The Arc of Dauphin County is a 501(c)3 non-profit grassroots organization founded in 1953 by a group of parents wanting a better life for their loved ones with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). The organization began at a time when children with I/DD were typically sent to live in state facilities, away from their families. Because Medicaid support required individuals to live in institutions to receive federal funds as well as the cost was too much to bear to care for loved ones at home. The parents that founded The Arc of Dauphin County wanted to keep their children at home where they were loved and could be part of family life. These parents became strong advocates for their children’s education and inclusion in society, by even creating their own school.
A noticeable change in the way I/DD is viewed across the country starts moving towards optimism and compassion. More programs started developing on the federal level under the Eisenhower Administration. Representatives from 23 parent groups across the country come together to start what becomes to be known as The Arc of the United States in hopes to find support and resources for parents across the country. The Arc became the first organization to put money into research on intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Kennedy began the President’s Committee on I/DD, at a time where many of our loved ones were in overcrowded facilities. The Committee started many conversations needed on health care, education, and research. The Arc’s advocacy with other national organizations results in the enactment of Medicare and Medicaid. In 1968 the first Special Olympics was held with athletes from several states.
PA is at the forefront of conversations with the landmark case that supports a public education for all children including those with intellectual disabilities. 1972 was the year The PA Arc vs Department of Education ruled in the PARC Consent Decree, that the law restricting children 6-21 with any disabilities from education was unconstitutional. At the time, only 1 in 5 children with disabilities were educated. Many states had laws excluding certain students including those who were deaf, blind, emotionally disturbed or had intellectual disabilities. By 1975 the Education for All Handicapped Children Act was passed by Congress. The Arc advocates for the creation of the Supplemental Security Income program to provide income for persons with severe disabilities who have little or no income. With this new income many people begin to leave institutions and as services for people with disabilities emerge within communities.
A very important piece of history happened in 1981 when Regan signed into law the Katie Beckett Waiver which allowed Medicaid money to be spent for care of disabled individuals at home or within the community. This Waiver is still in effect today which allows for many community services to be paid through a variety of Medicare Waivers. The Arc successfully pushes Congress to add disability as a protected class under the Fair Housing Act. In 1987, then President Ronald Regan announced Proclamation 5613, which started March as National Development Disabilities Awareness Month. As the self-advocacy movement takes hold across the county, The Arc moves towards consumers standing up for equal opportunity for all with disabilities.
The Arc is a leader among national disability groups to advocate for the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which was passed July 1990 that prohibits discrimination based on disability, which really is a civil rights law. In 1997 education moved forward again with the passing of the Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA) that was reauthorized in 2004.
The Arc of Dauphin Country relocated to their new location at 2569 Walnut Street, where they are still located today. In 2006 the State closed the Harrisburg State Hospital which overnight led to exponential growth of services needed in the area. The Arc of Dauphin County stepped in to help as many of our loved ones as quickly as possible.
In 2016, the Pennsylvania Achieving a Better Life Experience (PA ABLE) Act was passed, and the Pennsylvania Treasury Department worked with many public and private stakeholders, advocates, and families in developing the PA ABLE Savings Program. Around the same time the President’s Committee on I/DD released a report on the workforce crisis in caregivers for our loved ones, which started a conversation pushing for better pay and retention options to help recruit more to the field. This is an issue many are still facing today, as caregivers are few and far between.
While the world shuts down in early 2020, the Arc of Dauphin County keeps the doors open to help our loved ones as much as possible. Remote learning was hard on many students, so the advocacy program stepped in to help ensure learning plans were followed and added when needed. Many of the direct service programs had to go remote for the time being but found ways to overcome obstacles and continued to push forward.
In late 2021, a reorganization internally began to look at how we can serve the community in which we are located to the best of our abilities. Knowing that many of our fellow service providers did not make it out of the pandemic still open, we took the opportunity to move forward with taking in more consumers as well as more programs to continue growing for our loved ones.