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Coronavirus Relief Bill: The Arc Fights for Disability Community

The Arc is pleased that Congress is recognizing the unique and vital needs that people with disabilities have when facing the COVID-19 pandemic. The emergency relief bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives today includes important and specific measures that would help mitigate the potentially catastrophic impacts of the novel coronavirus on millions of people with disabilities.

As we grow increasingly concerned over the threat of COVID-19 to people with disabilities, their families, and the workforce that supports them, we are encouraged that the House bill includes increased federal reimbursement for state Medicaid programs, which will help the uninsured gain access to COVID-19 testing, emergency requirements for all health insurers to cover testing, expanded nutrition assistance, and paid sick days and paid leave.

We are glad to see that the paid sick time and paid leave provision could be used to care for loved ones who are “otherwise in need of care.” That would cover workers who take time off to care for a loved one with a disability who has lost their primary source of care due to the new coronavirus.

As the legislation moves through Congress, we are advocating for specific funding to support the direct support professional workforce that supports people with disabilities, whose wages largely come from Medicaid, and that they are covered by both paid sick days and paid leave policies put in place by this legislation. Further, people with disabilities must be able to have access to a 90-day supply of medication and medical supply re-fills.

“This bill addresses many of the needs of people with disabilities in this global crisis. As the coronavirus relief bill moves through Congress, the paid sick days and paid leave policy must include funding to cover our direct support workforce,” said Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc. “We fear that without appropriate action by Congress and President Trump, the coronavirus pandemic could lead to further exacerbation of the workforce crisis and the unnecessary placement of people with disabilities and aging adults into institutions and other congregate settings in violation of their rights and posing risk to their health.”

The Arc logo

The Arc, Allies, and Self-Advocates Finally ‘Stop the Shock’

WASHINGTON – After too long of a wait, The Arc celebrates a victory in our seemingly never-ending fight to underscore the value and human dignity of the lives of people with disabilities. After years in limbo, the Food and Drug Administration announced Wednesday it will finally ban the use of the electric shock device that has inflicted painful abuse on residents of the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center (JRC) in Canton, Massachusetts for decades. JRC is an institution for children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and mental health issues.

By the FDA’s own count, as many as 50 JRC residents wear the shock device. Staff members use remote controls to administer shocks for perceived misbehavior. JRC uses the barbaric and inhumane practice, despite substantial evidence that the shocks are painful and traumatizing to residents.

“The Arc and The Arc of Massachusetts, alongside several disability rights organizations and empowered self-advocates across the country, fought for decades to ‘stop the shock’ and to end abusive and cruel practices masquerading as ‘behavioral treatments.’ People with disabilities deserve to live free from fear and torture. The FDA’s decision, years in the making, to ban the use of the electric shock device is a hard-fought victory and a testament to what is possible when disability advocates fight their hardest for change and for the civil rights of people with disabilities. We hope the ban is a significant step in ending the use of all aversive procedures on people with disabilities, who deserve to be supported with dignity,” said Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc.

A woman in a floral bathing suit lays in a beach chair by the pool, smiling

This Black History Month, We Salute Lois Curtis

A woman in a floral bathing suit lays in a beach chair by the pool, smiling
Lois relaxing by the pool

This Black History Month, we celebrate the life and legacy of our African American heroes. They endured, persisted, and paved the way – for us all.

The Arc salutes Lois Curtis. Ms. Curtis’ bravery and refusal to live behind the dark walls of a state institution led to the landmark U.S. Supreme Court Olmstead v. L.C. decision in 1999. The case established that unjustified segregation of people with disabilities is a form of discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act – and that people with disabilities have a right to live in the community rather than institutions.

More than 20 years after Ms. Curtis returned to the community, she is living life to the fullest.

“I am doing pretty good,” Ms. Curtis tells The Arc.

She lives in her own home near Atlanta, Georgia. Ms. Curtis, 52, has a new and blossoming passion for singing and song writing. She enjoys writing original songs and her own versions of Motown hits. Ms. Curtis records at a local recording studio and takes keyboarding lessons. She is also invited to sing for groups in the Atlanta area.

Ms. Curtis says singing makes her feel good and reminds her of good memories with her mother.

These days, Ms. Curtis travels often with her family and direct support professional. She enjoys vacationing in Florida and her family is currently planning a trip back to Miramar Beach.

She loves church, going to the movies, shopping, getting her nails done, and going out to eat. Her favorite cuisine is Mexican.

Ms. Curtis’ longtime direct support staff Pertula Mark says it is a joy to see her happy. There are some tough days when Ms. Curtis talks about her time living in the institution or runs into people she knew at the facility.

Despite the pain of the past, Ms. Curtis, Olmstead co-plaintiff Elaine Wilson, who died in 2005, and attorney Sue Jamieson inspire us all to keep fighting for inclusion, community living, and equality for people with disabilities.

Thank you, Ms. Curtis!

Photo of desks in a classroom with dim, moody lighting

Class Action Complaint Filed in West Virginia Alleging Systemic Disability Discrimination in Kanawha County Schools

Charleston, WV – The Arc of West Virginia is joining parents of a child with autism in filing a class action complaint in federal court in Charleston alleging widespread failures by Kanawha County Schools (KCS) to educate children with disabilities, including autism, intellectual and developmental disabilities, mental health issues, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Specifically, the complaint, filed Friday, asserts that KCS—the public school district serving the Charleston metro area—has failed to provide behavioral supports to students with disabilities and is instead punishing them by sending them home instead of educating them. Attorneys for The Arc of West Virginia and the parents—Disability Rights of West Virginia, Mountain State Justice, The Arc, the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, and the global law firm Latham & Watkins LLP—allege that KCS has violated federal laws protecting students with disabilities.

“The Arc has long fought for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities to be educated in their neighborhood schools, with appropriate supports,” said Liz Ford, Executive Director of The Arc of West Virginia. “KCS’ systemic failure to provide such supports to students with disability-related behaviors has led to punishment, segregation from classmates without disabilities, and loss of valuable instruction time. This is unacceptable to The Arc and our constituents in West Virginia.”

“Students with disabilities and behavioral support needs can thrive in school, graduate with diplomas, and transition to successful adulthood provided they receive the appropriate supports to which they are entitled under federal law. It is critical that KCS take responsibility for teaching all of its students, not just some,” said Jeremiah Underhill, Legal Director of Disability Rights of West Virginia.

Data from the West Virginia Department of Education shows that over 1,000 children with disabilities enrolled in KCS were removed from their classrooms during the 2018-2019 school year after their schools suspended them. This number does not include all of the additional students with disability-related behaviors whose schools asked their parents to take children out of the school before the end of the school day, or to keep them at home, without formally suspending them. It also does not include students with disabilities who were expelled from school for their behavior; those who were separated unnecessarily from mainstream classrooms and moved to segregated classrooms where they interact only with other students with disabilities and receive an inferior education; or those who were placed on “homebound” status where they may receive only a few hours of tutoring each week. These students are not receiving critical behavioral supports that can help them be successful in the general education classroom with their classmates without disabilities.

“It is heartbreaking to see KCS undermine the great potential of students with disabilities by failing to provide necessary supports and, ultimately, removing them from the classroom, causing them to fall farther and farther behind academically and socially,” said Lewis Bossing, Senior Staff Attorney with the Bazelon Center. “And the problem is only getting worse: in the 2018-2019 school year, KCS removed nearly 250 more students with disabilities from the classroom than in the prior academic year, despite overall KCS enrollment decreasing during that same period.”

Specifically, the complaint alleges that KCS is: 1) violating the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) by failing to provide children with disabilities with the special education they need to receive a “free appropriate public education” in the least restrictive environment; and 2) violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504), and the West Virginia Human Rights Act by failing to educate children with disabilities in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs, and denying them equal educational opportunity.

“We are seeing KCS discipline students with disabilities for ‘infractions’ as minor as touching another student with a plastic fork or refusing to get off the playground slide at the end of recess. Students are receiving behavior supports that take the form of rote “code of conduct” checklists rather than the individualized supports that the IDEA requires to adequately support children to succeed in school,” said Lydia Milnes, an attorney with Mountain State Justice.

In 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court held unanimously in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District RE-1 that the “IDEA demands more.” Specifically, the Court provided a new and more demanding standard for what schools must do to adequately educate students with disabilities, requiring that school districts provide “an educational program reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances” and provide students with disabilities the opportunity to meet “challenging objectives” with “appropriately ambitious” special education. For virtually all children, this means receiving instruction and services in the general education classroom, with appropriate supports, alongside students without disabilities. In addition, in 1999, in Olmstead v. L.C., the Court held that the ADA prohibits the needless isolation or segregation of people with disabilities. The ADA applies to public schools, which cannot unnecessarily segregate students with disabilities, nor deny them equal opportunities.

“KCS’ systemic failures to support students with disabilities in the least restrictive, most integrated setting, and overuse of punitive disciplinary measures for behavior that is disability-related, cannot be justified in light of recent and longstanding Supreme Court precedent,” said Michael Faris, Latham & Watkins partner. “By failing to adhere to the IDEA and ADA, KCS is diminishing our clients’ ability to secure the education to which they are entitled by law. We look forward to ensuring that the law is upheld.”

About The Arc

The Arc is the largest national community-based organization advocating for and serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and their families. In partnership with its network of 650 chapters across the country, including The Arc of West Virginia, The Arc works to promote and protect the rights of people with IDD to live, work, and learn in the community free from discrimination. To learn more, visit and

About Disability Rights of West Virginia

Disability Rights of West Virginia (DRWV) is the federally mandated protection and advocacy system for people with disabilities in West Virginia. DRWV protects and advocates for the human and legal rights of persons with disabilities. To learn more, visit

About Mountain State Justice

Mountain State Justice is a non-profit legal services firm dedicated to redressing entrenched and emerging systemic social, political, and economic imbalances of power for underserved West Virginians, through legal advocacy and community empowerment offered regardless of ability to pay. To learn more, visit

About The Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law

The Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law is a national legal advocacy organization protecting and advancing the rights of people with mental disabilities. The Center promotes laws and policies that enable adults and children with mental disabilities to live independently in their own homes, schools, and communities, and to enjoy the same opportunities that everyone else does. To learn more, visit

About Latham & Watkins LLP

Latham & Watkins LLP is global law firm with more than 2,700 lawyers located in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and the United States. For more information, please visit its website at

MLK Day logo that says "MLK Day of Service - Corporation for National and Community Service"

The Arc Joins #MLKDay of Service to End Food Insecurity

On this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service, The Arc will once again commemorate the life of Dr. King and his dream for equality and civil rights for all people. The iconic civil rights leader’s passionate and persistent fight for equality and against discrimination paved the way for the disability community to advance and persevere in its ongoing fight for equality, rights, and inclusion.

In honor of his work, The Arc is making it a day on, not a day off! This year, several chapters of The Arc and partner organizations will work together to address food insecurity and promote inclusive volunteering to bring together people with and without disabilities to serve their communities.

“People with disabilities are often perceived as the ones always in need of help, but in reality, they also have the desire and ability to help others and to play an active role in strengthening their own communities,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc. “In the true spirit of Dr. King, the Day of Service shines a light on what all people – including those with intellectual and developmental disabilities – can do to love, uplift, and support their neighbors.”

Interested in participating on a volunteer project with one of our 2020 subgrantees? See if there’s a volunteer event near you in the list below! You can also search the national database for all opportunities to get involved.

A graphic depicting Martin Luther King, Jr. that reads "25th MLK Day of Service - make it a day on, not a day off. January 20, 2020. Volunteer at

2020 MLK Day of Service Partner Organizations

If you’re looking for more information on volunteering and people with disabilities, check out our free resources.

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The Arc Disgusted by Allegations of Human Subject Experiments, Abuse, and Inadequate Care in Iowa State Institutions for People With Disabilities

Washington, D.C. – The Arc is disgusted by monstrous allegations against two institutions for people with intellectual disabilities operated by the state of Iowa. The U.S. Department of Justice is reportedly investigating whether the state violated the civil rights of residents at the Glenwood Resource Center by subjecting them to sexual arousal studies and other “harmful and uncontrolled human subject experiments.” According to reports, the Justice Department is also looking into allegations of inadequate care, needless restraint, and physical injury at Glenwood, in addition to possible violations of the integration mandate of the Americans with Disabilities Act at Glenwood and the Woodward Resource Center.

“We are sickened and outraged. The allegations include degrading and dehumanizing practices, medical invasions in violation of the bodily integrity and dignity of people with disabilities, and reportedly, an increase in deaths.

“This type of alleged treatment is reminiscent of a dark history of coerced medical experimentation and abuse – it’s repugnant and unacceptable. The disability community refuses to go back to those days,” said Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc. “We will be watching this investigation closely. Regardless of the outcome, The Arc and our allies continue our adamant calls to shut down every institution in the nation as soon possible.”

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.


close up of medical form with stethoscope

Open Enrollment and Disability: What You Need to Know

Disability Open Enrollment Week of Action kicks off Sunday, November 17, 2019 — but you can enroll until December 15!

The Arc believes that everyone, including people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, should have timely access to high quality, comprehensive, accessible, affordable, appropriate health care that meets their individual needs, maximizes health, well-being and function, and increases independence and community participation.

If you are uninsured or looking for more affordable health insurance, visit or your state’s Marketplace or health insurance exchange. During the open enrollment period from November 1, 2019 – December 15, 2019, you can review private health insurance options and purchase coverage. People with low and moderate incomes may be able to get financial help to pay for premiums and other cost-sharing may be available for individuals and families, depending on the plan.

If you have a disability or health condition, here are key questions to ask:

  • Is there a broad range of health care providers included in the plan’s network?
  • Are there enough medical specialists in the network to meet your needs?
  • Are needed medications included in the plan’s list of covered drugs?
  • Is there adequate access to non-clinical, disability-specific services and supports?
  • Does the plan have service limits, such as caps on the number of office visits for therapy services?
  • Are mental health services covered to the same extent as other “physical” health needs?

How to get help:

Purchasing health insurance can be complicated. If you or your family member needs assistance, can help. Each state has health insurance “Navigators” to assist with enrollment. Individual health plan information should be available on the website.

If you already have health insurance through the Marketplace, open enrollment is a good time to see if your coverage still meets your needs. It is also important to update income and household information to make sure you are receiving available assistance and to help avoid penalties, if your income has increased.

You can also sign up for insurance outside of open enrollment, if you lose your job, marry, divorce, or have a baby.

a family with two young girls poses in front of trees and smiles

The Arc Calls for Action on Paid Leave

In honor of National Family Caregivers Month in November, The Arc is raising awareness of the issue of paid family and medical leave and its importance from the perspective of sibling caregivers of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).

The Arc is sharing a new and compelling family story to illustrate the urgent need for a national and comprehensive paid leave system that includes siblings.

One in five Americans has a disability. The caregiver crisis is hitting these families in a uniquely difficult way, while paid family leave proposals have stalled in Congress far too long. Without paid leave, families face a cruel choice: the health and well-being of a loved one with a disability – or working to make ends meet.

The Arc’s Family & Individual Needs for Disability Supports (FINDS) survey shows the need for family and medical leave policy reform and reveals that 80 percent of people with IDD live with a caregiver who is a family member.

“We call on Congress to pass inclusive paid family and medical leave legislation that recognizes the important role of all family caregivers. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families often experience greater financial insecurity and are more likely to face barriers to employment, making the impact of unpaid time off particularly devastating,” said Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc. “Siblings are increasingly taking on the role of primary caregiver, as parents and grandparents age and become unable to care for children and grandchildren who have disabilities and important care needs.”

Please find Michael’s story and other paid leave stories here.

Graphic commemorating National Disability Employment Awareness Month that says "The Right Talent, Right Now"

The Arc Commemorates National Disability Employment Awareness Month

Each October, The Arc joins the national disability community and public and private sector employers in celebrating National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). The campaign sheds light on critical issues in disability employment and promotes best practices in hiring employees with disabilities and creating inclusive workplaces.

This year’s theme “The Right Talent, Right Now” recognizes the contributions of people with disabilities to the workforce, and challenges employers looking to hire leading creative minds and top-tier talent to consider the disability community, one of the largest and least utilized labor markets. According to the US Department of Labor, the national unemployment rate for people with disabilities is roughly twice that of people without disabilities (7.2% vs. 3.6%), a gap which has remained static for years. Paradoxically, research shows hiring people with disabilities can significantly bolster productivity, boost creative thinking and problem-solving, and positively impact the bottom line.

In order to narrow this gap, The Arc@Work — The Arc’s national employment program — partners with employers nationwide to create meaningful and inclusive employment opportunities for people with disabilities. To date, they have placed over 1,000 individuals in gainful and competitive jobs in the community. The Arc@Work leads trainings and corporate education events to promote greater understanding of disability issues, enhance workplace inclusion and accessibility, and to share the positive outcomes of hiring people of different abilities.

“The most important element to an employer’s success at hiring people with disabilities is understanding the value and significance to their workforce,” said Jonathan Lucus, Senior Director of Workforce Initiatives at The Arc. “We work with our clients to look at the whole picture and realize that hiring jobseekers with disabilities isn’t just the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do. We are celebrating National Disability Employment Awareness Month by spreading this message far and wide so that jobseekers with disabilities in communities across the country can get a fair shot at meaningful employment.”

Marca Bristo smiles at the camera, wearing a yellow shirt, black sweater, and glasses.

Marca Bristo, a Powerful Advocate for People With Disabilities, Dies at 66

The Arc mourns the loss of Marca Bristo, a remarkable champion in the fight for disability rights. Bristo died Sunday after a battle with cancer.

We are grateful for Bristo’s leadership in helping to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act, our nation’s major step forward in disability rights. Almost 30 years later, the historic progress made by the ADA remains critical in ongoing efforts to ensure that people with disabilities are included in society in ways that are accessible and fair. Bristo, who became paralyzed in an accident at the age of 23, also founded Access Living in Chicago and the National Council on Independent Living. The Arc has worked with Bristo and her organizations over the last several decades to advance our shared core values of independent living for people with disabilities, and their rights.

Sadly, we have lost a role model and leader in our community. Bristo’s vision and devotion to changing the perception of how this country sees disability continue to shape our society for the better. Her relentless advocacy at the local and national levels were instrumental in realizing many of the rights people with disabilities have today – and we celebrate her life and commitment. Bristo was 66. Please take the time to read these news pieces about her impactful life: The New York Times and Chicago Sun-Times.