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.

How and Why to Celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month: October 2023

National Disability Employment Awareness Month - Advancing Access & Equity - Celebrating 50 years of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973Each October, during National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), we celebrate the many contributions and achievements of employees with disabilities.

Employees with disabilities are dependable, loyal, and eager to learn—and research shows that their inclusion in the workforce improves overall employee retention rate and morale. However, people with disabilities have been marginalized and misunderstood for generations, and 85% of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) remain unemployed.

How to Celebrate NDEAM in October (And Year-Round)

There are many ways to observe and celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Here are a few ideas.

Learn about the value of people with disabilities in the workforce.

Share your disability employment story and help someone share theirs.

The Arc has collected disability employment success stories from both employees and employers. Read them and share them with your networks. Let’s help more people understand the value that people with disabilities bring to the workforce.

If you have a friend, family member, coworker, or neighbor with a disability who is employed, encourage them to share their story. We want as many people to join the conversation as possible! Share your stories on social media using #NDEAM or even reach out to your local news. Be sure to join The Arc’s celebration by following us on Facebook, Instagram, X (formerly Twitter), and LinkedIn and engaging with stories from the people we serve.

Look at your company’s disability hiring practices.

  • If you’re not actively hiring people with disabilities, here’s a tip sheet to help you get started.
  • Review your company’s policies and processes to make sure they are inclusive and comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • Train managers and supervisors to make sure they understand their role in fostering an inclusive workplace.
  • Post about NDEAM in your newsletter, on your website, or on social media to help increase awareness.
  • Participate in Disability Mentoring Day, which takes place on the third Wednesday in October.

Donate to organizations that actively promote workforce inclusion for people with disabilities.

The Arc has been working for the inclusion of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in all aspects of life. Our nearly 600 chapters across the country have been connecting companies and people with IDD to make successful employment a reality. Support our work!

Is There a Theme for NDEAM in 2023?

Each year, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy selects a theme for National Disability Employment Awareness Month. The 2023 NDEAM theme is “Advancing Access and Equity” to honor the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

A young man in a wheelchair outside next to a woman standing next to him. They are both dancing and smiling excitedly. In the bottom right corner are stripes in the colors of the Disability Pride Flag (green, light blue, white, yellow, and red). Across the bottom is white text against a dark gray background that reads "Celebrate Disability Pride Month."

Why and How to Celebrate Disability Pride Month 2023

Disability is a part of the rich tapestry of human diversity, and something that nearly all of us will experience at some point in our lives. It’s also a significant identity that defines how we experience the world. Yet people with disabilities have been marginalized and misunderstood for generations. All disabilities and their intersecting identities should be acknowledged, valued, and respected, and one way to do that is during Disability Pride Month.

Disability Pride Month is celebrated every July and is an opportunity to honor the history, achievements, experiences, and struggles of the disability community.

Why July? It marks the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, landmark legislation that broke down barriers to inclusion in society. But barriers still exist, which is why we need to honor every kind of disability, the people who identify with them, and the wide range of supports they need to thrive. Here’s more about the history of Disability Pride Month and the story behind the flag.

Looking for ways to celebrate Disability Pride Month? We’ve got you covered.


The History of Disability Rights in the United States

The Diversity of Disabilities

Although society often thinks of people with disabilities as a single population, it’s actually a diverse group of people with a wide range of needs. Get an overview of the different types of intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).

Meet People With IDD

All people with disabilities, including those with IDD, have hopes and dreams just like everyone else – such as social inclusion and employment. Watch and read their stories on The Arc’s story hub.

Share Your Disability Story or Help Someone Share Theirs

Disability Pride Month is a spotlight on what disability pride means and what people with disabilities are proud of. If you feel comfortable and safe to do so, share your story on social media and include the hashtags #DisabilityPride and #DisabilityPrideMonth.

If you have a friend, family member, coworker, or neighbor with a disability, encourage them to share their story. We want as many people to join the conversation as possible! Share stories on social media using #DisabilityPride and #DisabilityPrideMonth or even reach out to your local news. Be sure to join The Arc’s celebration by following us on social media @TheArcUS and engaging with stories from the people we serve.

Take Action

Reach Out to Your Elected Officials

One of the most important ways you can get involved in the disability rights movement is by educating your elected officials about policies that harm and strengthen the quality of life of people with disabilities. Make sure you bookmark The Arc’s Action Center for timely alerts!

Donate to The Arc

For nearly 75 years, The Arc has been at the forefront of positive change in disability rights, and we’re not slowing down! Donate to join our grassroots movement that is creating policy, programs, and possibilities for people with IDD.

Show Your Pride

Get our new, limited edition “Disabled and Proud” T-shirt and show your support for people with disabilities.

Teach Your Kids to Acknowledge and Include Disabled People

Talking to your kids about disability is an important and ongoing conversation that will help foster inclusion for the next generation. To find age-appropriate tips, read these articles from TODAY.com, HuffPost, and Cincinnati Children’s.

Attend a Disability Pride Month Event in Your Area

Show pride for your disability and/or help uplift others in your community by attending a Disability Pride event! There isn’t a database for Disability Pride Month events (yet!), but below are a few coming up in major cities.

Hire People With Disabilities

Our society’s long history of discrimination against people with disabilities continues to translate to their unemployment and underemployment. Right now, 85% of people with IDD are unemployed. Many of them want to work and have skills to contribute. Among those who are employed, people with IDD are working fewer than 13 hours a week on average and less than one-fifth of them are getting workplace benefits. But research shows that disability inclusion is a proven good business decision. It increases overall productivity, offers a window into an untapped market, and boosts bottom lines. Learn more about why and how you should hire people with disabilities in featuring The Arc and by reading stories from employees and their employers.

There are many other ways you can celebrate Disability Pride Month, and we hope this list gives you a good starting point. Thank you for doing your part to amplify the voices and experiences of people with disabilities!

A white woman with blonde hair to her shouldersstands smiling with her arms at her sides in front of an office desk cubicle. She is wearing a white t shirt, black pants, and white shoes.

When Small Talk With a Stranger Led to a Thriving Career: Amy’s Story

A white woman with blonde hair stands smiling with her arms at her sides in front of an office desk cubicle. She is wearing a white t shirt, black pants, and white shoes. After graduating from high school and realizing college wasn’t the right path for her, Amy—who has a learning disability—knew she was ready to begin building her career. She started with typical jobs for young adults, working at Bath and Body Works and Giant Food for several years while taking classes at the local community college until a chance meeting in the college parking lot changed her life.

Amy encountered a woman in the parking lot and engaged in some polite small talk. Serendipitously, the woman’s daughter also had a disability and was currently seeking a job. She had contacted a program called Project SEARCH, and the woman passed the information for the program along to Amy.

Project SEARCH is an employment program for people with disabilities that aims to train and place each participant in competitive and rewarding employment through a series of internship rotations. As an added bonus of the program, the placements help demonstrate to businesses the long-term value of hiring people with disabilities and the wide range of jobs they can be successful in.

Amy enrolled in the program and began her placements, including one at the Montgomery County Department of Finance Treasury Division.

Amy and her assigned employee mentor MaryAnn got along right away—she even had chocolate and a pen ready for Amy’s first day. They got to work learning about homestead compliance and correcting records in the department’s system. Amy learned what it took to succeed in an office job and focused on building skills and making herself an asset to the department.

Amy chose to pursue a Treasury Department job after all of her rotations were done and was thrilled to secure a full-time, competitive job there where she thrived in an environment where people believed in and supported her to succeed. Amy notes “When I first got hired, I was so grateful. I didn’t say it, but inside deep down, because I didn’t really know if it was going to happen. I felt really focused.”

Now 32 years old, Amy is still at the same job enjoying her work, and is optimistic about what her future holds.

“I like everyone I work with. They like working with me too. I am most proud of working on property tax refunds. I research accounts ahead of time to figure out who is eligible for a refund, and then take their information and add the record into our system so it can move to the next step. I’ve gotten better at it over the course of my time there and I like working in Excel.

I’m coming up on my 10-year anniversary, which makes me proud. I do think about the future and maybe learning more skills. It’s been quite the journey.

I have a job coach I see during work, but I live by myself. I have a one-bedroom, and my parents help me with things and have been supportive. They retired to Florida, and I miss them a lot. They come up and visit, and I fly down to stay with them.

When I’m not working, I like to run. It helps me. I don’t get to do it often because of my job, but anytime I can do it, it helps me think better. I like to hang out with friends—it’s good to be social.

Having a job allows me to be independent, buy groceries, pay housing expenses, and go out to dinner with friends.

I hope people don’t give up on their dreams and their goals. It’s very important to work and try to make a good life for yourself.”

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National Disability Rights Groups Applaud SCOTUS Decision in Perez v. Sturgis

Today, twelve national organizations which filed an amicus brief in Perez v. Sturgis Public Schools offered congratulatory and supporting statements in light of the  unanimous 9-0 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court (the Court) in support of plaintiff Miguel Perez. As recommended by disability advocates, the Court’s decision reverses the decision of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit to protect students with disabilities and will ensure that students are able to use civil rights remedies as provided under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

In response to the decision, the organizations offered the following statements:

Shira Wakschlag, Esq., The Arc of the United States, Senior Director and General Counsel: “Miguel Perez is just one of millions of students with disabilities who face a multitude of barriers in getting the supports and services they need to thrive in school and to build the future they desire,” said Shira Wakschlag, Senior Director of Legal Advocacy and General Counsel at The Arc. “These barriers, which include overt segregation and discrimination, force parents and children to become experts in self-advocacy and the law in order to get the education they are entitled to. Consistent with the language of the ADA and IDEA, today’s unanimous decision in Perez v. Sturgis Public Schools removes unnecessary burdens from families seeking relief and helps ensure that students with disabilities and their parents are able to pursue every avenue of justice available to them when their civil rights are violated.”

Selene Almazan, Esq., Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Legal Director: “COPAA led the development of the amicus brief to ensure the Court heard from parents, advocates, and attorneys about the IDEA’s civil rights protections, including that the law does not require a student and their family to exhaust their administrative remedies to bring forward non-IDEA civil rights claims. The decision today affirms this critical aspect of the law.”

Elizabeth Athos, Esq., Education Law Center, Senior Attorney of Educational Equity: “The Court’s recognition that Congress does not require students with disabilities to litigate under IDEA before seeking relief under federal antidiscrimination laws that IDEA cannot provide is an important vindication of student rights. We are grateful to Miguel Perez for representing the interests of a great many children with disabilities, to COPAA for ensuring that the voices of students with disabilities and their families were expressed, and to the Court for applying faithfully the law written by Congress.”

Dr. Jacqueline Rodriguez, National Center for Learning Disabilities, CEO: “The National Center for Learning Disabilities applauds the Supreme Court’s decision in the Perez case to ensure all families have access to a high-quality education. We commend the Perez family for their steadfast commitment to protecting the rights of students with disabilities and their families. No family should have to endure what the Perez’ went through in order to maintain their legal rights but because of their efforts, families of students with disabilities continue to have the tools necessary to remedy a situation if their child is not provided their right to a free and appropriate public education.”

Dan Stewart, Esq., National Disability Rights Network, Managing Attorney: “Today’s U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous decision is a common-sense affirmation of a student’s right to pursue claims with different remedies under different laws. The earlier court decisions prohibited Miguel from pursuing monetary damages under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) after he had settled his education claims under IDEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. In recognizing those differences in the context of complex litigation, the Court provided much needed clarity that students like Miguel can seek full relief for the wrongs they suffered. We would like to extend a special congratulations to Disability Rights Michigan, the Protection and Advocacy agency for the state of Michigan who started work on this case back in 2017 for following it to a successful conclusion today.”

Signers of the Amicus Brief: The Arc of the United States, The Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN), Communication First, The Coelho Center for Disability Law, Policy and Innovation, Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Education Law Center, Innisfree Foundation (Innisfree), Learning Rights Law Center, National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD), National Center for Youth Law (NCYL), National Disability Rights Network (NDRN), National Federation of the Blind (NFB).

Perez v. Sturgis Public Schools was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on January 18, 2023. Miguel Perez is represented by Roman Martinez, Latham & Watkins. Also representing Perez are: Ellen Marjorie Saideman, Law Office of Ellen Saideman; Marc Charmatz and Leah Weiderhorn, National Association of the Deaf Law Advocacy Center; and, Mitchell Sickon, Disability Rights Michigan.

URL to SCOTUS decision: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/22pdf/21-887_k53m.pdf

URL to Amicus Brief: https://www.supremecourt.gov/DocketPDF/21/21-887/246668/20221116141113015_21-887%20Perez%20v%20Sturgis%20Brief%20for%20Amici%20Curiae%20The%20Arc%20of%20the%20US%20et%20a.pdf


A graduate stands in front of a tree on a sandy spot with boulders around him. He is wearing a cap and gown, holding a diploma, and smiling.

A Genetics Journey To Support What’s Possible in Life

Ellen Feldman has a passion for increasing research in the intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) field and continuing her ongoing advocacy in that arena. She currently serves as the Central Region Vice President for The Arc New York, and as a member of the Board of Governors and Executive Committee.

So, what inspires Ellen to devote her time and energy to this field? The answer is simple – her son.A middle-aged man stands in a kitchen with white cabinets. He is wearing a red shirt, and apron, and is using a cooking utensil on a sheet pan of food.

Ellen’s son, Matthew, is 40 years old; he receives supports and services through ACHIEVE, a chapter of The Arc, and has lived in a group home since he was 21. When Matthew was 14 months old, he was diagnosed with IDD and several associated symptoms – all with an unknown cause.

“We went to see the head of pediatric neurology at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital many years ago, and they couldn’t tell us what caused Matthew’s IDD,” Ellen said. “They couldn’t give us a real diagnosis. They basically told us that he’s going to be significantly delayed – he’ll never go to college and he’ll never drive a car. This news was crushing, of course. So we stumbled our way around, got him into early intervention programs, and did whatever we could.

“We’ve been down the path of lots of different hospitals and development centers, always looking – not for cures – but for ways to help him live his best life,” she said.

Ellen reached out to The Arc New York network for recommendations of an objective third party that might help her gain more answers. Ellen connected with a geneticist at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, and was sent an at-home genetic testing kit. Her family did a series of saliva swabs and returned the package to be analyzed.

On Labor Day Weekend, she received a call that her son has a rare genetic disorder called SynGAP1.

There is currently no cure or specific treatment for the underlying condition that causes

SynGAP1. However, learning more about the symptoms related to the genetic disorder can help individuals find relief and better understand how to manage them. For instance, Matthew has been having staring seizures for a while, and when he comes out of these seizures, he has aggressive episodes.

“There was an incident where Matthew was staring at another individual, staff asked him to stop staring, and he wouldn’t stop,” Ellen said. “This continued until he all of a sudden got aggressive and angry. We now know that when you come out of a seizure, there’s a period of delirium where you’re confused and don’t know what just happened – this confusion triggers an aggressive response. Recognizing these symptoms and being calm instead of admonishing Matthew can help prevent these situations from happening.”

Genetic testing can also lead to the discovery of secondary conditions connected to SynGAP1. Ellen learned her son is at a higher risk of colorectal cancer, and as a result, he’s going for his colonoscopy and endoscopy at the age of 40 instead of 45, the recommended age for those not at risk.


Ellen understands that some might be apprehensive about genetic testing, especially when it can cost upwards of $3,000. However, she wants to share an opportunity for individuals to potentially get free and convenient genetic testing at home.

She discovered Probably Genetic, a company offering free genetic testing paid for by sponsors. The company’s website provides people with a questionnaire to determine if they are eligible for free testing. A physician reviews the answers, and if the person is considered to be a good candidate, they are sent a test that only requires a saliva sample. The test is returned with prepaid shipping and analyzed in the lab. In about eight weeks, a geneticist calls to review their clinical genetic report.

The SynGAP Research Fund also notes these genetic testing options:

  • Ambit provides free access to genetic counseling and testing to all patients who qualify. Testing is available in all 50 states and is open to all ages. Qualifications include: children age seven and under with at least one seizure; or anyone over seven with at least one seizure, one developmental delay and on at least one seizure medication.
  • Invitae’s Behind the Seizure free genetic testing program is offered to any child in the US or Canada under the age of eight years old who has had an unprovoked seizure. Australian residents can visit this website.

SYNGAP1 mutations are suspected to be the underlying cause of approximately 1-2% of all Intellectual Disability (ID) cases, making it one of the most common genetic causes of ID, similar to more well-known syndromes like Fragile X, Angelman and Rett Syndrome.

SynGAP1 mutations are significantly underdiagnosed. The disorder was only discovered in 2009, and testing didn’t begin until 2015, so any genetic testing completed before 2015 would not have shown SynGAP1.

Additionally, many families receive a diagnosis like autism, intellectual disability, or epilepsy and stop their diagnostic search, thinking they have reached a conclusion.

“I stopped looking for a diagnosis and a cause years ago and just focused on what I could be doing for my son,” Ellen said. “The more information we can load into research databases the more data there is for researchers to use. We’ve got to continue looking ahead to the future and always be thinking of what more we can be doing.”



A graduate stands in front of a tree on a sandy spot with boulders around him. He is wearing a cap and gown, holding a diploma, and smiling.

Expecting the Best From Me

By Nathaniel Lentz

A young man squats, posing with his dog and putting his hand on its head. He is smiling and there are evergreen trees behind them.Throughout my life there was one phrase that was ingrained in my brain: expect the best from myself. I always believed if there was something I really wanted to do, that I should not let my disabilities stop me. No matter how challenging or difficult something might be, I would work my hardest to succeed.

It started when I was very young. My parents treated me like any other child. They didn’t make things easier for me, but they also realized that I would need extra help. They would work with my public school teachers to make sure I had the support I needed to pass my classes. Sometimes my teachers would try to make things easier for me because they thought regular class assignments would be too hard. That did not sit well with my parents.

I remember a meeting with my mom and my sixth-grade teachers.  The teachers recommended that I sign up for a particular class because it did not require much writing. My mom strongly disagreed. She said more writing was what I needed, so I was assigned a class where the students had to write a lot, and I learned how to write.

From my elementary classes though the end of high school, I would study a lot more than most students. I would often spend weekends with my grandma. She would tell me that we could go to Taco Bell after I finished my homework. When I would wake up on Saturday morning, there would be a pile of practice tests and assignments that I had to finish before I could get some tacos.

When I was a senior in high school, I was interviewed by Disability Rights Wisconsin for a position speaking to high school parents and teachers about transitioning from high school to college or job training. That first engagement led to many more speeches advocating for people with disabilities at the local, state, and even the national levels.

My parents made sure that I took college prep classes, even though because of my learning disabilities, teachers thought I would never make it in college. But I had learned what I needed to succeed: study until I understood the material. A lot of my roommates would spend their weekends at parties or in bars. I spent my weekends in the library.

A graduate stands in front of a tree on a sandy spot with boulders around him. He is wearing a cap and gown, holding a diploma, and smiling.

Working on my college degree gave me the confidence to advocate for myself. If I saw that a professor would not work well with me, I would change to another. The same applied to tutors who were unhelpful. I also developed strategies that were somewhat unorthodox to help me learn the information at a fast pace.

Another way I advocated for myself in college was with living arrangements. If I felt my prospective roommates would make it harder for me to study, or who would ridicule me because of my disabilities, I would schedule a meeting with the Housing Director, and she would find a dorm or a room where my roommates would be respectful.

Because I advocated for myself, my college experience was the best. I had the right support, the right accommodations, the best professors a student could ask for. That is how I earned my bachelor’s degree.

Because I had my bachelor’s degree and with my experience as a public speaker, I was appointed to a position on the Wisconsin Board for People with Developmental Disabilities. Before my eight-year tenure on the board had ended, I had served on numerous committees, including the Executive Committee, and I was the Chair of the Nominating Committee.

Since then, I have been appointed to the Living Well grant. I was also hired by People First Wisconsin as an Outreach Advocate and selected to be an officer on the National Council of Self Advocates.

In my work for the Living Well Grant, I reach out to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to ask about their experiences with the Safe and Free Curriculum, a program created by the Living Well staff to help people learn about self-advocacy, how to reach personal goals, and how to live independently. I also assist the staff in writing follow up questions, as well as working on other projects.

As an Outreach Advocate for People First Wisconsin, I am facilitating meetings, reaching out to organizations for our Advocacy Information Discussion (A.I.D.) meetings, taking notes during our collaborative meetings, working on video projects, and assisting with the organization’s website.

My duties as a National Council of Self Advocates Officer deal with public policy at the national level. I work on documents about public policy, make recommendations, and serve on the Technology Coalition. I have been advocating for the public policy documents to be translated into plain language or accompanied by visual aids to make them more accessible to people who would be unable to understand the policies in their current form.

My main goal in working with these organizations is to help people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to learn what their rights are and how to advocate for what they need, so they can build a good life for themselves just like I have!

Want to read more stories like this? Visit thearc.org/stories

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When Bruce Entered My Life

By Evelyn Baron, written in 1991

An older woman with glasses smiling. In 1964, at age 40, I was happily married for 17 years and the mother of three children—a daughter, 14, and sons, seven and 10. With all three children in school, I decided to enter college to fulfill a lifelong dream. Shortly after I started, I found out I was pregnant. I was stunned. Life changed for all of us once my baby, Bruce, was born. But my desire to attend college never waned. I started taking courses on nights, weekends, and in the summer, juggling my responsibility to four children and to my aging parents.

When Bruce was two, he wasn’t walking, but I hadn’t been alarmed because my third child had also walked late. I took him to the pediatrician. After running some tests, the doctor told us Bruce had Down syndrome. The doctor then described that Bruce would be like a puppy dog we would pet.

I was in total shock and don’t remember how I drove home. The next few days remain a blur as his words rang over and over in my head. My beautiful baby, how could he be likened to an animal? Would it be different now that we found out he had Down syndrome? No way.

We continued to treat him the same, he was no different than he had been the week before his diagnosis. I can still hear my third child saying, “No matter what, he’s my brother…”. I also remember well my response to an acquaintance when she asked if I would place him in an institution. I let her know that this was my baby she was talking about and that he had his home with us, just like any of our other children.

Our children were wonderful—they continued to teach him and to expect from him all that he could, and he prospered and grew from this loving environment. Our friends and families rallied to give us respite when we needed them. He was eager to learn at his own pace, and we were always there to give him the assistance he needed.

A woman in a graduation cap and gown stands on a paved area, with a young boy in a dress shirt and tie to her left looking at her.

Back at college, I started taking courses to learn more about disability to help me in raising my child. I finalized my major as rehabilitation and started to take internships at facilities where there were people with disabilities.

Finally, after attending classes part-time for 10 years, I had amassed the needed 130 credits and graduated Cum Laude. I watched the local papers to put my education to work. I saw an ad for an executive director for The Arc in Enfield, Connecticut. When I applied, the parent volunteers who posted the listing explained how I would be their first Executive Director to start much-needed programming.

With little knowledge of how to get programs started but strong determination, I proceeded to initiate numerous programs and services. Wherever there was a possibility of a grant, I was there, and we were most times successful. For the next 16 years, I found myself working long hours, meeting with families and boards of directors, and working closely with town, state, and federal legislators and school systems. It was always a labor of love. As Bruce’s mother, I would often boast of his and others’ achievements to groups when I spoke to help them understand how these people had the right and ability to live and work in the community. We started group homes where neighbors at first were apprehensive. I remember a meeting in the home of one where I was confronted by an angry group. I let them know our people would be good neighbors and they had nothing to fear. I let them know how as a mother, what had happened to me could happen to any of them, and it would be them begging to give our people a chance, just like I was. They accepted the homes and never had a problem again. Before I retired three years ago, I succeeded in building for Enfield a large new building to house their many programs. No more church basements, old schools—they have their own beautiful building.

Bruce has always amazed us with his extraordinary level of understanding and compassion. We threw out the books long ago that said how limited he would be. After many years of Bruce and I trekking 60 miles to Sunday school (no other schools that were closer to us would accept him), at 13 Bruce had his Bar Mitzvah, something he wanted. When he said the prayers he studied, he stood there so proudly. Every one of our 200 guests, including the Rabbi and Cantor all cried for joy as he took his rightful place within the congregation.

We have tried for Bruce to have as near a normal life as possible. He’s always had many friends, went to camp, junior, and senior high school, and when he graduated, he started to work as a bagger at a local market, where he still works. They continually tell us what a fine worker he is. There are now many people with disabilities working, and it makes me proud that I was at the forefront of helping this to happen.

Bruce, now 25, continues to live at home. He remains an integral part of our lives.

When Bruce was diagnosed, we received the news as a tragedy—but over Bruce’s life, we realized the real tragedy was the limitations people placed on him.

A man in a suit, smiling at the camera.

Five years after this was written, Bruce passed away.

Bruce would have given the shirt off his back throughout his life to care for someone, so his family continued his legacy of giving even after his passing through organ donation. One recipient, Tom, was given Bruce’s liver and became an unofficial part of the family. He remains close with them to this day and thanks Bruce and Evelyn for his gift of life.

Hundreds of community members attended Bruce’s funeral and spoke about how he influenced their lives and shattered their misperceptions. Bruce’s life—and Evelyn’s fierce advocacy—fundamentally changed their community and helped move the needle on people’s perceptions of what is possible for someone with a disability when they have the support of family and community.  


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#CareCantWait: COVID-19 Recovery Must Include People With Disabilities, Families, and the Care Workforce

By: Nicole Jorwic, Senior Director of Public Policy and Bethany Lilly, Senior Director of Income Policy

While legislators in Washington, DC debate what IS and IS NOT infrastructure, people with disabilities and their families are grappling with day to day life, and a system that did not have the infrastructure and staff to support them before COVID-19, and today is only worse.

#CareCantWait any longer.

Every day that passes without investing in the care infrastructure, is another day a person with a disability does not get the services that they need, another day of family members scrambling and juggling to fill in the gaps, and another day our country fails to seize the chance to build back better.

The pandemic has highlighted the gaping holes in the systems that support people with disabilities—a direct care workforce stretched to the breaking point by low wages, family caregivers choosing between their jobs and their loved ones, and people with disabilities trapped in poverty and in a life limiting their potential.

As conversations continue about where we can and cannot afford to make investments as a country, we cannot let the needs of people with disabilities, their family caregivers and the direct care workers who support them to get left behind. As the saying goes, if you make something work for people with disabilities, it works better for everyone. This is infinitely true when it comes to economic recovery. Congress must pass the Better Care Better Jobs Act that includes a desperately needed  $400 billion investment in home and community-based services (HCBS), a national paid family and medical leave program, and update decades-old rules that trap Supplement Security Income (SSI) beneficiaries in poverty. These are The Arc’s priorities as Congress turns to recovery.

Home Is in the Community, With the Services To Thrive

The Biden Administration already did propose a huge long-term investment in HCBS in the American Jobs Plan, also known as the infrastructure plan, and Congress followed suit with the introduction of the Better Care Better Jobs Act on June 24, 2021. The bill includes a $400 billion investment to build more access to home and community-based care and create over a million direct care jobs to support people with disabilities, and make those jobs better.  There cannot be an economic recovery for this workforce, one made up mostly by women of color, without an investment to raise wages and create more direct care jobs.

People with disabilities and aging adults rely on direct care workers to provide the supports and services that they need to live in their homes and communities, and family caregivers rely on that support to work themselves. Having a skilled, properly trained and fairly paid workforce is the lynchpin for success for so many people with disabilities to live the independent life that they choose, and in some cases in can literally mean life or death. The proposed $400 billion investment in HCBS would address those systemic problems—raising wages and expanding access that will lead to decreased waiting lists.

When the Better Care Better Jobs Act becomes law, the $400 billion investment will allow states to build infrastructure and capacity for service provision, with a well-paid workforce, and thereby supporting unpaid family caregivers who are filling the gaps for the system that currently leaves nearly one million people waiting.

Paid Leave for All

The Biden Administration has also recognized the need for a comprehensive national paid leave program and included it in the proposed American Families Plan. It would cover all family members, including siblings and grandparents, who might need to take time off to help support people with disabilities. During the pandemic, millions of family members had to juggle existing caregiving responsibilities, and often new or different ones because of program closures, with their work. Caregivers have been managing instability and interruptions in services for years. But the proposed national program would provide family caregivers with the job support they need to be there for their loved ones for the first time. We are working with Congress to turn this plan into legislation, that once again, will impact the lives of millions of people with disabilities and their families.

Improve the Supplemental Security Program

And in his campaign platform, President Biden recognized the importance of SSI for people with disabilities and the desperately needed fixes to a program that has not been updated in decades. He proposed increasing benefit levels to the Federal Poverty Level, asset limits, and income rules, in addition to eliminating harmful rules that prevent people with disabilities from getting married or help from family members. These long-overdue updates would provide the economic support that people with disabilities need without trapping them in poverty.

The infrastructure that supports people with disabilities has been and is crumbling—just like many of our roads and bridges. We have an opportunity to give direct care workers a raise, expand HCBS services, support family caregivers, and update SSI. Congress must take this opportunity. Our #CareCantWait any longer.

 Tell Congress #CareCantWait and to pass the Better Care Better Jobs Act now!


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Part Two: For Jud, Chris, and Millions of People With Disabilities – a Bill 70 Years in the Making Has Arrived

By Nicole Jorwic, Senior Director of Public Policy, The Arc

As we rally around the Home and Community-Based Services Access Act (HAA), a new bill in Congress that will transform how people with intellectual and developmental disabilities live their lives, it’s siblings like Nicole and Chris Jorwic that lead with the passion to make this change a reality.

In the second installment of our two-part blog series, The Arc’s Senior Director of Public Policy Nicole Jorwic shares what drives her passion.

Nicole: Like Marty, my work is also rooted in my love for my brother and our joint passion to ensure that everyone has access to the supports that they need. My brother Chris is 31 and receives Medicaid HCBS services in Illinois. Even though he was born decades after Jud, with a lot more options and opportunities, my family has had to fight hard for inclusion in the classroom and for the services that he needs. But it is never far from my mind how different his life could have looked if we were from a different generation. Chris certainly could have ended up in an institution, a risk that still exists for my family.

Why is that still a possibility? Because those institutions are still open in 2020. 36 states still have institutions (sometimes called state schools, state-operated developmental centers, or training centers) where people with IDD live segregated lives away from their families and communities. While media has shined a spotlight over the years on the atrocities that exist behind these walls, our society still tolerates their existence and the placement of people with disabilities in these inhumane places. The pandemic has caused grave danger to people stuck in institutions, but even before COVID-19, other dangers lurked in these dark places.

We must do better and expand access to home and community-based services because they are what people with disabilities and their families want and need. Those services have been a saving grace for Chris and our whole family. The inclusion in the community that these services afford to Chris is the same thing that my parents have been fighting for Chris’ since he was in school, and what drives Chris in his own advocacy work to ensure that his “brothers and sisters in disability” have access to what they need.

Chris has also had times when he didn’t have the services that he needed, when my darkest fears were around what if we can’t find what he needs. Those times were extremely difficult for our whole family, but mostly for Chris, because it left him stuck at home, with nowhere to go, and no way to use his voice, leading to very low moments.

Chris was facing a low time back in 2017, when The Arc network was fighting so hard to protect access to Medicaid HCBS. The huge Medicaid cuts proposed in Congress would have disproportionately impacted HCBS because they’re “optional” services and states don’t have to cover them. States do have to cover institutional services and I knew that cuts to Medicaid would mean fewer HCBS and more people like my brother being forced into institutions. While I worked in Washington on the policy threats, I would call home and hear the sounds of Chris having a rough day without the services he needed. I would take those moments when I was close to tears because I shared my brother’s frustration, and turn it into fuel to keep going, something I know Marty and others before me have done. It reminded me why the push to protect Medicaid was so important, but also how much progress we still need to make.

I knew what we needed to do not only from my personal experience but also from my experience working for the state of Illinois, a state with over 20,000 people on the waiting list for HCBS and 7 institutions. It’s even more clear now, after the fights in 2017 and the COVID-19 pandemic, that the only way to truly transform the old system, to close the institutions that still exist, and end the waiting lists that almost a million families are stuck on across the country is to address this issue head-on. Requiring Medicaid to cover HCBS has been a driving focus of my work since I joined The Arc.

So, when the attacks on Medicaid subsided in 2018, we turned our focus towards that goal. We worked hard to get coverage for HCBS into the universal health care proposals—something that hadn’t happened before it finally did in 2018. And then we pivoted specifically to the issue of requiring Medicaid to cover HCBS. We were lucky to have champions on Capitol Hill like Representative Debbie Dingell and Senator Maggie Hassan who both understand this issue personally, and we appreciate their leadership and openness to working with us to get this right.

And we’ve gotten it right with the HAA. The dreams of our families and our founders and much of what we have fought for as volunteers and staff at The Arc would become reality.

We need this bill to pass now. In Illinois in April, the National Guard was called into two of the state institutions because too many staff and residents had been diagnosed with COVID-19. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities have been infected and died at higher rates. And every person with a disability and their friends, family, and staff have had their lives turned upside down. This bill would ensure that we have the infrastructure to at a minimum protect people from this kind of public health threat, but also give people the services to thrive, and not just survive.

The work we will do over the coming months, and possibly years, to get to the passage of the HAA will certainly be some of the most important in The Arc’s 70-year history. We will fight because the investment in HCBS is what we need to fully realize our mission, for Jud and for Chris and all the people with disabilities who want a full life in their homes and communities.

Get involved in this effort with me and Chris. Sign up to take action with The Arc, and tell your members of Congress why this bill matters.




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

New COVID-19 Response Legislation Finally Recognizes Urgent Needs of People With Disabilities

The Arc is relieved that Congress has finally taken action to tackle the dire challenges people with disabilities face as the COVID-19 pandemic continues into a second year. The Arc and our advocates have fought every day since the start of this crisis to ensure that the needs of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) are included in relief legislation to address the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on them, their families, and the direct support workforce.

The COVID-19 Emergency Relief legislation, passed by Congress on Tuesday, includes vital dedicated funding to strengthen and expand access to Medicaid home and community-based services (HCBS), which help people with disabilities live as independently as possible in their community and out of the danger of institutions and nursing homes.

“After almost a full year of leaving the most urgent needs of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities out of relief legislation, Members of Congress are finally providing the resources necessary for people with disabilities to live safely, in the community, with the support they need,” said Peter Berns, Chief Executive Officer of The Arc. “This funding is desperately needed by the systems, providers and workforce that support people with disabilities.”

Many people with disabilities rely on HCBS to live at home in their own communities with family or roommates with support. They often need help with things like working at a job in the community, making food and eating, managing money and medications, and bathing and dressing. These services are almost solely available through Medicaid HCBS funding. For over 70 years, The Arc has been fighting for people with disabilities to live independently with the right supports and lead the same kind of life as everyone else – Medicaid HCBS makes this possible.

Over the last year, while the COVID-19 pandemic has raged across the country, the system that provides HCBS has buckled under the pressure without a single dedicated dollar in federal aid to address the crisis. Meanwhile, the health and wellbeing of people with disabilities has been at grave risk, with too many people stuck in the very places that have proven to be the most dangerous during the pandemic – large, congregate settings like the institutions that exist in 36 states, and nursing homes. Families have been left to scramble and scrape together supports for their loved ones to keep them out of harm’s way, and direct support professionals have been skipped over and over again in priority for personal protective equipment and supports as the essential workforce that they are. This bill provides a significant, yearlong 10% increase in the federal match for the Medicaid program, a state and federal partnership, which will invest billions of federal dollars into this strapped system.

“This significant boost for home and community-based services will make an immediate impact for people with disabilities across the country. Robust HCBS funding is critical to keeping people with disabilities healthy, safe, and out of nursing homes and other institutional settings where the virus runs rampant. We have more work to do because the reality is, the system needed reform and investment before COVID-19 arrived on our doorstep. The new relief legislation reassures us that our work with and for people with IDD matters, and we will carry that energy forward in our ongoing advocacy,” said Berns.

Congress also authorized another round of stimulus payments, this time including all people with disabilities, even those who are defined by the IRS to be “adult dependents.” The Arc led efforts earlier in the pandemic to ensure that people with disabilities on Social Security and Supplemental Security Income benefits received their stimulus payments automatically.

In addition, we are pleased to see the following provisions in the legislation:

  • Extension of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit increase through September to help people access food;
  • Temporary increase in premium tax credits under the Affordable Care Act to make it easier to have health insurance in this public health crisis;
  • Extension and expansion of tax credits to cover COVID leave, so that families can support loved ones while care is interrupted;
  • Expansion of Earned Income Tax Credit for childless adults to help family finances; and
  • Expansion of and refundability for the Child Tax Credit to help low-income families.