By Teresa McKeon
In the early 1950s, life was very different for people born with a developmental disability. It was common for doctors to recommend institutionalization for someone with a low IQ or a diagnosis of Down syndrome. However, a group of parents in Davidson County refused to accept this as a standard of living for their loved ones and in 1951 began meeting in the basement of the old courthouse to form a local chapter of The Arc.
The Arc of the United States had been formed the year previously to advocate with and for people of all ages with a developmental disability to secure equal access and opportunities. Today, The Arc is the largest grassroots advocacy movement in the nation, continuing to work alongside people with developmental disabilities. The Arc of Davidson County is an affiliated chapter with The Arc of North Carolina and The Arc of the United States.
“Developmental disability” is an umbrella term that includes intellectual disability as well as others including autism, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, and spina bifida. Intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) occur before age 22 and are considered lifelong. With appropriate support, people with IDD can and do lead fulfilling lives within their community.
Serving as advocates with and for people with IDD remains the foundation of The Arc of Davidson County. Over the decades, the agency has expanded to offer direct services in response to the growing and changing needs expressed by people with IDD and their families. In addition to providing resource, referral, and advocacy support, the agency manages four group homes for 23 adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The people living in these residences live very active lives: some attend DCCC, some have competitive community employment, and some enjoy volunteer opportunities.
Other individuals living in the community can access additional services, including Respite, Community Living and Support, and Community Networking. These services are provided by one-on-one staff to assist with maximizing independence, while others can be offered in a small group setting.
This is the seventh year The Arc has partnered with Davidson County Parks and Recreation to provide an inclusive summer camp opportunity. Located at Davis-Townsend Elementary School, typically developing children play alongside children with IDD, some of whom have never had the chance to attend a summer camp. The Arc hires trained staff to supplement county staff, ensuring that children with complex disabilities have the same opportunities to enjoy camp as do their typically developing peers. The hope is that children will recognize we are all more alike than we are different.
The Arc staff is often asked to assist families with their child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings, providing resource, support, and advocacy to ensure that each child is afforded what is required by law – a free and appropriate education. Working with all three school systems, The Arc facilitates a spring Community Resource Fair at DCCC, bringing together dozens of providers who offer valuable information for families.
Since 2013, The Arc has worked with three other chapters to offer a statewide Self-Advocates Conference. Planned in large part by adults with IDD, the conference has brought hundreds from across the state to learn more about housing, employment, rights and responsibilities, and other elements of life and independence.
Wings for All provides a chance for individuals to make a “test run” through the airline experience. Held at PTI Airport, children and adults alike who have never experienced air travel follow the path from check in to baggage check to actually boarding the plane and circling the airport. While the plane does not go “wheels up,” the experience is a training ground for families wishing to take a plane trip, and their loved ones can benefit from this mock opportunity.
The voices of self-advocates and families continue to shape the mission, vision, and direct programs of The Arc. People are encouraged to share their dreams and have become actively engaged in their community by speaking on local radio programs, appearing before city and county councils, and addressing middle school and college students on what it is like living with a disability.
The Arc of Davidson County is accredited in Person-Centered Excellence by the Council on Quality and Leadership. Through this rigorous accrediting process, the agency commits to ensuring that people, not the agency, define what they deem as their best life. With that comes the dedication to having supports in place so that people can reach for and achieve the goals they define for themselves.
As a non-profit agency, The Arc of Davidson County relies on community support for successful outcomes for people and programs. Triad Taste, the signature fundraiser established in 2016, is an evening of food and fellowship. Local restaurants provide samplings of their food and beverages for the enjoyment of attendees. A silent auction offers items as diverse as a framed Bob Timberlake print to passes to Walt Disney World. Although Triad Taste is held in the spring, community members and businesses can sponsor the event, offer a donation to the silent auction, and become members of The Arc throughout the year.
“Membership to The Arc of Davidson County includes membership to both The Arcs of NC and U.S,” said Executive Director Teresa McKeon. “Over 140,000 people are members of The Arc of the US, numbers advocates can leverage when working to protect the rights of people with IDD.” She added, “While we rely on the financial contributions received through membership, the benefit of strength in numbers if not to be underestimated.”
Annually, The Arc recognizes people making a difference in the lives of people with IDD. Over the past several years, many of those individuals have gone on to be recognized statewide at The Arc of North Carolina’s Annual meeting in such categories as Teacher of the Year, Self-Advocate, Employer, and Inclusive Community. The Arc of Davidson County has been annually recognized as a Distinguished Affiliate, and last year, the Award for Executive Excellence was given to their Executive Director.
“People with developmental disabilities continue to face many challenges, based on society’s perceptions of what they can accomplish,” said McKeon. “While many doors have been broken down since our founders first met over 75 years ago, being fully included members of our community is still a dream for too many people.” McKeon added, “The Arc will continue to be the go-to support, joining our voices with self-advocates to ensure that all people have the opportunity to choose and realize their goals of where and how they learn, live, work and play.”
For more information, contact The Arc at 336.248.2842.