The Northeast Arc meets President Obama

The Northeast Arc Brings Issues Facing People with Disabilities to the White House, President Obama Tells Disability Community “I’ve Got Your Back”

Washington, DC – (February X, 2011) – On Friday, February 10, 2012, 150 leaders of The Arc, including Northeast Arc board members John Boris of Salem, and Julie Cummings and Shari Munro of Marblehead, and others from across the country met with senior White House officials at a Community Leaders Briefing to ask questions and discuss issues facing people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). The session, held just for The Arc, included an unannounced visit from President Barack Obama. The President spoke of his commitment to people with disabilities saying, “I’ve got your back.” This statement made an impact to the contingent from the Northeast Arc, the fourth largest Arc in the country.

This surprise appearance by the President of the United States was the highlight of the day for many attendees, along with the opportunity to interact with high level government officials about how they can support people with I/DD to live in the community.

“It was an incredible experience to have the President and his staff really take the time to listen and understand the issues that face people with disabilities living in our country,” said Shari Munro. “It was equally impressive that the President and his staff want to open the lines of communication with us, and they reiterated often that they need to hear from us to better understand our needs.”

Over the course of the day, leaders of various chapters of The Arc were briefed on topics ranging from Medicaid and education to community living and employment for people with I/DD. Many of the speakers, including President Obama, referenced the impact advocates made during budget negotiations to protect Medicaid, and encouraged The Arc and others to continue these efforts.

Another unannounced speaker was White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew, who reiterated the President’s opposition to turning Medicaid into a block grant. He also took questions from the audience, including Barbara Coppens, a member of the national board of directors of The Arc and a self-advocate who took the opportunity to speak about the importance of self-advocacy by people with disabilities.

“This trip was truly the highlight of my career which spans more than forty years helping local non-profits,” said John Boris. “I was amazed by the breadth and depth of knowledge that President Obama and his staff possessed about The Arc’s programs and services. They understand the real issues and what we are trying to do to help people with disabilities.”

“One of the things we discovered is that Massachusetts has made many advances in caring for people with disabilities on so many levels, ” said Cummings, vice president of the board, whose sister, Lisa Rainer, is deaf and has other disabilities. “We have made tremendous advances in our education-driven state, particularly in the area of residential group homes, and job and career training.”

The day was organized by Kareem Dale, Special Assistant to the President for Disability Policy, who kicked off the agenda by welcoming guests and speaking about employment issues. The Arc heard from Cecilia Muñoz, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, who spoke of their commitment to providing services and supports to all in need. Other speakers included Carol Galante, Acting Assistant Secretary – Federal Housing Administration Commissioner, Department of Housing and Urban Development; Cindy Mann, Deputy Administrator, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services; Robert Gordon, Executive Associate Director, Office of Management and Budget; and Tom Perez, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Department of Justice.

After a tour of the East Wing, advocates from The Arc took part in policy breakout sessions that allowed for more detailed discussions on issues, like community living, family caregiving, education, and Medicaid. These briefings allowed White House and administration officials to engage in a dialogue with leaders of The Arc about how government policies affect the lives of people with I/DD and impact their ability to live full, independent lives. Given the Department of Education’s recent announcement to allow ten states waivers from some of the No Child Left Behind law requirements, the education session with Alexa Posny, Assistant Secretary, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services, was incredibly timely, as were meetings with representatives from the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Justice, Administration on Aging, and the White House Domestic Policy Council.

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About The Arc of the United Sates

The Arc advocates for and serves people with I/DD, including Down syndrome, autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, cerebral palsy and other diagnoses. The Arc has a network of over 700 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with I/DD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes and without regard to diagnosis.