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Obama Speaks at Briefing Press Release

The Arc of Westchester Brings Issues Facing People with Disabilities to the White House:

President Obama Tells Disability Community “I’ve Got Your Back”

Washington, DC –  On February 10, 2012, 150 leaders of The Arc  from across the country  - including Richard Swierat,  Executive Director at The Arc of Westchester -  met with a variety of 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 exclusively for Arc leadership, included an unannounced visit from President Barack ObamaThe President spoke of his commitment to people with disabilities saying, “I’ve got your back.” 

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. 

Over the course of the day, leaders of chapters of The Arc were briefed on topics ranging from Medicaid to 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 other disability advocates to continue these critical 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.

I tell other self-advocates – you’ve got to get out there and advocate for yourself because you can’t rely on other people to make change for you,” said Coppens to Chief of Staff Jack Lew.             

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

Other prominent administration officials included:

  • Cecilia Muñoz, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, who spoke of their commitment to providing services and supports to all in need. 
  • 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
  • Tom Perez, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Department of Justice.

After a tour of the East Wing of the White House, advocates from The Arc took part in policy breakout sessions that allowed for more detailed discussions on certain issue areas like:

  • Community Living
  • Family Care giving
  • Education
  • Medicaid

The purpose of these briefings was to allow 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 announcement yesterday 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.

“This event demonstrates the incredible power of families and self-advocates to proactively support people with developmental disabilities in our community.  We must remain vigilant in our advocacy efforts to ensure that issues that are important to those we serve remain at the forefront of these important dialogues. We were honored to be included in helping to shape the issues,” said Ric Swierat, ED of The Arc of Westchester.


Related and Links:


Link to Video of President Obama’s Speech
Community Leaders Brief: Part 1
Community Leaders Brief: Part 2


Links to Photos of the Event (Zip File)

Information about Disability Policy:

Read about how the President’s 2013 budget will work to help people with disabilities
Local Link - Arc of Westchester
National Link - White House

About The Arc of Westchester:

Founded in 1949, The Arc of Westchester is the oldest and largest agency in Westchester County serving children and adults who have developmental disabilities and their families.

Over seven hundred employees provide more than 1,600 individuals throughout the county with a broad range of innovative and effective programs and services designed to foster independence, productivity and participation in community life. Through a process called person-centered planning,

Arc of Westchester enables those it serves first to define their dreams, and then, with the help of family, friends and staff, to work towards realizing them.  The Arc of Westchester is a chapter of NYSARC, Inc. and The Arc.

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About The Arc:

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.

PLEASE Note: The Arc is not an acronym; always refer to us as The Arc, not The ARC and never ARC.


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