wearing a face mask; she's holding a cell phone in one hand and her suitcase handle in the other

The Arc Responds to New CDC Mask Guidance

Washington, DC – The Arc is disappointed by the decision by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday to revise masking guidelines for the United States. The new set of criteria deprioritizes the importance of case counts, resulting in approximately 70% of United States counties shifting status overnight. This does not mean that those counties do not still have high case counts or that people in those communities who are immunocompromised and at higher risk of contracting and being harmed by COVID-19 should not still protect themselves. The CDC acknowledges as much in their new guidance, detailing different rules for people who are immunocompromised.

“People with intellectual and developmental disabilities are at extremely high risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19 – having an intellectual disability was the strongest independent risk factor for presenting with the diagnosis and the strongest independent risk factor other than age for COVID-19 mortality,” said Peter Berns, The Arc’s CEO. Even though recent variants have been milder in some circumstances, there is no indication that they are still not a serious risk for people with IDD.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have had to push back on the idea that people with IDD are second class citizens who should be deprioritized when rationing care or that the providers who serve them are not essential workers. This change to the masking guidance specifically lays out a completely separate set of rules for people with disabilities, recognizing that they are still at risk, but not asking the general public to continue to take protective measures to help reduce their risks. Access to high quality masks; accessible, affordable and available testing; monoclonal antibodies; and other mitigation options are still – two years into this crisis – not widely available and accessible to people with disabilities. Placing the burden of protecting themselves solely on the high risk individuals without these basic tools in place is unacceptable—even more so with case counts still high and non-universal access to vaccines.

“Masking indoors not only protects the individual wearing the mask, but everyone around them by reducing transmission of the virus. For people who are high risk, the amount of virus in their community is an incredibly important data point. This is especially the case for individuals with disabilities who might not be able to mask themselves and so rely on others. And it also crucial for children with complex medical needs under 5 who cannot be vaccinated right now and for children with disabilities in school who are at high risk.

“Like everyone else, people with disabilities and their loved ones are very tired of the pandemic and want to go back to something like normal. But we are still waiting for vaccines to be universally available and for case counts to drop to protect immunocompromised people. 2,797 people died of the virus on Friday when the guidance was announced and we have almost reached one million deaths, including a disproportionate number of people with IDD. We must ensure that our public health policies focus on and reflect the needs of people with disabilities, not simply tell them to fend for themselves or stay home.

“As this abrupt policy change disregards the needs of people with disabilities begins to be implemented, we ask everyone to think about others in their neighborhoods, in their communities, in that moment when questioning whether it is necessary to put on a mask. Many people will benefit from widespread masking, until things improve for everyone.”

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.

The Arc logo

House of Representatives Passes Historic Disability Funding Through Build Back Better Plan

“We need the Senate to understand all that is on the line”

Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed President Biden’s Build Back Better plan, bringing us one important step closer to making significant investments in our country, in the lives of people with disabilities and their families, and the direct support workforce. The reality is change can’t come soon enough for millions of people.

The proposal includes $150 billion for Medicaid home and community-based services, or HCBS, which provide the support people with disabilities need to be a part of their community, and better pay for the workers who support them.

“This plan is major progress in our country doing what we know is right: putting vital dollars behind something that really should never come with a price tag – basic humanity. People with disabilities, families, and the direct support professionals who support them are struggling to persevere through the hardest of times while suffering in unprecedented ways. And the clock is ticking on how much more they can take,” said Peter Berns, Chief Executive Officer of The Arc.

For years, the service system that people with intellectual and development disabilities (IDD) and their families rely on, Medicaid, has been underfunded. Millions of adults and children all over the country are stuck on waiting lists for HCBS, the direct care workforce is underpaid and undervalued – the quality of services suffer, and too often, unpaid family caregivers are left to fill the gaps, struggling to balance work and family responsibilities.

Build Back Better expands access to services for people with disabilities on waiting lists and starts addressing the direct care workforce crisis, including raising wages and creating more jobs. We need this plan – and more, and we urge the Senate to move swiftly and further humanize this deal, by adding more funding for HCBS.

Congress has heard the outcry from across the country on the need for paid leave, and included a national program so no one has to choose between taking care of themselves or a family member, and their paycheck. The Arc has long advocated for a national paid leave program for family caregivers. The pandemic forced millions of people to choose between their own health, the well-being of their families, and their livelihood.

“Taking time off to care for the people we love should not be so hard. The pandemic has only underscored the urgency of implementing a national paid leave policy, and so the time is now to do the right thing for all caregivers,” said Berns.

The Arc is also pleased that the proposal includes:

  • The expansion of the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program to over 3 million people with disabilities living in U.S. territories
  • The extension of improvements to the Child Tax Credit for one year and permanent expansion of the credit to the lowest income families
  • The expanded Affordable Care Act premium tax credits through 2025
  • The extension of improvements to the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-wage workers with disabilities.

“We need the Senate to understand all that is on the line. The futures of people with disabilities, families, and this critical workforce depends on this moment,” said Berns.

A woman in a motorized chair plays with a small dog on a grassy field in front of a community of houses

New Budget Framework Provides Historic Investment in the Disability Services System

Today, President Biden announced the Build Back Better budget framework that would make significant investments in our nation, people with disabilities, their families, and the direct support workforce. This new deal includes $150 billion for Medicaid home and community-based services, or HCBS, which provide the support people with disabilities need to be a part of their community, and better pay for the workers that support them.

For years, the service system that people with intellectual and development disabilities (IDD) and their families rely on, Medicaid, has needed an investment. People are stuck on waiting lists for HCBS, the direct care workforce is underpaid, and too often, unpaid family caregivers are filling in the gaps.

“This proposal is a huge down payment on investing in the futures of people with disabilities and their families. It will expand access to services for people with disabilities on waiting lists and start addressing the direct care workforce crisis, including raising wages and creating more jobs. Without a robust and well paid workforce, the promise of services in the community falls apart – so it was urgent that the direct support workforce be bolstered in this deal,” said Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc.

While the investment in HCBS is major, and includes long fought for funding, even with the most robust investment in these services, families still need paid leave. The Arc has long advocated for a national paid leave program for family caregivers. The pandemic forced millions of people to choose between their own health, the health of their families, and their livelihood. As the BBB package moves forward, The Arc urges Congress to include paid leave as the package moves through the House and Senate.

“We have always known because of the many stories from our network, but the pandemic highlighted for everyone how crucial paid leave is for people with disabilities and their families. Leaving out paid leave is unacceptable, and Congress should include paid leave in this package,” said Berns.

The Arc is also pleased that the framework includes:

  • The extension of improvement to the Child Tax Credit for one year and permanent expansion of the credit to the lowest income families;
  • The expanded Affordable Care Act premium tax credits through 2025; and
  • The extension of improvements to the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-wage workers with disabilities.

“We urge Congress to act quickly on this plan, add more funding for HCBS as negotiations continue, and fulfill the promise on paid leave. Change can’t come soon enough for millions of people with disabilities and their families,” said Berns.

The United States Capitol Building

During Congressional Recess, We Must Raise Our Voices for Care!

By: Nicole Jorwic, Senior Director of Public Policy

After a slight delay, both Senators and Representatives are back in their states and districts for August recess, but in fact, it goes until mid-September. That means it is a key time to engage, reach out, and share your stories about why Medicaid home and community-based services (HCBS) matter in the lives of people with disabilities, their families, direct care workers, and the care infrastructure.

Every year, The Arc sends out t-shirts and signs to support advocates and encourage them to get out and ask their members of Congress to support the legislative priorities of people with disabilities. Those boxes were sent out to chapters this year, but with the ongoing pandemic, it is clear that in-person events may not be the best option. Moreover, we know that accessibility issues at town halls, even virtual ones, are a constant barrier to access.

While The Arc staff continues the work to increase access to the political process for all people with disabilities, an alternative way for ALL people with disabilities to participate fully in recess, and have their stories known had to be created.

That is why today, The Arc is launching the “Raise Our Voices for Care” campaign. Even if you can’t get to DC, your state capital, or a local town hall, your story still matters and must be shared. Our story tool is easy to use. At the end of recess, we will put all of those stories together to show the strength of all the voices rising up to support the $400 billion investment in Medicaid Home and Community-Based Services.

As a sister to my brother Chris, who doesn’t use his voice to speak, I know how incredibly important it is that we ensure that every person has the ability to communicate, and that includes with their legislators. Join us, share your HCBS story, and help us Raise Our Voices for Care because #CareCantWait!

 

The United States Capitol Building

Better Care Better Jobs Act Will Make Huge Investment in Disability Services

The system that provides supports and services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and their families has fallen far short of their needs for decades, and the COVID-19 pandemic exposed and worsened this reality.

The Better Care Better Jobs Act (BCBJA) introduced today will make a huge investment necessary to change disability services into the future. This bill puts into motion the proposals that were included in President Biden’s American Jobs Plan, which prioritizes the crumbling care infrastructure in this country and recognizes the importance of fixing it and building back for the future.

“Every day, people with disabilities are waiting for their lives to start and often going without the supports they need to achieve their goals. Families that want a different life than an institution or nursing home are forced to navigate a patchwork system of supports with waits and no guarantees. Family members are often forced to either quit or limit their job choices to provide care due to lack of services. And the direct care workforce is underpaid and undervalued.

“We are desperately overdue for a huge investment in disability services. The Better Care Better Jobs Act introduced today will be a game-changer and must be enacted quickly for the disability community to be a part of our economic recovery from this disastrous pandemic,” said Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc.

When the BCBJA becomes law, it will provide huge funding enhancements to states which focus on improving and expanding their Medicaid home and community-based services (HCBS) delivery system. The bill would provide funding to expand access to services for people who are currently on waiting lists for these vital services, and create more and better direct care jobs for the paid workforce that provides these services.

Learn more about how HCBS are vitally important to the lives of people with IDD and their families.

Independence Can’t Wait: New Bill in Congress Championed by The Arc Will Make Home and Community-Based Services Available to All

Washington, D.C. – As the nation continues to face a pandemic that has put a glaring spotlight on the health dangers facing people living in nursing homes and institutions, today Members of Congress unveiled a critical bill developed with The Arc and other disability and aging advocates, that will fundamentally change how people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and older adults live their lives.

The Home and Community-Based Services Access Act (HAA) is a discussion draft bill that would eventually end waiting lists to receive disability services everywhere and help people with disabilities and older adults access the Medicaid home and community-based services (HCBS) they need in order to live at home in their communities with their friends and family, instead of institutions and nursing homes. Today, there are nearly 850,000 people on waiting lists across the country. People with disabilities and their families often wait years—sometimes decades—to access these services.

“For over 70 years, The Arc has been fighting for people with disabilities to live independently with the right supports. We believe that everyone benefits when people with disabilities are a part of the fabric of their communities, not locked away in the institutions that to this day, exist in 36 states. Yet this country has treated access to the services that help people with disabilities gain independence as an option, not a right. As we have seen in the COVID-19 pandemic, this puts people in grave danger. The Arc is leading the charge to change this reality,” said Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc.

People with disabilities and older adults often need help with things like working at a job in the community, making food and eating, managing money and medications, and bathing and dressing. These services are only available through a part of Medicaid called home and community-based services, or HCBS.

Many state Medicaid programs have long waiting lists for HCBS. And these lists don’t capture those who may not know there is a list to be on, or what services are available. Why the wait? Medicaid is required to cover health care services, provided by doctors and hospitals, as well as many institutional services, such as nursing homes and long-term care facilities for people with disabilities without any waiting lists. But states are allowed to treat HCBS as optional – even though they are anything but to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. This is the “institutional bias” in Medicaid – and The Arc has been advocating to change this for decades.

The bill tackles another decades-long problem – low pay for direct support professionals, or DSPs – the people who provide the services to people with IDD and older adults. DSPs are disproportionately women of color, doing critical tasks that support people with disabilities with taking medications, bathing, eating, getting out into the community, and more.  Due to low wages, there is more than 50% turnover annually, and the average wage is less than $11/ hour, making it difficult to provide continuity in services, provide a family sustaining wage, and threatening the quality of care.  The bill will require states to ensure that the direct care workforce is paid a family sustaining wage.

And finally, this legislation addresses an issue people with disabilities and their families face once they are getting services. Often, they end up stuck in one place, tied to Medicaid-funded services in one state that can’t be transferred over state lines. This lack of portability stops adults with disabilities from moving to be closer to their siblings or other family members, when their parents with whom they live can no longer support them or pass away. It leaves parents and siblings of people with disabilities desperate due to the lack of availability of services and long waiting lists, to get what their loved one need in another state.  The problem is particularly hard for military families that move frequently.

The HAA solves these problems by increasing Medicaid funding to states for HCBS, establishing a basic set of services that all states must provide, and providing other tools to help states build the capacity that they need to serve all people who need HCBS.

“Our goal is for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to have timely access to the quality supports and services they need and want to achieve a life of personal significance. This legislation provides real solutions to problems that have persisted for decades, and people with disabilities, their families, and the staff that support their lives can’t wait any longer. We thank the bill’s lead sponsors – Senators Hassan, Brown and Casey, and Representative Dingell, for their commitment and persistence in solving these problems that inhibit the lives of millions of people with disabilities and their family members,” said Berns.

For more information on HCBS and resources, visit thearc.org/medicaidcantwait.

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.

The Arc logo

The Arc Announces New Leaders and Members of National Board of Directors

WASHINGTON, DC -The Arc has elected a slate of new and returning members of the Board of Directors to lead its work for the next two years. This distinguished group includes professionals in the intellectual and developmental disability (IDD) field and affiliated services, people with IDD, family members, and leaders in the corporate and legal sectors—all of whom are dedicated to promoting and protecting the human rights of people with IDD and supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes.

This Board of Directors takes the helm at a critical time for the organization, as we chart a course for our future with a new Strategic Framework for the Future of The Arc that focuses on growing our impact and diversifying our movement. We continue to face grave danger from the COVID-19 pandemic, as the health and safety of people with IDD and the direct support professionals who support them to participate in their communities are at risk. Our chapter network has risen to the challenges brought on by this crisis, and they require resources and support to continue to serve their communities. Our grassroots advocacy is critical as this pandemic wears on and federal elected officials have yet to address the needs of people with disabilities, their families, and service providers.

“We are excited to have such a talented group of volunteer leaders who share and are committed to The Arc’s vision that all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities should be valued members of their communities, with the opportunity to realize their full potential and a future that is secure. The passion and dedication of volunteers at the local, state, and national level have propelled The Arc’s civil rights leadership for decades, and this board will continue that legacy and tackle big challenges and opportunities that face us at this point in history,” said Ken Oakes, President, The Arc’s Board of Directors.

The Arc’s Board Development Committee completed a rigorous process of preparing the slate of officers and directors for election. The Committee identified and selected a group of candidates that collectively has the knowledge, skills, and expertise to meet The Arc’s leadership needs. The process by which the Committee worked to select the candidates unfolded over the course of a year and included reviewing the board roles and responsibilities, developing a nominating process work plan, reviewing and updating the criteria relevant to board composition, conducting a board composition analysis and establishing recruitment priorities, extensive outreach for potential board candidates, and completing candidate interviews. The slate was then presented at the 2020 annual business meeting.

National Board Members of The Arc

Officers

President: Kenneth Oakes, Philadelphia, PA. Ken Oakes has been involved with The Arc since 1976 when he worked at a summer school program for students with IDD. He has served as President of The Arc of Philadelphia and The Arc of Pennsylvania, remaining an active board member of both chapters. His career in special education spans four decades, from a teacher to the Special Education Director in the School District of Philadelphia.  Now retired, he is currently a member of the graduate school faculty at Chestnut Hill College. His work continues in the field of special education, consulting with public and private school special education programs, and compliance monitoring with the state Bureau of Special Education. His time as a member of The Arc’s board includes serving as chair of the Policy and Positions Committee and a member of the Executive, Strategic Planning, and Diversity Committees. Oakes lives in Philadelphia with his husband Ed.

Vice President: Grace L. Francis, Fairfax, VA. Francis is currently an Assistant Professor of Special Education at George Mason University. She formally was the director of the SUCCEED program, a residential college program for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Growing up, her blended family experienced numerous challenges, including disability, addiction, and high mobility. She has firsthand experience with broken and disjointed social and educational policies and programs. As a result, her work and research focus on family support policies and practices and improving post-school outcomes for individuals with significant support needs, including competitive employment, postsecondary education, mental health and wellbeing, and community living.

Secretary: Hugh M. Evans III, New Orleans, LA. Evans has been a member of the board of The Arc of the United States since 2010. He has previously served on other non-profit boards that focus on persons with disabilities, such as V-LINC and Catholic Charities of Maryland. Evans has extensive experience in investment management, financial management, and organizational development—working with large companies and small companies and non-profits. He is currently an independent venture capitalist with a concentration on 3D printing. Hugh has a daughter, Sidonie, with Trisomy 21.

Treasurer: Laura Kennedy, Staten Island, NY. Kennedy is a parent of a woman with a developmental disability and has been active in The Arc at the federal, statewide, and local levels for more than three decades. She is Immediate Past President of The Arc of New York and the former president of the New York City Chapter of The Arc of New York. Kennedy formed The Arc New York Historical Archives Workgroup that is currently preserving the organization’s significant collection of disability history. She is a member of the Pennhurst Memorial & Preservation Alliance Advisory Board. She has been an active member of the Willowbrook Task Force, which includes the College of Staten Island, its Archivist, and the disability community in preserving and recognizing the Willowbrook Consent Judgement and the social justice struggle connected to it. She has also served for over 25 years on the board of the Staten Island Developmental Disabilities Council. After 28 years, Kennedy recently retired as Director of the Early Childhood Direction Center, a New York State Education Department funded technical assistance center supporting professionals and parents of young children with disabilities.

Immediate Past President: Frederick Misilo Jr., Northborough, MA. Misilo has devoted 37 years to The Arc’s mission. He has served as the chair of the Policy and Positions Committee. He has served on the Legal Advocacy Subcommittee and on the Ad Hoc Committee on Planned Communities and Other Residential Alternatives for People with IDD. Misilo is also the Immediate Past President of The Arc of Massachusetts and a longstanding board member of that chapter. He has a long history of advocacy within the legislative and executive branches of Massachusetts government, including the position of Deputy Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services. Misilo is an Officer and Chair of the Trust and Estate Department and Chair of the Elder Law and Special Needs Practice Group at the law firm of Fletcher Tilton PC.

New Board Members

Meghan Burke, Champaign, IL. Burke is an associate professor in the Department of Special Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research examines parent advocacy, sibling caregiving, and families of individuals with disabilities. Meghan has a 26-year-old brother with Down syndrome and has a six-year-old son with a disability.

Jillian Copeland, Rockville, MD. Copeland was an educator, staff trainer, and technology coordinator for Montgomery County Public Schools for several years prior to founding The Diener School in 2007, where she was head of school and on the board of trustees. Copeland’s latest endeavor, Main Street, is an inclusive and affordable apartment building and community center serving people of all abilities. Currently a member of the board of directors for the Jewish Foundation for Group Homes, Copeland also serves on the disability inclusion committee of The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, The Developmental Disabilities Administration Task Force, and Jubilee’s Housing Task Force. Copeland and her husband Scott are the proud parents of four children.

Debbi Harris, Eagan, MN. Harris is a Systems Specialist with Family Voices of Minnesota, and is committed to helping shape all civic, community, and health systems to seamlessly include people with disabilities and chronic medical conditions and their families. Harris has personal experience navigating those systems for over 25 years on behalf of her son Josh, who has intellectual and developmental disabilities and complex medical needs. Harris has served on The Arc’s Committee on Diversity and is currently a member of the national Work Advisory Group for Paid Leave for All.

Jasmine E. Harris, Davis, CA. Harris is a Professor of Law and Martin Luther King, Jr. Hall Research Scholar at the University of California Davis School of Law. Professor Harris is an expert in disability law, antidiscrimination law, and evidence. She writes about the relationship between law and social norms and how laws can be intentionally designed to advance antidiscrimination goals. Professor Harris’ research focuses primarily on these questions in the context of disability law. She has worked in both private and public interest law.

Burt Hudson, Arlington, VA. Hudson is the Chief Operating Officer of LeadingAge, an association of non-profit aging service and long-term care providers. He is responsible for the association’s human resources, business development, finance, and information technology departments. Burt is both a father and brother of individuals with special needs.

Stacy Kray, Pal Alto, CA. Kray is an attorney with more than 20 years of transactional and litigation experience at a leading international law firm. She has coordinated her firm’s Bay Area offices pro bono work for more than a decade, and has personally been involved in class action and other legal proceedings to enforce the civil rights of those with disabilities under federal and state law, including the federal Americans With Disabilities Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Kray is the mother of two teenagers, one of whom has a disability.

Guha Krishnamurthi, Washington, D.C. Krishnamurthi is a lawyer and law professor at South Texas College of Law, focusing on criminal law and criminal procedure. He was raised in Tulsa, OK and is the son of doctors who immigrated from India. In his legal career, Guha has worked for three judges and in private practice in Los Angeles, CA. Guha is passionate about human rights, especially ensuring that those with disabilities can live fulfilling lives as full members of our society.

Russell Lehmann, Reno, NV. Lehmann is an award-winning and internationally recognized motivational speaker and poet with a platform on autism and mental health. A graduate of MIT’s “Leadership in the Digital Age” course, Russell is a council member for the Autism Society of America, the Youth Ambassador for the mayor of Reno, Nevada, and has also sat on the Nevada Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities as well as the Nevada Commission on Autism Spectrum Disorders. Lehmann has set his sights on erasing the stigma and stereotypes that come with having a disability.

Meredith Sadoulet, Philadelphia, PA. Sadoulet is a global executive with experience leading human resources and finance functions across media and technology, banking, healthcare, energy, and defense industries. She is currently VP, Talent Experience at Comcast, where she is leading strategy to deliver outstanding candidate and employee experiences. A strong advocate for diversity, inclusion, and equity, Sadoulet chairs national and local committees dedicated to elevating conversations, addressing issues, and advancing solutions with and for people of all backgrounds. She has family members who have autism.

Chris Stewart, Birmingham, AL. Stewart became the President/Chief Executive Officer at The Arc of Central Alabama in 2013, after serving as the organization’s Chief Financial Officer since 1999. He is responsible for the oversight of more than 650 employees across 89 locations, who manage early intervention, adult day activity, community experience, employment, and residential programs for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Stewart has made a tremendous impact on the organization’s fundraising and strategic business operations. Among Stewart’s many accolades, he was named by the Birmingham Business Journal as the 2019 Executive of Influence.

Returning Board Members

Dena Gassner, MSW, West Hempstead, NY. Gassner is a PhD candidate at Adelphi University and an adjunct at Towson University. She is very engaged in public policy advocacy on the local, state, national, and international levels. Gassner is an inaugural member to the International Society for Autism Research Autistic Researcher Committee and has published many book chapters and journal articles in her career. Her international advocacy has included multiple presentations around the world and at the United Nations. Since coming to The Arc’s Board of Directors, she has served on the Policy and Positions Committee for six years and as the Chair of the National Council of Self-Advocates for four years. She is a parent of two neurodiverse adults.

Mary Gonzalez, Chicago, IL. Gonzales has been a board member of The Arc since 2014 and serves on the Diversity Committee. She is experienced in public policy and an expert in leadership development. She had a brother with a developmental disability and spent many years organizing to create opportunities for him and others in Chicago. Gonzalez co-founded the Gamaliel Network, a national network of social justice organizations.

Hussain Ismail, San Francisco, CA. Ismail is a Pakistani-American marketing executive that has spent his career helping brands and non-profits tell their stories. Currently, he works on the global brand marketing team at Facebook. Ismail was born in Pakistan and moved to the United States at a young age. He grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and has a sibling with an intellectual disability.

Chloe Rothschild, Sylvania, OH. Rothschild is a young adult with autism. She is on a mission to make a difference and help teach others about autism by sharing her own experiences. Rothschild advocates through writing, speaking, and social media. She currently serves on various boards in Ohio and has been involved with autism advocacy for over five years.

Mitch Routon, Colorado Springs, CO. Routon is a member of The Arc Pikes Peak Region’s Board and The Arc of Colorado’s Board of Directors. He is a strong self advocate in the Colorado Springs and larger Colorado community.

Karen Shoemaker, Allentown, PA. Shoemaker has served as the Executive Director of The Arc of Lehigh and Northampton Counties since 1999. As a local chapter of The Arc of the United States and The Arc of Pennsylvania, The Arc of Lehigh and Northampton Counties provides advocacy and services and supports to over 1,500 individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. Shoemaker has over 34 years of experience in management positions of non-profit disability organizations, with expertise in the areas of programs and services, personnel, development, finance, and administration.

Kathleen Stauffer, Mystic, CT. Stauffer is the Chief Executive Officer of The Arc Eastern Connecticut. She is a recognized leader in public policy advocacy and in individual advocacy for self-advocates. Stauffer has been a member of The Arc’s national Board of Directors since 2014 and has served on the Policy & Positions and Bylaws committees. Currently she is co-chair of the Diversity committee. Prior to her career in the disability sector, she worked as a journalist, photojournalist, editor, and publisher for 30 years. Stauffer is the author/co-author of three books and is currently completing her fourth book.

Faye Tate, Denver, CO. Tate is the Vice President of Diversity & Inclusion at CoBank and the former Director for Global Equality Diversity and Inclusion at CH2M. Tate is well-known in the field of diversity and inclusion, having a proven track record in successfully developing and implementing strategic diversity and inclusion plans for multiple organizations. She is focused on positioning diversity and inclusion as strategic business imperatives. She has a family member with intellectual disability.

Jose Velasco, Austin, TX. Velasco is a Program Director in the Product Engineering Board area at SAP and Autism at Work Ambassador. Velasco’s 30-year information technology career spans the private and public sectors and companies ranging from startups to Fortune 50 enterprises. During his tenure of 22 years at SAP, Jose has occupied positions in product management, consulting, development, strategy, go-to-market, and diversity functions. In 2016, Velasco launched the Autism at Work Summit, a conference series designed to foster collaboration with the ultimate purpose of improving opportunities for individuals with autism in the labor market. He has two family members with autism.

Click Here for Inclusion: Staying Connected During COVID-19

For people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), a fully integrated life in the community often depends on not only people-powered supports like direct support professionals and job coaches, but on the technology to facilitate skill building, social connection, and much more.

As the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the world and shut down entire communities, people with disabilities saw many of those connections and daily routines come screeching to a halt.

Seeing the desperate need for solutions, Comcast NBCUniversal stepped up to quickly provide support where it was needed most. Comcast generously provided grants with flexibility so chapters of The Arc could make the most impact in their fight to safely prevent isolation and support overburdened families. This allowed our chapters to explore new and innovative ways to engage families in the community, at times reaching more people than in the past.

In Larimer County, Colorado, Sam and his mother found themselves stuck at home together and sharing her work laptop. Sam was able to use the laptop for high school classes and his social life—but because his mom also needed it for work, his usage was limited. On top of that, he was not able to download everything he needed for school. The other devices in the house were either no longer able to connect to the internet, out of storage, or not exclusively his. The lack of access prevented him from participating in Zoom calls with his fellow high school classmates and put him behind not only socially but academically. Sam and his mom felt frustrated and left behind, as so many others have during this pandemic.

Through the support of Comcast NBCUniversal, The Arc of Larimer County was able to help Sam and his mother by providing Sam his own new laptop to use however and whenever he wanted. He was finally able to reconnect with his friends virtually and have a sense of independence with having something of his own, giving him something positive as he toughs out the continued isolation wrought by COVID-19.

And Sam’s not the only one thrilled with his new computer! His mom says, “This will be a great stress relief, an answer to prayers. We have been actively looking and trying to make do with my work computer and the one we have to return. Thank you so much for helping our family in this tough time.”          

On the East Coast in Philadelphia, Eloisa Maglaya found herself facing the same challenges. Prior to COVID-19, she was very active in the community and enjoyed attending a variety of events. But once she was home with few options to safely socialize and stay active, she found herself feeling isolated and frustrated. This all changed with the tablet given to her by The Arc of Philadelphia. With her new tablet, she is able to:

  • Maintain a daily routine
  • Stream virtual Zumba classes (her favorite pre-pandemic activity) and stay active
  • Watch movies in her native Tagalog Philippine language
  • Learn how to navigate app usage directions, stream her favorite videos, and better use the device features with the help of her direct support professional
  • Stay updated on COVID-19 safety procedures 

The positive effects of Eloisa’s tablet have been immeasurable. Her family and The Arc’s staff have reported seeing her more joyous and happier!

Comcast NBCUniversal’s support extends far beyond chapter funding. They are leveraging their media platforms to raise public awareness of the impacts of the pandemic on people with IDD—including through multiple segments on the TODAY Show, expanding internet access to low-income families and school districts through Internet Essentials, and advancing accessibility with technology like the voice-activated remote control, X1 eye control, and a dedicated service center for customers with disabilities.

In our hyper-connected world, technology was already what kept us connected from day to day. But as we limit physical contact to stay safe, digital access has become more vital than ever. For people with IDD—who have had to fight for decades for the chance to be included in their communities—access to the digital world ensures that progress is not lost and they can remain connected and engaged with the people and activities they love most.

These grants and more are made possible by:

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