A Hispanic young man with disabilities sits with a teacher at a desk. He is looking at a laptop.

Comcast Grants $1M to Transform The Arc’s Data, Tech Training, and Spanish Education Resources

Washington, DC – The Arc of the United States and Comcast NBCUniversal announced a major expansion of their long-standing partnership that will break down barriers and create more equity and opportunity for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Comcast is providing a $1 million grant over two years to The Arc to modernize its data infrastructure, deepen the impact of its digital literacy programs, and give Spanish-speaking families access to special education advocacy. This funding is a part of Project UP, Comcast’s $1 billion commitment to advance digital equity and help create a future of unlimited possibilities.

Robust data is the foundation for driving meaningful change. This investment will revolutionize how The Arc collects and analyzes information across its network of nearly 600 chapters nationwide. The new centralized data system will track vital services its chapters provide, capture the scope of The Arc’s collective impact, and reveal insights to better advocate for and support the IDD community. The benefits of this new technology will reach every stakeholder: the national office will better support its chapters, chapters will learn best practices from each other and better meet their community’s needs, and people with disabilities and their families will have a stronger federation to rely on.

“In our pursuit of a fully inclusive society, data is power,” said Katy Neas, CEO of The Arc of the United States. “This grant allows us to wield our collective strength across our nearly 600 chapters to more strategically uplift millions of people with disabilities across America, making our human impact even greater.”

Comcast has also supported The Arc’s efforts to ensure resources are accessible to Hispanic communities. Through funding in 2023, The Arc@School Special Education Advocacy Curriculum was translated into Spanish and launched in early 2024. As part of the new grant, The Arc will conduct targeted outreach to Hispanic communities through Spanish-language webinars, collaboration with Spanish-speaking Special Education Advocates, and local program access to help this underserved population become strong special education advocates. The funding will specifically provide subgrants to five chapters of The Arc—located in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Texas, and Virginia—that will give 150 Spanish-speaking families free access to the program and host focus groups to learn and better ensure their children receive a quality public school education.

“For too long, students with disabilities have faced a whole host of barriers that have denied them the free, appropriate public education they are entitled to,” Katy Neas said. “It is essential that parents and school personnel alike fully understand their rights and responsibilities so that students get the education they need consistent with federal law. Our partnership with Comcast to get The Arc@School in the hands of more families and educators is tearing down those barriers in profound ways. With their support, we are empowering students to not only access the education they deserve but to truly thrive.”

In addition, the Comcast grant will support The Arc’s Tech Coaching Centers, which provide customized digital skills training to people with IDD. The Arc will broaden its training to include caregivers and family members, which will better integrate technology skills into all environments of a person’s daily life, and support a total of 10 sites across Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, New Jersey, Oregon, Tennessee, and Texas. Since 2014, Comcast has helped The Arc’s Tech Coaching Centers empower over 2,500 people with IDD through training that advances measured outcomes in employment, health, independent living, education, and interpersonal connections.

“Whether it’s having a reliable job, managing your health, learning lifelong skills, or being socially connected—technology is the bridge to opportunities and independence,” said Dalila Wilson-Scott, EVP and Chief Diversity Officer of Comcast Corporation and President of Comcast NBCUniversal Foundation. “We’re proud to partner with The Arc to meaningfully advance digital access and equity for people with disabilities.”

 

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About The Arc of the United States: The Arc advocates for and serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), including Down syndrome, autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, cerebral palsy, and other diagnoses. Founded in 1950 by parents who believed their children with IDD deserved more, The Arc is now a network of nearly 600 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with IDD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes. Through the decades, The Arc has been at the forefront of advances in disability rights and supports. There are over 7 million people with IDD in the United States, which encompasses over 100 different diagnoses. Visit www.thearc.org or follow us @TheArcUS to learn more. Editor’s Note: The Arc is not an acronym; always refer to us as The Arc, not The ARC and never ARC. The Arc should be considered as a title or a phrase.

 

About Comcast Corporation: Comcast Corporation (Nasdaq: CMCSA) is a global media and technology company. From the connectivity and platforms we provide, to the content and experiences we create, our businesses reach hundreds of millions of customers, viewers, and guests worldwide. We deliver world-class broadband, wireless, and video through Xfinity, Comcast Business, and Sky; produce, distribute, and stream leading entertainment, sports, and news through brands including NBC, Telemundo, Universal, Peacock, and Sky; and bring incredible theme parks and attractions to life through Universal Destinations & Experiences. Visit www.comcastcorporation.com for more information.

 

Media Contacts:

Jackie Dilworth

dilworth@thearc.org

 

Kim Atterbury

k.kim_atterbury@comcast.com

A woman in a wheelchair is holding a tablet and showing it to a man seated next to her who is holding a clipboard. They are in a work setting.

5 Disability Stories Journalists Should Be Covering Right Now (2024)

Journalists, are people with disabilities and disability issues at the forefront of your coverage? With over 61 million Americans and 1 billion people globally living with a disability, we all know and love someone with a disability. Yet this large and influential community remains underrepresented in media narratives. Too often, disability stories perpetuate negative stereotypes, reduce people to inspirational tropes, or oversimplify their diverse experiences and intersectional identities.

The Arc has driven disability rights for nearly 75 years, and we want to help you elevate authentic and diverse disability perspectives across all beats. Building on last year’s overlooked topics, we’re bringing you five new timely topics that demand greater attention. We hope this gives you a starting point to investigate the systemic barriers, discrimination, and lack of access and representation that people with disabilities face every day.

Here are 5 crucial angles you should report on in summer and fall 2024:

1. Disability Pride Month

July marks Disability Pride Month, commemorating the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Yet this annual celebration championing disability rights and human diversity rarely shows up in news programs or stories. Just like American Heart Month or Autism Acceptance Month, Disability Pride Month has rich storytelling potential. What began as grassroots parades asserting disabled people’s rights to live freely has evolved into a global movement accepting each disabled person’s uniqueness and rejecting ableism and societal pressures on non-normative bodies. It’s also an opportunity to rally around policy priorities like health care access and barriers to employment and education.

Capture the intersectional perspectives uplifting disability pride across races, LGBTQ+ identities, disability types, and other marginalized groups. Spotlight trailblazing activists and organizations continuing the fight for inclusion. Analyze how companies and governments are following through on accessibility commitments.

Don’t let inspiration porn define your coverage. Disability Pride symbolizes resilience, beauty in human diversity, and the notion that disabled lives are equally valued. Uplifting authentic voices can reshape attitudes and catalyze change in your community.

2. The Child Care Crisis

Like all parents, parents of children with disabilities want to see their child thrive, and child care is crucial to that. As you cover America’s overarching child care accessibility and affordability crisis, consider a too-often overlooked angle—the severe obstacles facing families of children with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).

These families confront the most difficult barriers in finding trusted, safe, developmentally appropriate child care. Many providers outright deny services to children with IDD or prematurely expel them, deeming accommodations too burdensome despite legal requirements. Research found 1 in 6 children with autism have been kicked out of child care.

Affordable, inclusive child care programs are scarce, and the consequences are devastating. Without reliable care, parents are forced to make career sacrifices, losing income and opportunities, which only adds to their extreme stress. Children with IDD miss pivotal social and developmental experiences alongside their peers. Congress has recently taken notice of this crisis, asking the Government Accountability Office to conduct a first-ever study on the difficulties that parents of children with disabilities face in finding child care. Numerous constituents of The Arc shared their experiences for the study.

Investigate nearby centers’ admission and expulsion policies. Hold providers accountable for discriminatory practices. Encourage local parents of nondisabled children to foster inclusion and acceptance of disabled children. Spotlight the economic and emotional toll this crisis leaves on parents of children with disabilities. Center these marginalized families in your storytelling.

The experiences of families of children with disabilities must be part of this national crisis.

3. Election 2024

This election cycle carries enormous significance for Americans with disabilities, the nation’s largest minority voting bloc. Yet their perspectives and the policies shaping their daily lives are consistently overlooked in candidate debates, interviews, and media narratives. Disability cuts across every community and every issue—from education and employment to health care access and criminal justice reform. Candidates’ stances on these topics will profoundly impact disabled voters’ quality of life. And new federal guidance from the Department of Justice reinforces that the ADA prohibits discrimination in voting and protects the rights of people with disabilities.

Spotlight the diverse perspectives and policy priorities from disability advocates. Investigate how proposals on safety nets like Medicaid and Social Security will tangibly affect this population’s independence and economic mobility. Ask the tough questions about how candidates will address systemic barriers and discrimination that shut out disabled voters.

Most crucially, ensure your coverage itself is accessible and inclusive. Center disabled voices as sources and authors—not just subjects. Consciously counter biases and tropes about disability in language and graphics you use.

We hope your election coverage will elevate the disability community’s needs as frontline issues. Here’s a guide to help you get started.

4. The Social Security Customer Service Crisis

When people apply for crucial Social Security benefits, the process should be fair, prompt, and accessible. But for far too many, that’s not the reality.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) is the gatekeeper to disability benefits that millions of people with disabilities rely on for survival. Unfortunately, they’re facing a customer service crisis after more than a decade of underinvestment, rapidly expanding workloads, and record-high staff attrition. Its administrative budget has been cut by 20% over 9 years, now making up less than 1% of benefits paid—a stark contrast to what private insurers spend on overhead.

The consequences have been devastating. Over 1.1 million initial disability claims are currently pending—almost double pre-pandemic levels. Thousands of people are dying each year while desperately waiting for the income and insurance they need to survive.

Disability advocates have been sounding the alarm, demanding action from Congress. The Arc recently joined 22 organizations urging lawmakers to properly fund the SSA through the President’s budget request. They must give this agency the resources and staffing it needs to promptly and fairly adjudicate claims—upholding people with disabilities’ life-sustaining benefits and basic human dignity.

If you cover this nationally-recognized crisis, don’t overlook the experiences of people with disabilities. Localize the claims delays impacting your community. Hold leaders and lawmakers accountable for solutions. Elevate the stories of people with disabilities who are struggling to navigate life without these crucial benefits. Their stories are what will compel overdue reform.

5. AI in the Classroom

As artificial intelligence (AI) rapidly evolves, you can’t overlook its complex impact on education, especially for students with disabilities. There are opportunities, but also equity and ethical concerns to navigate.

The potential upsides? AI can tailor educational materials to individual needs and learning styles, benefiting students who require customized instruction. Additionally, AI boost accessibility for students with disabilities by converting content into visuals, simplified language, text-to-speech, or speech-to-text. Algorithms analyzing student data could also identify trends and patterns that can inform tailored instructional strategies and interventions.

But AI bias is a major risk. If trained on data underrepresenting or stereotyping certain groups, the system’s recommendations could entrench discrimination against students with disabilities. There are also ethical and privacy issues around consent, autonomy, and the appropriate use of student data. Clear guidelines and safeguards are vital to protect students’ rights and well-being.

Localize this nationally-relevant topic by scrutinizing your school district’s AI policies and spending. Gather perspectives from educators, parents, and students themselves. How are they mitigating bias and protecting students with disabilities? Is AI’s efficiency inadvertently diminishing human interaction’s role?

As always, center the rights and needs of the disability community. Hold AI companies accountable for inclusivity and ethical design from the start. Highlight work making AI truly accessible and empowering for disabled students. By examining AI’s complex classroom implications, your coverage can drive thoughtful dialogue and ensure no student is left behind.

BONUS Topic: Discrimination & Criminalization of Parents With Disabilities

As journalists ramp up Mother’s Day and Father’s Day content, one perspective is often missing—the experiences of disabled parents. This glaring oversight perpetuates harmful biases that parents with disabilities face, leading to widespread discrimination and even family separations.

Despite having the same dreams of raising children as everyone else, parents with IDD are shockingly overrepresented in the child welfare system. Up to 80% permanently lose custody due to prejudicial doubts about their caregiving abilities rather than evidence of neglect or abuse.

For all their resilience, parents with IDD also face everyday discrimination as they navigate life as a parent—from educators to cashiers. Stories humanizing their loving bonds and advocacy battles are urgently needed.

This Mother’s, Father’s, and Parent’s Day, celebrate their journeys through authentic, nuanced profiles. Highlight the support systems sustaining parents with disabilities. Elevate disabled parents’ own experiences to counter negative stereotypes about them being “unfit.” Spotlight their pride, resilience, and devotion to their children. Most crucially, include video, images, and stories of parents with disabilities in your everyday coverage of parenting topics.

This angle offers fresh perspectives that will strengthen your holiday storytelling and year-round diversity coverage.

Please contact us at dilworth@thearc.org if you need sources, background information, or other issues. Also, be sure to visit our Press Center to find guides on reporting on disability. We are excited to see your impactful work!

A person with disabilities using a wheelchair is with a thre other people. They are on a sidewalk in a city.

The Arc and United Health Foundation Launch $2.5M Partnership to Tackle Mental Health Crisis for People With Disabilities

The partnership will provide $100,000 to 10 communities to expand mental health support for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities

MINNEAPOLIS, MN, and WASHINGTON, DC – The United Health Foundation, the philanthropic foundation of UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH), has awarded The Arc of the United States a three-year, $2.5 million grant to improve mental health care for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Up to 40% of people with IDD have co-occurring mental health conditions, and this critical funding will help address their unmet mental health needs.

Currently, only 1 in 10 children and adolescents with IDD and mental health disorders receive specialized services. Additionally, people with disabilities report 3 times more suicidal ideation compared to those without disabilities, and adults with disabilities are 3.5 times more likely to experience frequent mental distress. These statistics highlight the need for training and awareness to ensure providers and caregivers are equipped to support the mental health needs of people with disabilities.

“People with intellectual and developmental disabilities face barriers from the moment they are born, which can have a direct impact on their mental health,” said Katy Neas, CEO of The Arc of the United States. “But too often, their mental health needs are going unmet due to stigma, lack of training, and biases. This generous investment by the United Health Foundation gives us a path to tackle this mental health crisis head-on by providing critical training to all who interact with our community—medical professionals, caregivers, first responders, educators, families, and more. Let’s work together to improve coordination of care, raise awareness, and ensure everyone’s mental health needs are supported.”

The partnership will deploy $100,000 in direct grants to 10 chapters of The Arc nationwide to build comprehensive local solutions tailored to people with IDD. This includes expanding access to quality mental health care services, improving coordination between disability and health systems, training over 2,000 providers and caregivers to recognize mental health needs in people with IDD, and launching public awareness campaigns to counteract stigma and misconceptions.

The 10 chapters receiving grants are: The Arc of Arizona, The Arc of Loudoun (VA), The Arc of Macomb County (MI), The Arc of Mississippi, The Arc of Oklahoma, The Arc Oregon, The Arc Prince George’s County (MD), The Arc Rhode Island, St. Louis Arc (MO) and Sertoma Star Services (IL).

“When we root ourselves in empathy and build alongside those with lived experiences, pretty powerful things begin to take shape,” said Dan Schumacher, executive vice president, UnitedHealth Group, who also serves on the Board of Directors of the United Health Foundation and as the executive sponsor of UnitedHealth Group’s disability inclusion employee resource group. “The United Health Foundation is committed to building strong partnerships and providing resources to address the needs of our communities. Together with The Arc, we’re excited to see the impact this work has on providers, caregivers and the people they serve.”

A key component of the grant is partnering with the National Council for Mental Wellbeing to adapt its evidence-based Mental Health First Aid program with information on IDD. The training teaches how to identify and respond to signs of mental illness and substance disorders. As the Council notes, “Most of us would know how to help someone having a heart attack, but too few know how to respond if someone was having a panic attack or showing signs of substance abuse. Mental Health First Aid takes the fear out of starting these conversations.”

Over three years, the United Health Foundation grant will help train caregivers, health care professionals, first responders, educators, and family members to recognize the mental health needs of people with IDD and decrease the number of mental health crisis incidents experienced by this population. The partnership will also provide mental health resources directly to people with IDD through the participating chapters to help them recognize and communicate their own needs. This is vital for individuals, and also families as research shows the mental well-being of parents of children with IDD is strongly influenced by the severity of their child’s co-occurring mental health conditions.

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About The Arc of the United States: The Arc advocates for and serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), including Down syndrome, autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, cerebral palsy, and other diagnoses. Founded in 1950 by parents who believed their children with IDD deserved more, The Arc is now a network of nearly 600 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with IDD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes. Through the decades, The Arc has been at the forefront of advances in disability rights and supports. There are over 7 million people with IDD in the United States, which encompasses over 100 different diagnoses. Visit www.thearc.org or follow us @TheArcUS to learn more.

About the United Health Foundation: Through collaboration with community partners, grants, and outreach efforts, the United Health Foundation works to improve the health system, build a diverse and dynamic health workforce, and enhance the well-being of local communities. The United Health Foundation was established by UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH) in 1999 as a not-for-profit, private foundation dedicated to improving health and health care. To date, the United Health Foundation has committed nearly $800 million to programs and communities around the world, including a $100 million commitment to help diversify the health workforce. To learn more, visit UnitedHealthFoundation.org.

Media Contacts:
Tony Marusic
UnitedHealth Group
312-363-7714
tony_marusic@uhc.com

Jackie Dilworth
The Arc of the United States
202-617-3271
dilworth@thearc.org

The Arc logo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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About The Arc of the United States: The Arc advocates for and serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), including Down syndrome, autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, cerebral palsy, and other diagnoses. Founded in 1950 by parents who believed their children with IDD deserved more, The Arc is now a network of nearly 600 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with IDD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes. Through the decades, The Arc has been at the forefront of advances in disability rights and supports. There are over 7 million people with IDD in the United States, which encompasses over 100 different diagnoses. Visit thearc.org or follow us @TheArcUS to learn more. Editor’s Note: The Arc is not an acronym; always refer to us as The Arc, not The ARC and never ARC. The Arc should be considered as a title or a phrase.

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

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 photo of Ryan Gainer standing outside. He is wearing a blue polo shirt and smiling.

The Arc’s Statement on the Killing of Ryan Gainer

A photo of Ryan Gainer standing outside. He is wearing a blue polo shirt and smiling.The killing of Ryan Gainer, a Black autistic teen, is a devastating injustice. Too many people with disabilities, especially those from marginalized communities, cannot access the crisis intervention services they need. In the face of Ryan’s mental health crisis, his family called 911 for help. Instead of receiving the care he needed from a competent professional, he was killed. Because of the tragedy of Ryan’s death and the death of others before him, The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice & Disability is working to reform our public safety practices across the country. This center offers comprehensive training to improve crisis response for people like Ryan. Our hearts go out to the Gainer family and all those who loved Ryan. We pledge to continue to keep working for a just, equitable world for all people with disabilities.

A school bus stopped with a diverse group of children, including children with IDD, waiting to get on and off the bus.

DC’s OSSE Sued for Failure to Provide Safe and Reliable School Transportation, Denying Disabled Students Access to Education

Class Action Seeks to Remedy Systemic Failure and Violations of Federal and State Law

March 7, 2024 – Parents and guardians of children with disabilities living in the District of Columbia (DC), along with The Arc of the United States, filed a class action lawsuit today against DC’s Office of the State Superintendent for Education (OSSE) for failing to provide safe, reliable and effective transportation to and from schools for children with disabilities, thereby denying students equal access to their education and unnecessarily segregating them from their peers.

“The buses meant to help children with disabilities build their education and futures are instead perpetuating their exclusion. This is not just a matter of tardiness or inconvenience. It’s stealing children’s opportunities to learn, grow, and connect with their peers,” said Shira Wakschlag, Senior Director of Legal Advocacy & General Counsel of The Arc of the United States, a non-profit that works to promote and protect the civil and human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. “This systemic failure segregates students with disabilities from their peers and deprives them of equal access to education in violation of the law. When school buses become barriers themselves, we need to fight to ensure that no child is left stranded.”

According to the complaint, the OSSE Division of Transportation (OSSE DOT) has continually failed to provide consistent, safe and properly equipped transportation:

  • Buses routinely arrive very late to pick students up from their homes, or do not arrive at all, causing kids to miss an exorbitant number of school days. One 14-year-old student was late to school 90 times in the 2022 – 2023 school year.
  • Students are picked up early from school and miss critical instructional time or are left stranded at school without guaranteed transportation back home. “Because [my child] consistently arrived home late, he would miss critical therapies that were ordered by his doctor,” said Veronica Guerrero, plaintiff and mother of a 14-year-old student.
  • Students are forced to spend excessive time on the bus, causing physical and mental harm when they are unable to access food, medication, or toilets. As a result, one 13-year-old student with a rare chromosomal disorder has arrived home on multiple occasions with a soiled diaper.
  • Buses do not provide appropriate accommodations (including properly trained medical personnel) and equipment that children with disabilities need to ride the bus safely. One eight-year-old student’s medical conditions require that she ride the bus with a nurse present. On multiple occasions, and without notice to the family, the bus arrives without a nurse onboard to properly care for her.
  • Buses cannot be reliably tracked, and families have no way to find out where their children are located while riding a bus. One 11-year-old student was missing for four hours before school staff located him.

“DC was under court supervision after a lawsuit for the exact same problem until 2012. Although the District had shown they were moving in the right direction then, now we are moving back to where we once were despite years of parents and community leaders working together to attempt change through local advocacy efforts,” said Kathy Zeisel, Director of Special Legal Projects of the Children’s Law Center and counsel for the plaintiffs. “We can no longer plead and hope for change. We’re taking action to ensure DC children receive the education they deserve.”

“The District’s failure to provide safe, reliable, and appropriate transportation to students with disabilities is part of a trend where the District does not live up to its obligations to children and families,” said Kaitlin Banner, Deputy Legal Director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and plaintiff counsel. “We hope this lawsuit creates the systemic changes we need for students to get to school safely and on time so they can learn.”

The plaintiffs include parents and guardians of children with a range of disabilities who require transportation accommodations and support to access their education. Together they seek to remedy this systemic failure, which violates federal and state law, including the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA), Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the District of Columbia Human Rights Act (DCHRA).

Under the IDEA, DC students with disabilities are entitled to a free appropriate public education (FAPE), which must include services and accommodations set forth in students’ individualized education plans (IEPs), including transportation. The ADA, Section 504, and the DCHRA require that students with disabilities have an equal opportunity to access their education and prohibit unnecessary segregation of students with disabilities.

“Children with disabilities are missing critical education and related services, all of which are necessary for them to receive a free appropriate public education guaranteed under the IDEA,” said Margaret Warner, a Partner at international law firm McDermott Will & Emery and counsel for the plaintiffs. “OSSE’s transportation system that provides these services continually fails to reasonably support DC students’ special education, as mandated by their IEPs.”

The case is Robertson v. District of Columbia and has been filed in the US District Court for the District of Columbia.

The plaintiffs are represented by Shira Wakschlag and Evan Monod of The Arc of the United States; Kathy Zeisel of DC’s Children’s Law Center; Kaitlin R. Banner, Margaret F. Hart, and Chelsea Sullivan of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs; and Margaret H. Warner, Eugene I. Goldman, Theodore E. Alexander and Christopher M. Shoemaker of McDermott Will & Emery LLP.

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About The Arc of the United States
The Arc advocates for and serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), including Down syndrome, autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, cerebral palsy, and other diagnoses. Founded in 1950 by parents who believed their children with IDD deserved more, The Arc is now a network of nearly 600 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with IDD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes. Through the decades, The Arc has been at the forefront of advances in disability rights and supports. There are over 7 million people with IDD in the United States, which encompasses over 100 different diagnoses. Visit www.thearc.org or follow us @TheArcUS to learn more. Editor’s Note: The Arc is not an acronym; always refer to us as The Arc, not The ARC, and never ARC. The Arc should be considered as a title or a phrase.

About Children’s Law Center
Children’s Law Center believes every child should grow up with a strong foundation of family, health, and education and live in a world free from poverty, trauma, racism and other forms of oppression. Our more than 100 staff—together with DC children and families, community partners, and pro bono attorneys—use the law to solve children’s urgent problems today and improve the systems that will affect their lives tomorrow. Since our founding in 1996, we have reached more than 50,000 children and families directly and multiplied our impact by advocating for city-wide solutions that benefit hundreds of thousands more. For more information, please visit www.childrenslawcenter.org.

About the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs
The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs partners with community members and organizations on scores of cases to combat discrimination in housing, employment, education, immigration, criminal justice reform, public accommodations, based on race, gender, disability, family size, history of criminal conviction, and more. The Washington Lawyers’ Committee has secured a relentless stream of civil rights victories over the past five decades in an effort to achieve justice for all. For more information, please visit www.washlaw.org.

About McDermott Will & Emery
McDermott Will & Emery partners with leaders around the world to fuel missions, knock down barriers and shape markets. Our team works seamlessly across practices and industries to deliver highly effective solutions that propel success. More than 1,400 lawyers strong, we bring our personal passion and legal prowess to bear in every matter for our clients and the people they serve. For more information, please visit www.mwe.com.

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Landmark Trial Challenging Regressive Voting Rights Provisions in Texas Senate Bill 1 Concludes

Plaintiffs argue state law discriminates against voters of color and voters with disabilities, threatening democratic foundations.

San Antonio, TX – A six-week trial challenging regressive voting rights provisions in Texas’ Senate Bill 1 (S.B. 1) concluded with closing arguments today in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas. The lawsuit asserts that S.B. 1 violates the First, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by targeting and making more difficult the methods and means of voting used by voters of color. Plaintiffs also argue the law violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act by imposing voting barriers that discriminate against voters with disabilities and deny people with disabilities full and equal opportunities to participate in the state’s voting programs.

The case is comprised of five lawsuits, including Houston Area Urban League v. Abbott, which was filed in 2021 by the Legal Defense Fund (LDF), Reed Smith LLP, ArentFox Schiff, and The Arc on behalf of the Houston Area Urban League (HAUL), Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., The Arc of Texas, and Jeffrey Lamar Clemmons, a poll worker.

Plaintiffs are challenging several provisions within the restrictive law including: a ban on drive-thru voting; restrictions on early voting hours, which impose a ban on 24-hour voting; and new ID requirements for voting by mail. S.B. 1 also establishes new requirements—and possible criminal penalties—for people who assist voters who need help filling out their ballots, including voters with disabilities.

The timing of a decision from Judge Xavier Rodriguez is pending.

“True democracy does not tolerate barriers that make it harder for citizens to vote based on race or ability, but rather it encourages voting and political participation because diversity of thought, ability, and background makes us stronger,” said Amir Badat, Special Counsel, Legal Defense Fund. “S.B. 1 runs counter to the sentiment of participation and democracy.”

“We are not just in a legal battle; we’re fighting for the very heart of our democracy,” said Elsie Cooke-Holmes, International President of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. “S.B. 1 is a calculated assault on our foundational values. We remain steadfast in combating these discriminatory practices to guarantee every citizen’s unimpeded access to the ballot box, ensuring their vote is cast and counted.”

“Democracy works when elections are accessible to all eligible voters,” said Kenneth Broughton, Partner, Reed Smith LLP. “This legislation prevents, inhibits, and discourages eligible voters from casting their ballots in violation of the Voting Rights Act and the United States Constitution.”

“We are proud to stand with our clients Houston Area Urban League, Delta Sigma Theta, The Arc of Texas, and Jeffrey Clemmons, to protect the rights of all Texans—no matter their race, their language, or whether or not they identify as having disability—to meaningfully participate in the political process,” said J. Michael Showalter, Partner, ArentFox Schiff.

“S.B. 1 poses a Catch-22 for disabled voters, because it makes both in-person voting and voting by mail more burdensome and inaccessible,” said Shira Wakschlag, Senior Director of Legal Advocacy & General Counsel, The Arc of the United States. “Throughout trial, we have heard from voters with disabilities about how S.B. 1 raises the cost of voting and forces voters with disabilities to rely on burdensome workarounds that require them to expend significant additional time, subject themselves to physical pain and mental stress, experience multiple ballot rejections, and work twice as hard as non-disabled voters in order to participate in the voting process and have their vote counted, making them feel like second-class citizens. This is not the equal opportunity the ADA was enacted to provide and cannot possibly be consistent with the ADA’s clear and comprehensive mandate to eliminate discrimination against people with disabilities and integrate them into the mainstream of American life.”

“In 2020, we saw bigger turnout numbers in Harris County than ever before. Not only can we boast that we have the most diverse county in the nation, but we are also civically engaged,” said Judson Robinson III, President & CEO of the Houston Area Urban League. “We see S.B. 1 as a tool being used to completely disrupt diverse voter engagement and participation here in Houston. Additionally, S.B. 1 makes it nearly impossible for hourly workers to participate in our elections. We believe now, and always, that shift workers deserve their right to vote just like everyone else.”

Contacts:

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A Journalist’s Guide to Disability for Election 2024

Journalists, did you know people with disabilities are the largest minority voting bloc in our country? It’s also a population that has been growing rapidly as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet all too often, people with disabilities and the issues vital to them and their loved ones are absent from candidate debates, interviews, and media coverage.

Disability intersects with every issue because people with disabilities exist in every community and have diverse identities and beliefs. In addition, many disability issues are directly impacted by legislation and policies. That’s why it’s crucial your election coverage addresses these issues.

The upcoming elections carry substantial significance, particularly for the rights and essential services for people with disabilities. Their experiences and concerns must be prioritized alongside other critical issues. Including disability voices and highlighting disability issues also reflects a commitment to diversity and inclusion and educates all voters.

To ensure accessible and inclusive coverage, please keep the following considerations in mind.

Representation: The media has immense power in shaping ideals in our society. That’s why representation of people with disabilities matters, which means looking for disability angles in the issues you cover, interviewing disabled people about a wide range of topics, and putting forth accurate and respectful portrayals of them. Here are a few other tips:

  • Normalize the supports and technologies people with disabilities need to navigate daily living and fully participate in our society.
  • Educate yourself and your colleagues about ableism.
  • Be vigilant about how your story may propagate negative stereotypes or feature disabled people as a burden or inspiration.
  • Make sure photos that accompany your news stories encompass underrepresented people with disabilities, including people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
  • When covering disability issues, don’t just speak to thought leaders and family members – interview diverse people with disabilities about their firsthand lived experiences.
  • Include the perspectives of people with disabilities in all kinds of stories, not just ones talking about disability.

Inclusive Language: The language used to describe people with disabilities is very individualistic. Person-first language (i.e., people with disabilities) emphasizes the person, not the disability. By placing the person first, disability is no longer the primary, defining characteristic of an individual, but one of several aspects of the whole person. Alternatively, identity-first language (i.e., disabled person) emphasizes a person’s disability as a core part of their identity. When interviewing a person with a disability, you should always ask how they prefer to be identified. For most IDD communities, if your story doesn’t focus on one person, we recommend using person-first language. Within the autism community, many self-advocates prefer and appreciate the use of identity-first language (i.e., autistic person). In addition, please avoid using the term “special needs” in your stories as this terminology is vague and becoming outdated. Find more resources and education on language from the National Center on Disability and Journalism. If candidates or colleagues are using offensive, derogatory, or harmful rhetoric for people with disabilities, we urge you to call them out.

Accessible Information: The news is a vital source of information and education for many, but not everyone can access it equally. Ensure that your reporting is accessible to people with various disabilities. Write in plain language, consider a multimedia approach to sharing your story (i.e., visual and text-based), provide accurate captions and transcripts for all audio and visual content (including web and social media streaming), use text descriptions of the content and purpose of images, use accessible fonts and formatting for online content, and put hyperlinks in context so screen reader software can provide more information. You can use a free web accessibility checker to identify issues.

To enhance your understanding of the issues impacting the disability community and guide your coverage of candidates and their stances, here’s what you should know.

Voting Barriers: Despite being such a significant population, people with disabilities are less likely than nondisabled people to turn out to vote in elections. That’s because they face a multitude of barriers in casting their votes. The Arc is working with other civil rights groups to challenge sweeping voter suppression laws that make it more difficult for voters with disabilities to participate in our democracy. We hope that you will do your part by shining a spotlight on policies and practices that hinder disability rights and inclusion in your community. Investigate and report on any discriminatory practices or barriers that may prevent individuals with disabilities from exercising their right to vote. This includes issues around mail-in voting, drop box voting, guardianship, getting support from a person of their choosing to cast their ballot, and accessible voter information. In addition, when covering campaign events and polling stations, always include accessibility information for these locations (i.e., whether an ASL interpreter will be there or if the location has wheelchair access).

Covering Topics Important to People with Disabilities: Your election reporting should cover issues and policies that directly impact people with disabilities. Report on the candidates’ stances on these topics and the impact of proposed policies. Below are areas that are causing deep inequities in the quality of life, autonomy, and opportunities for people with disabilities during this election cycle.

  • Getting A Safe & Inclusive Education: Education is a vital issue for voters, and everyone agrees that schools should be safe and nurturing places for all children. For students with disabilities, it’s too often a nightmare. Some of the barriers they face include disproportionate suspensions, harsh discipline practices, isolation from general education classes and peers, a dire shortage of special education teachers, low expectations and support, higher rates of being bullied, and a lack of urgency around identifying students who need special education services. It’s no wonder the academic achievement and graduation rates for students with disabilities lag far behind their peers. It’s important that journalists and candidates draw attention to these systemic issues that have a big impact on the futures of people with disabilities. Get a deeper look at these education issues so you can shine a spotlight on these injustices.
  • Experiencing the Dignity of Employment: As with most elections, candidates will address key aspects of job growth, labor disparities, worker rights, and the evolving job market. While these issues impact nearly every voter, one important group continues to be ignored: people with disabilities. Roughly 78% of people with disabilities and 85% of people with IDD are unemployed. When people with IDD do find employment, they are often paid less money for doing the same work. Most people with disabilities want to work and earn a living, but biases about their abilities and accommodations continue to keep them out of the workforce. Because of these realities, people with disabilities are twice as likely to live in poverty. People with IDD should be employed alongside people without disabilities and earn competitive wages, but too many barriers exist that lead to unemployment or underemployment. COVID-19 had a positive impact on the employment of disabled people, due to the labor shortage and ample remote work, but policies are quickly reversing. Discussions of employment must center disability and how candidates intend to improve the lives and opportunities of workers with disabilities. Learn more about employment the barriers and best practices.
  • Living in the Community, Not an Institution: People with disabilities want to live in their own homes and communities, not in nursing homes or institutions where their freedoms and choices are limited. Medicaid is a key program that makes community living possible through long term supports and services (LTSS). Every U.S. state has a Medicaid program, and millions of people with disabilities rely on LTSS for daily activities, such as dressing, bathing, meal preparation, taking medication, employment support, mobility assistance, and more. Yet LTSS has been chronically underfunded for years, resulting in a national shortage of direct care workers, years-long wait lists for access to services, and, ultimately, isolation and institutionalization that strips people with disabilities of their dignity. More than 650,000 people – 73% of which are people with IDD – are stuck on waiting lists for a nationwide average of 67 months. Medicaid also has an institutional bias, which means states that receive federal dollars for Medicaid must cover services within institutions, but community-based services aren’t guaranteed. This crisis has largely been under the radar as the general public has the misconception that there are ample services available for people with disabilities. Get well-versed on the LTSS issue and include it in conversations and articles involving state and federal safety net programs.
  • Experiencing Victimization and Criminalization: Crime rates and safety in communities are always key issues during elections. A critical and often overlooked angle is the overrepresentation of people with disabilities in the criminal justice system. Disabled people are more likely to experience victimization, be arrested, be charged with a crime, and serve longer prison sentences once convicted, than those without disabilities. Individuals with other marginalized identities are even more likely to get caught up in the system. Once entangled, they face unique challenges, bias, and inaccessible services, which only perpetuates the cycle of criminal justice involvement. People with disabilities must be afforded the supports and accommodations required to make justice and fair treatment a reality. Learn more about criminal justice issues to guide your coverage.
  • Supporting Paid and Unpaid Caregivers: Underfunding in LTSS has also created a crisis in the availability of Direct Support Professionals (DSPs), the workers who provide these services. DSPs make on average $15 an hour nationally, which is the same wage, or less, as workers in fast food, convenience, or retail – or even unemployment. Given this low investment in their skilled work, DSPs face a significant turnover rate of 30-70%. Many DSPs want to continue doing this important work, but it is not financially sustainable. At the same time, federal regulations have remained largely silent about training requirements, which means providers are relying on unqualified and poorly trained people more than ever, and then scrambling to invest in their workforce.With dwindling access to skilled DSPs, families must increasingly fill in the gaps to ensure their loved ones have the support they need for a quality, meaningful life. Nearly one million U.S. households have an adult with IDD living with and supported by a caregiver. Yet managing the needs of people with disabilities without training or support is leaving caregivers stressed, isolated, in poor health, and suffering financially. Nine in ten caregivers of people with IDD report that their caregiving responsibilities had an impact on their employment. Many have lost their jobs and/or income because of the demands of care. What’s more, it’s becoming a multi-generational crisis as people with IDD are living longer than ever, putting the burden of care on siblings and younger family members. Paid caregivers deserve more investment in their work and unpaid caregivers need public and private support. Get background on the family caregiver crisis and what can be done to help.
  • Having Financial Independence: Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) play a vital role in helping people with disabilities pay for basic needs like food, clothing, and shelter. More than 12 million people with disabilities receive benefits from Social Security, SSI, or both. These programs were designed to combat poverty among disabled people, but certain income-based and/or asset-limit eligibility policies do just the opposite. SSI benefits are extremely modest, averaging only about $550 per month, and beneficiaries cannot have more than $2,000 in assets, neither of which have been indexed to inflation. Thus, many people with disabilities cannot plan and save for future needs like others, contributing to ongoing economic inequalities often resulting in lifelong poverty. Many are just one emergency away from homelessness and hunger. These barriers are compounded by the Social Security Administration being in a state of crisis, where millions are waiting for appointments, decisions on applications, and appeals on rejected claims. Learn more about financial security issues and policies that you can get candidates’ positions on.

Looking for even more topics to explore and experts to interview?

Check out our position statements and our press center to discover other issue areas that you can explore in your coverage. You can also schedule an on-the-record or background interview with The Arc’s local and national experts. Simply contact the communications team below.

Kristen McKiernan, Senior Executive Officer of Communications & Marketing
mckiernan@thearc.org or 202-534-3712

Jackie Dilworth, Director of Communications
dilworth@thearc.org or 202-617-3271

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. Founded in 1950 by parents who believed their children with IDD deserved more, The Arc is now a network of nearly 600 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with IDD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes. Through the decades, The Arc has been at the forefront of advances in disability rights and supports. Visit thearc.org or follow us @TheArcUS to learn more.

Editor’s Note: The Arc is not an acronym; always refer to us as The Arc, not The ARC and never ARC. The Arc should be considered as a title or a phrase.

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5 Disability Stories Journalists Should Be Covering Right Now (2023)

Are you a journalist looking for impactful stories that demand greater coverage? If they aren’t already, disability issues should be part of your reporting. One in 4 U.S. adults and 1 in 6 people worldwide report having a disability, statistics that are likely underreported, yet this population remains underrepresented in media. Increased coverage is crucial for social progress. When news stories ignore the disability perspective, they perpetuate exclusion and misunderstanding. By spotlighting disability voices and angles, journalism can help dismantle stigma, drive policy reform, and push society closer to inclusion and equality.

The Arc is here for you. We’ve been driving positive change for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) for almost 75 years. To do our part in media representation, we’re launching this new blog where we’re bringing you timely and often overlooked stories.

Here are 5 urgent angles you should report on in Winter 2023 and Spring 2024:

1. The Home and Community-Based Services Funding Crisis

Every person deserves the freedom of living in their own homes, being a part of their communities, and choosing how they spend their days. Medicaid’s home and community-based services make that possible for millions of people with disabilities and older adults, supporting daily needs such as dressing, bathing, meal preparation, taking medication, employment support, mobility assistance, and more. Unfortunately, chronic underfunding of HCBS has created a catastrophe for people who need it most, resulting in a national shortage of direct care workers and years-long wait lists for access to services. This access crisis is now exacerbated by the end of Medicaid continuous enrollment this year, which has led to states kicking more than 10 million people off Medicaid. Without access to basic support for daily living, people with disabilities and older adults are at risk of being confined, isolated, and neglected in institutions or trapped in their homes. With dwindling access to HCBS, the burden is increasingly falling on families to step in as caregivers, leading to financial hardship, lost jobs, social isolation, and mental and physical exhaustion.

Powerful journalism exposing the impact of this crisis can spur public pressure and policy reform, particularly in getting emergency federal funding in the end-of-year fiscal package. Storytelling focused on those confined against their will, disabled people who lost their HCBS access due to the Medicaid unwinding, or families under strain due to lack of accessible care can shine a light on this overlooked issue.

2. Disability-Based Discrimination in Health Care

People with disabilities face a multitude of barriers in accessing our health care system. One pervasive and largely overlooked issue is widespread disability-based discrimination in health care, and its dire implications. The issue is complex and multifaceted, but some of the barriers include inaccessible equipment and physical environments, a lack of training and time in caring for people with disabilities, and explicit and implicit biases including assumptions about quality of life and worthiness. This leads to people with disabilities being denied life-saving treatments or even routine preventative healthcare at much higher rates. Ableism in healthcare directly limits lifespans and causes avoidable suffering. Black and brown people with disabilities face particularly dangerous disparities.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is proposing new regulations that would prohibit medical providers from discriminating against people with disabilities and set new standards for accessibility at the doctor’s office. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a landmark civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs and activities that are funded by the Federal government. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been updated for 50 years ago. The proposed updated rules are necessary to ensure disabled peoples’ lives are not valued less than others and that health care is accessible to all.

Increased journalism focused on exposing discrimination and disregard for disabled lives is vital. Storytelling and data-driven reporting can raise public awareness and pressure health systems to reform. We must make medical providers see all patients as equally deserving of quality treatment.

3. Overcriminalization of People With Disabilities

People with disabilities, especially people of color, are dramatically overrepresented in the criminal justice system. Yet media coverage often fails to capture their experiences. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, people with disabilities face much higher arrest and incarceration rates – for example, Black youth with disabilities are 17% more likely to be arrested than their non-disabled peers. And studies show that up to 50% of people shot and killed by police have a disability. Despite the prevalence of this issue, many officers lack training on interacting with and supporting this high-risk population. Their failure to accurately perceive disabilities often escalates encounters, increasing trauma, violence, and unjust stigma. There are solutions, like The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability’s (NCCJD) efforts in crisis prevention and response teams led by the disability community. Similar initiatives recognize that reform requires centering the voices of those impacted.

We urge you to investigate the entanglement of people with disabilities in the justice system and spotlight solutions. Share stories that humanize, contextualize, and advance change. Your reporting has immense power to create a more just, inclusive society.

4. Lack of Employment Opportunities

Diversity in our workforce strengthens cultures and bottom lines, but one important group continues to be overlooked: people with disabilities. Meaningful employment not only provides vital income, but it also fosters independence, dignity, and respect. Yet people with disabilities, particularly people with IDD, are extremely underrepresented in the workforce, despite their desire to work. People with disabilities have long faced exclusion and seclusion, and that issue persists today. Barriers include limited job opportunities, misconceptions about accommodations, and overt discrimination. They often leave school with little to no community-based vocational experience or planning for transitioning from school to work. When employed, few people with IDD have opportunities to advance, explore new possibilities, or, in their later years, retire. Unrealistically low limits on assets and earnings add to a fear of losing vital public benefits if they work too many hours or earn too much. Lack of other services — like transportation or accommodations — can also hinder success.

Many people with IDD succeed in roles alongside people without disabilities. Data proves that businesses employing people with disabilities outperform businesses that do not. In addition, people with disabilities, on average, stay in their jobs longer than their counterparts without disabilities. Journalists can explore the barriers to employment, workplace discrimination, myths about abilities and accommodations, and inclusive hiring practices. Your work can help break down barriers, reduce discrimination, and create a society where everyone has access to meaningful employment.

5. Exclusion From Sexual Education

Everyone deserves access to accurate, unbiased, and inclusive sex and relationship education. Yet a shocking majority of people with IDD – up to 84% – do not receive sexual education in school systems and other settings. At the same time, some individuals may engage in sexual activity as a result of poor options, manipulation, loneliness, or physical force rather than as an expression of their sexuality. This leads to another horrifying statistic: people with IDD are sexually assaulted and/or raped at a rate seven times higher than those without disabilities. The lack of access to sexual education varies widely by state and only five states require sex ed to be accessible to people with disabilities. For decades, people with IDD have been thought to be asexual, having no need for loving and fulfilling relationships with others. Individual rights to sexuality, which is essential to human health and well-being, have been denied. This loss has negatively affected people with IDD in gender identity, friendships, self-esteem, body image and awareness, emotional growth, and social behavior. Another sensitive dynamic is the parent’s understanding and acceptance that sex education is appropriate and important for their child with a disability. Every person has the right to exercise choices regarding sexual expression and social relationships.

Journalists can play an important role in advocating for equitable access to comprehensive sex education programs, shedding light on the imperative of empowering people with IDD to make informed decisions about their sexual health and relationships.

Considering how large and diverse the disabled population is, we encourage you to include their viewpoints in all of your stories, whether they relate to disability or not! We also hope you will investigate these topics in your own communities. Please contact us at dilworth@thearc.org if you need sources, background information, or other issues. Also, be sure to visit our Press Center to find guides on reporting on disability. We are excited to see your impactful work!