President Obama - Meet with our Constituency
March 23, 2009
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President:
On behalf of the over four million individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families, The Arc of the United States commends you for your immediate and sincere apology to Special Olympians regarding your comments on “The Tonight Show.” We recognize the deep commitment of your administration to reach out to people with developmental disabilities and the proposals you have advanced for implementation of policies that will improve the lives of our constituency.
However, rather than simply apologizing and putting this incident behind you, we would like to suggest that you seize this opportunity to advance public understanding of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and the challenges they and their families face on a daily basis.
As the nation’s oldest and largest organization representing people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families, The Arc hears from countless families emphasizing that it is only when basic services and supports are in place that people have the luxury and freedom of participating in sports activities and events such as Special Olympics. Much of the sorrow and anger expressed by individuals with disabilities and their families in response to your comment stems from these realities.
People with intellectual and developmental disabilities often live lives that are rife with bullying, hate language and relegation to secondary status – all of these emblematic of the shadows of exclusion. They understand that public attitudes, misinformation and negative stereotypes are the biggest obstacle to their inclusion in the community. Join us in breaking down the attitudinal barriers that stand in the way of full inclusion.
We urge you to convene a White House meeting with individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, parents and family members and advocates to discuss some of the following critical issues facing this community:
Ø The 700,000 individuals and their families on Waiting Lists for home and community based services. This also includes elderly parents who are the caregivers for their 50-60 year old offspring with intellectual disabilities and young adults seeking to transition from school to community life;
Ø Recent cases of abuse, brutality, exploitation, and neglect against people with intellectual disabilities that have surfaced in the last few weeks in Iowa and Texas and the fear that similar hidden abuses are occurring elsewhere;
Ø The institutional bias of the Medicaid system and the lack of adequate funding for supported housing, supported employment, personal assistance, respite care, and the family support necessary for people to live in their communities without costly and unwarranted institutionalization; and
Ø The need to address long term care, services and support as part of the current health care reform initiative.
In addition, instruct the Department of Education to utilize a portion of its discretionary American Reinvestment and Recovery Act funds to support school-based initiatives to promote respect for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Finally, we urge you to use the bully pulpit of your office to catalyze public and legislative support for the Community Choice Act and the CLASS Act, two important pieces of legislation that will help to support the inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of community life.
Through these actions you can then shift perception and help alter the pervasive societal attitudes that form the obstacles to people with disabilities “shining” not just within the competitive sports arena but also in the workplace, in their own homes and apartments, attending classes at a community college, worshipping within their faith communities, and so much more.
Mr. President, while society has made many strides in advancing the rights and promoting the inclusion of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, we are cognizant that much work remains. We look forward to collaborating with you on these important goals that will move us closer to an all inclusive society.
Peter V. Berns