In my mind, you can tell a lot about a society by how it treats the most vulnerable among them, including the elderly, the poor, and those with the misfortune to be born with developmental disabilities. Though there has been a lot of progress made in recent years, most specifically the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination against disabled individuals, as well as amendments which have made it easier to prove disability, the fact of the matter is that as a society, we still have a long way to go.
As a result, I became involved with AHRC, as I wanted to branch out beyond real estate investment. I wanted to assist some of the most disadvantaged in our society, empowering them to chase their dreams and live full, joyful lives.
During my time getting to know AHRC, this is what I’ve learned.
The AHRC advocates for those who need it most
Even though our government has passed important legislation protecting the developmentally disabled members of our society, the fact of the matter is that navigating these protocols can be complicated and time-consuming. For those who are taking care of their developmentally disabled loved ones, reading confusing, complex legalese is another burden to add to their already extensive caretaking duties. Needless to say, this causes plenty of stress and frustration.
But the AHRC has a well-run, fully-staffed Advocacy Center that assists families with developmentally-disabled members. One area is educational advocacy: under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), all schools have to develop an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for special needs students, a difficult, time-consuming effort that isn’t always executed properly.
And even when IEPs are well-organized and thoughtful, they may not be correctly implemented because of overworked educators and a lack of resources. At other times, the failures have been more systemic in nature: in 2016, Letitia James, New York City’s public advocate, sued the city wide Department of Education (DOE) for failing to overhaul a $130 million computer system that tracked special education services. Because student data was often accidentally deleted, children routinely lost out on mandated services, like speech therapy and counseling.
If anything, these situations simply reinforce the need for a strong, well-funded organization like the AHRC’s Advocacy Center. Not only does the AHRC host free workshops, they also assist more intensively: among other things, AHRC staffers will help families with referrals and documentations, draft correspondence to the DOE, and even accompany family members to hearings on a wide range of matters, including IEPs and disciplinary proceedings.
And the importance of advocacy is well-established. Children, particularly developmentally disabled children, encounter considerable difficulty when it comes to expressing their thoughts and desires, speaking up for themselves, and getting what they are legally entitled to. Families also face many logistical difficulties, from a lack of qualified interpreters to an unfamiliar legal, social, and educational landscape.
To so many families, hard-pressed by financial difficulty, the AHRC’s advocacy services are indispensable.
The AHRC has top scores for transparency and accountability
Nonprofit review site Charity Navigator rates the AHRC as having three stars out of four, coming in at 97 points for its accountability and transparency. It’s reassuring to see that there are a wide range of measures to promote and ensure organizational responsibility, such as independent voting board members, audited financials, and policies to determine conflicts of interest and protect whistleblowers.
Further, the AHRC has a clear, logical process to determine CEO compensation. Though I do agree that being the CEO of any large organization (both nonprofit and for-profit) is a demanding, gruelling job, charities are funded by donors who expect their dollars to go towards the cause championed by the organization. As a result, examples of highly compensated nonprofit CEOs can backfire on an organization, leading to bad press and negative attention.
Ultimately, how we treat the vulnerable among us says a lot about both our society, and, on a smaller level, ourselves. Because of this, it is my privilege and honor to be counted as a donor to AHRC, and I am very honored to be their Honoree for their March 13, 2017 Gala. Along with the proud staffers, members, and donors of the AHRC, we look forward to a future where no one is denied support, resources, or assistance simply because they have a developmental disability.