A gloved hand holding a vaccine vial, with the words COVID-19 in black on a board behind it.

Vaccine Discrimination: Disability Advocacy Groups File Federal Lawsuit Alleging 6 Maryland Jurisdictions Discriminate in Vaccine Process

Today, The Arc Maryland, represented by Disability Rights Maryland, The Arc of the United States, and Brown & Barron, LLC filed a federal lawsuit alleging that six jurisdictions in Maryland, including Baltimore City, discriminate against people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) by denying them opportunities to access COVID-19 vaccinations inconsistent with the State’s Executive order and Vaccination Plan. This discrimination puts lives at stake and violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Five counties and Baltimore City are identified in the lawsuit as excluding individuals with IDD in their list of who is eligible, preventing those with IDD from accessing vaccinations. The counties include, Queen Anne’s County, Carroll County, Garrett County, Somerset County, and Talbot County.

Ivis Burris has muscular dystrophy and requires support staff to come to her apartment to assist her with nursing needs. She lives in Baltimore City with her adult son who has Down syndrome. Under the state Vaccination Plan, they are both eligible for the vaccine under Phase 1B as individuals with IDD. But when Ms. Burris went to the Baltimore City COVID-19 website, she thought she wasn’t eligible to request the vaccine for herself and her son because the City excludes people with IDD from its list of those eligible for Phase 1B. Ms. Burris explains, “I want a fair chance like everybody else to live. My son deserves a fair chance to live. Considering our situation – I need a ventilator to breathe and my son is at higher risk because of his Down syndrome – it is really critical that we get the vaccine. Our disabilities put us at higher risk.”

“It is frustrating to have our state recognize people with IDD to be the 1B priority group for the vaccine, only for people with IDD to be denied equitable access to the vaccine from the counties in which they live. We hope this action will result in immediate change for the benefit of all,” said Ray Marshall, board president of The Arc Maryland.

It is well established that COVID-19-related fatality rates among people with IDD who test positive for COVID-19 are nearly three times greater than the mortality rates among the general population who are positive for the virus. People with IDD also face heightened risk because many rely on caregivers or direct support professionals who provide assistance with activities of daily living, for which social distancing is often not possible. Frequently, such caregivers serve multiple people raising risks of transmission. Despite advocacy from The Arc Maryland, people with IDD are not getting equal access to vaccines, compelling the need for the lawsuit.

“We need these localities to take immediate corrective action to fix their information; to fix forms that exclude individuals with disabilities from claiming eligibility and seeking vaccine appointments; to tell health department staff and others that people with disabilities are eligible and to assist them with obtaining the vaccine. The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed over thirty years ago with a purpose of ending historic inequities in health care. We need immediate action to protect lives,” said Lauren Young, Litigation Director for Disability Rights Maryland.

“Throughout this pandemic, The Arc has fought to ensure that people with disabilities nationwide have equal access to treatment and are not subject to medical discrimination,” said Peter Berns, CEO for The Arc of the United States. “As vaccines are distributed around the country, we will remain vigilant to ensure people with IDD are not discriminated against in this process.”

“Ensuring that vulnerable populations have access to life-saving vaccines, and that the State’s distribution plan prioritizing these populations is followed, is in accordance with Brown & Barron’s core principles and values of promoting access to quality healthcare for all. We are proud to stand behind The Arc in supporting these individuals and communities at this crucial time,” said Brian Brown, managing member of Brown & Barron, LLC.”

The Arc of the United States is the largest grassroots organization dedicated to advancing the civil rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The Arc Maryland is an affiliate of The Arc of the United States. There are 11 chapters of The Arc throughout the state, including The Arc Maryland.

Disability Rights Maryland (DRM), a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, is Maryland’s designated Protection & Advocacy agency. DRM advocates to advance the civil rights of people with disabilities throughout Maryland. 

Brown & Barron, LLC is a civil justice law firm in Baltimore, Maryland.

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The Arc Partners With Comcast NBCUniversal to Increase Access to Special Education Services for Students of Color With Disabilities

Washington, D.C. – During this time of unprecedented challenges for special education students, The Arc is pleased to announce that we have been awarded a $200,000 grant from Comcast NBCUniversal focused on helping more students of color access greater resources to help them thrive.

The funding will allow The Arc@School to expand support of students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) through advocacy resources. These resources are meant to serve those who might not otherwise be reached during this critical time and to ensure that students receive the benefits of public education in the least restrictive setting possible, as mandated by federal and state law.

The Arc@School supports students with IDD (and other disabilities) and their families to successfully navigate the special education system and get the supports and services they need to thrive in school. The program also supports educators to better understand and fulfill their responsibilities toward students and families in the special education system.

“The Arc is committed to equal access to education for all students with intellectual and developmental disabilities to increase opportunity throughout their lifetimes. We are grateful for Comcast NBCUniversal’s support of our education advocacy, particularly as the pandemic has created so much upheaval in education. Now more than ever, families need help to understand their rights in the classroom – whether that classroom is in person or virtual. We could not do it without this generous support,” said Peter Berns, Chief Executive Officer of The Arc.

“Students of color with disabilities are traditionally overlooked when seeking the right special education for themselves, and we are working closely with The Arc to provide families with much-needed access,” said Dalila Wilson-Scott, Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer of Comcast Corporation. “We believe creating tools for families to advocate for special education services is such an important step toward a more equitable future.”

The grant gives The Arc@School resources to:

  • Recruit 250 families nationwide to receive scholarships to access The Arc@School’s special education advocacy curriculum at no cost this year. We will award scholarships to families of color and low-income families.
  • Create special education “Know Your Rights” resources in Spanish, available on a new Spanish section of The Arc@School’s website.
  • Develop a facilitation guide that chapters of The Arc and other parent training organizations can use with The Arc@School’s Advocacy Curriculum. The guide will support working groups and study groups for students, families, and professionals.

About Comcast Corporation

Comcast Corporation (Nasdaq: CMCSA) is a global media and technology company with three primary businesses:  Comcast Cable, NBCUniversal, and Sky.  Comcast Cable is one of the United States’ largest video, high-speed internet, and phone providers to residential customers under the Xfinity brand, and also provides these services to businesses.  It also provides wireless and security and automation services to residential customers under the Xfinity brand.  NBCUniversal is global and operates news, entertainment and sports cable networks, the NBC and Telemundo broadcast networks, television production operations, television station groups, Universal Pictures, and Universal Parks and Resorts.  Sky is one of Europe’s leading media and entertainment companies, connecting customers to a broad range of video content through its pay television services.  It also provides communications services, including residential high-speed internet, phone, and wireless services.  Sky operates the Sky News broadcast network and sports and entertainment networks, produces original content, and has exclusive content rights.  Visit www.comcastcorporation.com for more information.

 

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MedStar Health Agrees to End Discriminatory Treatment of Patients With Disabilities in Federal Resolution

In a resolution that applies to all MedStar Health Inc. (“MedStar Health”) care locations in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, MedStar Health has agreed to end its discriminatory treatment of patients with disabilities, including William King, a 73-year old man with communication-related disabilities, and to modify its policies to ensure patients with disabilities can access the in-person supports needed to communicate and have equal access to medical care during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In response to a federal disability discrimination complaint filed on September 16, 2020, by Disability Rights DC at University Legal Services (DRDC) together with CommunicationFIRST, the Center for Public Representation, The Arc of the United States, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC), Quality Trust for Individuals with Disabilities, and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reached an agreement with MedStar Health to revise its no-visitor policies at all MedStar Health care locations to make clear that patients with disabilities who require support persons to communicate or otherwise access the programs and services of MedStar Health are entitled to access those in-person supports with appropriate coronavirus safety mitigation measures.

The District lacks clear, mandatory District-level guidance and policy to prevent discrimination against patients with disabilities. Instead, it has allowed health care entities like MedStar Health to set their own policies regarding in-person supports and other communication-related accommodations during the pandemic and gives these entities significant discretion to implement its policies. OCR’s resolution serves as a model for District-wide adoption. 

MedStar also committed, in a separate resolution with Mr. King, to allow his support persons to accompany and stay with Mr. King at any MedStar Health care locations to ensure access to effective communication in his treatment consistent with MedStar Health’s revised policy.

The complaint alleged that MedStar Health discriminated against Mr. King in its implementation of its no-visitor policy by refusing to allow Mr. King’s support person to accompany him during his stay in the MedStar Washington Hospital Center and the MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital and failing to provide technical auxiliary aids and services to ensure effective communication, in violation of federal law and subjecting Mr. King to serious risk of inadequate medical care, unnecessary physical and chemical restraints, and lasting emotional harm. With OCR’s leadership, the parties engaged in an Early Complaint Resolution process resulting in the agreement.

The new MedStar Health policy in part:

  • Requires all MedStar Health care locations in the District of Columbia, Virginia, and Maryland to allow patients with disabilities to designate support persons to support them throughout their stay or visit at MedStar Health
  • Recognizes that support persons may need to assist the patient with a disability regarding:
    • Needs that are not visually apparent to someone who does not know them (e.g., discomfort, hunger, thirst, pain)
    • Changes in their symptoms
    • Needs related to a history of trauma
    • Emotional self-regulation and anxiety management to prevent unnecessary use of physical and chemical restraints
  • Acknowledges that MedStar Health has a continuing obligation during the pandemic to provide necessary aids and services and ensure effective communication and equal access to healthcare for patients with and without a support person.

“I am relieved that this is over and hope that MedStar will allow supporters for all people with disabilities that need them now that the policy has changed,” said Mr. King. “I filed this case because I wanted to help other people with disabilities so that no one has to go through what I went through. We are very thankful to everyone involved and to the hospital staff that helped me tremendously.”

“Our family was heartbroken that my father thought we left him in the hospital to die,” said Valerie Turnquist. “There are no words to express our deepest gratitude to Lyndsay Niles at DRDC, the other organizations who supported the case, and the Office for Civil Rights for expeditiously mediating a resolution. If your loved one has a disability, please ensure they have an advocate and do not ever stop fighting!”

“Even in our nation’s capital and surrounding areas, many with intellectual and developmental disabilities are being deprived of basic rights during the COVID-19 pandemic, and we have already seen dire consequences from this discriminatory treatment. We thank OCR for today’s resolution and will continue to fight for the health and well-being of all people with disabilities,” said Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc.

“We are incredibly pleased with the outcome and grateful that OCR moved quickly to ensure that MedStar Health adheres to the communication and health care rights of Mr. King and other people with disabilities who seek equitable treatment in their health care,” said DRDC Managing Attorney Lyndsay Niles. “COVID-19 has not created but exacerbated the need for disability justice to end discrimination for people with disabilities in health care and other spaces. This resolution is an important step to help prevent the injustice and harm Mr. King was subjected to from happening to other patients with disabilities in the future.”

“Demonstrating leadership once again, OCR in this second resolution on discriminatory hospital visitation policies during COVID, has made clear that health care providers must follow the Americans with Disabilities Act and other federal laws to ensure patients with disabilities can access the in-person supports they may need,” said Tauna Szymanski, Executive Director of CommunicationFIRST. “This resolution makes clear that patients with disabilities have the right to support people even in states like Virginia and the District of Columbia that have not yet adopted a comprehensive statewide policy clarifying these rights.”

Many of these advocates have been involved in filing a number of complaints with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights challenging medical discrimination by states and hospitals, including discriminatory crisis standard of care plans, no-visitor policies, and inaccessible COVID-19 testing sites as well as a recently released report: “Examining How Crisis Standards of Care May Lead to Intersectional Medical Discrimination Against COVID-19 Patients.”

A man lays in a hospital bed as an out of focus doctor in the foreground holds a chart

Coalition of Civil Rights Groups and Legal Scholars Release Report on Intersectional Medical Discrimination During COVID-19

Washington, D.C. – Today, a coalition of civil rights groups and legal scholars announce the release of a new report: “Examining How Crisis Standards of Care May Lead to Intersectional Medical Discrimination Against COVID-19 Patients.” Crisis standards of care are used to decide who should receive priority for treatment when there are not enough resources to serve everyone. The report explores and addresses how crisis standards of care may perpetuate medical discrimination against people with disabilities, older adults, higher weight people, as well as Black, Indigenous, and other people of color, in hospital care. Many face pervasive negative biases and inaccurate assumptions about their value, quality of life, capacity to communicate and make decisions, and likelihood of survival. During this pandemic, these biases can have deadly consequences when hospitals must make decisions about which critically ill patients should receive treatment.

The report provides an explanation of crisis standards of care policies implemented by states and hospital systems and how they may discriminate against marginalized individuals and communities, the principles that should apply to prevent discrimination, the relevant civil rights legal framework, and recommended strategies to ensure that crisis standards do not discriminate during the pandemic or in the future. The report highlights the deaths of Michael Hickson—a Black father of five with multiple disabilities—and Sarah McSweeney—a white woman with significant disabilities—who were denied life-sustaining treatment by physicians who expressed clear biases regarding the value of their lives.

“This pandemic has highlighted existing health inequities and deeply entrenched medical biases that threaten the lives of marginalized individuals and communities,” said Peter Berns, CEO of the Arc. “The Arc has worked hard to advocate for individuals with disabilities during this pandemic and we hope that this report will educate a variety of stakeholders on how to prevent bias and stereotypes from seeping into the medical decision-making process.”

“This Report contextualizes our current historical moment and offers clear directives to ensure that race and disability remain at the forefront of short-term responses and long-term reforms,” said Professor Jasmine Harris with the University of California, Davis School of Law and a member of The Arc’s Board of Directors and Legal Advocacy Committee. “The current pandemic brought to the fore longstanding systemic inequities in healthcare, employment, and socio-political participation. Underlying health conditions—such as respiratory impairments like asthma, high blood pressure, and obesity—leave People of Color, disabled people, and BIPOC with disabilities particularly at risk for contagion and complications, including death. Yet these ‘underlying health conditions’ are not inherently personal, rather, they reflect institutional choices about access to healthcare, housing, food and environmental hazards—that, in turn, increase the risk for People of Color, disabled people, and BIPOC.”

“The history of medicine has long discarded the lives of disabled Black, Indigenous and other People of Color, and disabled BIPOC who live at the intersection of other marginalized identities,” said Professor Natalie Chin with the City University of New York School of Law and a member of The Arc’s Legal Advocacy Committee. “This Report provides medical professionals with a strategic roadmap to confront bias and ultimately improve healthcare outcomes so that we can firmly say, ‘Yes, all bodies are valued.’”

The authors of the report include the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, The Arc of the United States, the Center for Public Representation, Justice in Aging, Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, the National Disability Rights Network, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, Professor Jasmine Harris of the University of California, Davis School of Law, and Professor Natalie Chin of the City University of New York School of Law.

Many of the advocates who authored this report have been involved in filing a number of complaints with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights challenging medical discrimination by states and hospitals, including discriminatory crisis standard of care plans, no-visitor policies, and inaccessible COVID-19 testing sites. Through this work, advocates have reached resolutions with a number of states and hospitals that make significant progress toward preventing medical discrimination during COVID-19. However, as outlined in this report, much work remains to be done to ensure every individual, regardless of their identity, receives equal access to care during this pandemic and in the future.

 

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

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

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

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

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

National Board Members of The Arc

Officers

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

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

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

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

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

New Board Members

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Returning Board Members

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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In Final Days of Trump Administration and in Middle of Pandemic, Federal Officials Approve Cuts to Medicaid in Tennessee

Washington, D.C. – As the Trump Administration wraps up its tenure, officials at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) finalized an agreement with the state of Tennessee that will cut funding for the Medicaid program in that state, known as TennCare.

“This decision will harm people with disabilities, low-income families, and older adults in Tennessee, and sets a dangerous precedent across the country.

“It will cut federal money coming in, and fundamentally change the Medicaid program and Federal funding guarantee to the detriment of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. There will be less federal oversight and accountability for beneficiary protections, and its implementation will have devastating consequences on access to prescription drugs. And to take this action while a dangerous pandemic rages across the country – stretching our health care system, impacting state resources, and harming the economy – is simply unconscionable.

“We are very skeptical about the state’s claim that some of the savings in this restructuring scheme might be used to eliminate the waiting list for services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Right now in Tennessee, there are already challenges with providers because the low reimbursement rates for many services make it difficult to hire and retain qualified workers. Elimination of the waiting list is only relevant if people are getting what they need, when they need it, and cutting funding won’t help. The concept that less money will lead to more innovation and more people getting services is a fallacy.

“The incoming Administration must address the inequities that this block grant will create and ensure that this harmful policy is not replicated in other states.. People with disabilities should not have to endure these cuts now in this public health crisis, or in the future,” said Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc.

The Arc advocates for and serves people wit­­h intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), including Down syndrome, autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, cerebral palsy and other diagnoses. The Arc has a network of 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.

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Amidst Nationwide COVID-19 Surge, Health and Civil Rights Groups Secure Federal Approval of Revised Crisis Standards of Care Guidelines in Texas

Washington, D.C.: Today, amidst an unparalleled rampant spread of COVID-19 infection throughout the country and the looming specter of care rationing as hospitals become overwhelmed, civil rights groups, working closely with two Texas regional health groups and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced the approval of revised crisis standard of care guidelines. Disability and aging advocates—Disability Rights Texas, the Center for Public Representation, The Arc of the United States, and Justice in Aging—worked collaboratively with the North Texas Mass Critical Care Guideline Task Force (NTMCCGTF) and Southwest Texas RAC (STRAC) to ensure their guidelines comply with federal disability rights laws and do not discriminate against people with disabilities and older adults, even when public health emergencies, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, necessitate the rationing of scarce medical resources.

Texas currently has no statewide crisis standards of care policy. The revised guidelines announced today provide the foundation and models for statewide guidelines that could be adopted by the Texas Medical Association and the Texas Hospital Association. They would apply to all of the other regional advisory councils in Texas, amidst surging hospitalizations and rapidly declining ICU capacity that put the lives of people with disabilities and older adults at grave risk. Like earlier resolutions of crisis standards in Alabama, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Utah, the guidelines provide concrete, clinical alternatives to discriminatory provisions common in many states’ rationing plans. The following are key changes in the revised policies to avoid discrimination against people with disabilities and older adults:

  • No Exclusions or Deprioritizing Based on Resource Intensity or Diagnosis: An individual can no longer be excluded from, or deprioritized for, medical treatment based on the fact that they might require more time or resources to recover or because of a person’s diagnosis or functional impairment. Rather than making assumptions about a patient’s ability to respond to treatment based solely on stereotypes, medical personnel must perform an individualized assessment of each patient based on the best objective current medical evidence.
  • Resource Decisions Based Only on Short-Term Survivability: Determinations about treatment can only be based on short-term survivability. Since long-term predictions of the outcome of treatment is fraught with speculation, mistaken stereotypes, and assumptions about the quality of life and lifespan of older adults and people with disabilities, they are explicitly prohibited.
  • Reasonable Modifications Required: Hospitals must make reasonable accommodations to the support needs and communication styles of persons with disabilities, and reasonable modifications to the Modified Sequential Organ Failure Assessment (MSOFA)— or other tools that may be used to prioritize access to medical treatment—to correct against the impact prior conditions may have on the assessment of organ failure scoring. Other reasonable modifications, including modifications to no-visitor policies, may also be required to provide equal access to treatment.
  • Reallocation of Personal Ventilators Prohibited: Medical personnel may not reallocate the personal ventilator of a patient who uses a ventilator in their daily life to another patient whom the personnel deem more likely to benefit from the ventilator in receiving treatment.
  • Blanket Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) Policies Prohibited: Hospitals must provide information on the full scope of available treatment alternatives, including the continued provision of life-sustaining treatment, and may not impose blanket DNR policies. Physicians may not require patients to complete advance directives in order to continue to receive services from the hospital.

“The lives of persons with disabilities are not disposable and we deserve medical treatment just as much as anyone else even in a pandemic,” said Laura Halvorson, a client of Disability Rights Texas with muscular dystrophy and respiratory failure. “I use a personal ventilator 24 hours per day. Recently, I was hospitalized and worried that my ventilator would be taken away from me and given to another patient. These new guidelines will prevent this from happening and make me less worried about going to the hospital.”

“COVID-19 cases are rising in Texas and nationwide at unprecedented levels and the threat of care rationing is real and already happening in some hospitals. This resolution makes major progress toward ensuring that people with disabilities have equal access to the care and tools necessary to fight COVID-19 infection,” said Peter Berns, Chief Executive Officer, The Arc. “We will keep fighting for revisions to policies that could mean the difference between life and death for people with disabilities.”

“Persons with disabilities and all persons needing hospital care in the Dallas and San Antonio regions of Texas can now be assured that their right to equal access to life-saving treatment is guaranteed. We now need to do the same for all Texans,” said Steven Schwartz, Legal Director for the Center for Public Representation.

“This collaboration between local health officials, the federal Office for Civil Rights and leading advocates is a great example of government officials listening and responding to the needs and concerns of impacted communities,” said Regan Bailey, Litigation Director at Justice in Aging. “As a result, people needing hospital care in Dallas and San Antonio will not be denied life-saving care because of guidelines that discriminate based on age or disability.”

In addition to working with OCR and other entities to revise crisis standard of care policies nationwide, The Arc, the Center for Public Representation, and Justice in Aging have created resources for stakeholders regarding preventing disability and age discrimination in crisis standards of care.

For more information about today’s resolution, contact:

Kristin Wright, The Arc of the United States

wright@thearc.org or 202-617-3271

Regan Bailey, Justice in Aging

rbailey@justiceinaging.org or 202-683-1990

Steven Schwartz, Center for Public Representation

sschwartz@cpr-ma.org or 617-285-4666

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Corey Johnson Must Not Be Executed

The Arc and other advocacy groups are urging President Trump to intervene immediately and stop the unconstitutional execution of a man with intellectual disability scheduled to take place in a matter of days. Corey Johnson’s execution, scheduled for January 14, would violate the Constitution and federal law.

Mr. Johnson is a person with intellectual disability. Three nationally recognized experts in intellectual disability have evaluated Mr. Johnson and agree on this diagnosis, but yet, no court has ever heard the evidence to review whether Johnson’s disability bars him from execution. Unfortunately, Mr. Johnson’s trial and post-conviction attorneys failed to conduct a thorough investigation of various avenues of mitigating evidence and did not locate critical information concerning his intellectual disability.

We support Corey Johnson’s clemency petition, asking the Administration to commute his death sentence to life in prison without parole,” said Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc. “For decades, The Arc has advocated for capital defendants with intellectual disability leading to critical Supreme Court precedent prohibiting their execution. It would be a devastating miscarriage of justice for Mr. Johnson to be executed in clear violation of the Constitution.”

Mr. Johnson was raised in poverty and experienced a chaotic, abusive, and tremendously unstable childhood. He had lived in more than ten different homes by the time he was 12 years old and attended nearly a dozen different schools during that same period. Mr. Johnson failed at every level of school.

Mr. Johnson had similar struggles socially. He never learned how to interact with others, to read social situations, to communicate effectively, or to problem-solve. His peers recounted his limited vocabulary and difficulty following instructions. He did not learn the range of skills necessary to live independently as an adult. Expert reports based on interviews with peers, family members, teachers, and other acquaintances throughout Mr. Johnson’s life describe him as “highly gullible and naïve” and lacking the ability to understand the consequences of his actions. As a child, he was frequently teased and largely passive; he followed the lead of others and engaged in the activities those around him pursued.

Mr. Johnson regularly succumbed to peer pressure to engage in risky behaviors and was frequently victimized and easily manipulated by family members and peers. Mr. Johnson’s challenges continued with him into adulthood.

Nearly 20 years ago, in Atkins v. Virginia (2002), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the execution of people with intellectual disability is unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. In Hall v. Florida (2014), the Court rejected an arbitrary cutoff for IQ scores in making the intellectual disability determination and emphasized the importance of courts consulting clinical standards in their analysis. The Court’s decisions in Moore v. Texas (2017, 2019) strengthened this precedent by emphasizing the need to rely on well-established clinical standards—rather than stereotypes—in making intellectual disability determinations in death penalty cases.

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

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Important Step for Community Living for People with Disabilities: Congress Makes Overdue Investment in Money Follows the Person Program

Last night, Congress passed three years of funding for the Money Follows the Person program. This program provides federal dollars to move people with disabilities out of large congregate settings like institutions and nursing homes, and back into their homes and communities. This is an important step in our decades-long fight to bring people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) out of institutions to live meaningful, independent lives in the community. 

This news comes after eight short-term reauthorizations, one as short as 7 days, that almost made the program collapse because states couldn’t count on the federal funds and were shutting down their programs, despite the desperate need for the funding due to the pandemic. The last round of funding for the effective program was set to expire on December 20, so it’s future was uncertain in the waning days of the Congressional session. (Citation: Tesla Aktie Dividende)

“Without this investment, more people would continue to be stuck in institutions and nursing homes – and the COVID-19 pandemic has shown how dangerous these settings can be. An enormous barrier for people with disabilities is access to the supports and services necessary to make a life in the community, so Congress did the right thing by investing in this program. It’s a victory, but one harder to celebrate given the fact that once again, Congress absolutely failed to address the dire needs of people with disabilities, their families, and service providers in their latest COVID-19 relief deal,” said Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc.

The Money Follows the Person (MFP) program provides states with 100% federal Medicaid funding for one year to transition people out of institutions and nursing homes, and back to their communities. MFP has moved more than 105,000 seniors and individuals with disabilities out of these institutions, and has helped 44 states improve access to home and community-based services (HCBS). Medicaid requires states to provide care in nursing homes, but HCBS is optional. The MFP program is then critical because it incentivizes investment in HCBS by providing federal funding for transitional services for individuals who wish to leave a nursing home or other institution.

The MFP program supports people to move back home by providing necessary community-based supports like staff to support individuals in their homes, home modifications, and HCBS. The program is also cost-saving for states – longitudinal studies of the program show  20% savings per beneficiary per month for state Medicaid programs and most importantly, better quality of life outcomes for people receiving services in the community instead of institutional care.

“This program will make it possible for more people with disabilities to change their lives, on their own terms. We’ve got a lot of work to do in the new year to continue to help people with disabilities to live in safer settings with the right services for each individual, and the necessary resources for the dedicated staff supporting them. Families are struggling too, and The Arc will continue to lead this fight for equality and justice during and after this public health crisis,” said Berns.

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Shut Out Again: COVID-19 Relief Package Again Excludes Needs of People With Disabilities, Families, Service Providers

After months of hardship and danger from the COVID-19 pandemic, and relentless advocacy by The Arc and advocates across the country, last night Congress passed a COVID-19 relief package without critical funding for people with disabilities to access the services and supports necessary for a life in the community.

As COVID-19 continues to spread nationwide, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are struggling to access the services they need to continue to live in the community, and their families struggle with balancing work and caregiving responsibilities. Congress should have allocated desperately needed funds to support home and community-based services but they fell short.  They also failed to provide funding for personal protective equipment (PPE) and resources for the workforce that has supported people with disabilities tirelessly throughout this pandemic.

Congress did authorize a second round of smaller stimulus payments, but once again left out many people with disabilities – those who are defined by the IRS to be “adult dependents.” This group was inexplicably cast aside despite bipartisan support for including them.

Congress extended tax credits available for business to cover paid leave, but eliminated rules about when business must provide leave and did not extend the tax credits to cover all caregivers as the pandemic continues. Congress also failed to provide a solution to a COVID-related overpayment issue with Social Security benefits. The needs of people with disabilities, their families, and the workforce that supports them were excluded to honor an arbitrary bottom line.

“It’s unconscionable that Congress ignored the dire needs of people with disabilities, their support staff, and families as this pandemic rages across the country. For months, our leaders have known the consequences of their inaction. People with disabilities are getting infected at higher rates. Support staff are putting their lives on the line day and day out with the protection they need. And families are struggling with it all. Yet in the waning days of 2020, they have shut us out in the cold in COVID-19 relief legislation,” said Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc.

Home and community-based services, or HCBS, make life in the community possible for millions of people with disabilities who often need help with things like eating, dressing, personal hygiene, and managing health care or finances. As COVID-19 spread in congregate settings out of the community, like nursing homes and institutions, HCBS became even more important for health, safety, and independence. Without this critical federal emergency funding, as state budgets continue to take hits due to the pandemic, the HCBS systems will be hit hard.

Through The Arc, almost 150,000 calls and emails have flooded Congress in recent months to demand action for funding for these services, along with the PPE needed by staff to safely deliver these services to people with disabilities. Chapters of The Arc across the country have been scrambling throughout the pandemic to access PPE and other medical supplies. They are in need of resources to cover these costs as well as the funding to pay their direct support professionals fairly for the vital work they do.

“This is not hyperbole – this is life and death for people with disabilities and their support systems. Before, during, and someday after the pandemic, a life in the community is vital for people with disabilities. Congress turned its back on desperately needed funds to support these services, protect the staff doing the work, and pay them for the risks they are taking in this public health crisis,” said Berns.