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The Arc advocates for people with disabilities

Jacob Schattschneider, 65, who has intellectual disabilities, sits in his recliner inside his apartment. (Elaine D. Briseno/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Jacob Schattschneider spent most of his life in group homes.

His intellectual disabilities made it hard for him to live alone. That changed about five years ago when he moved into his own one-bedroom apartment at a complex in the center of Albuquerque. Although Schattschneider has hired helpers who stay at his house around the clock in eight-hour shifts, he’s able to maintain somewhat of an independent lifestyle with the help of several local agencies, including The Arc New Mexico, which helps him manage his money and make important medical decisions.

According to its website, The Arc was started nationally by parents in 1950s who wanted to advocate for their children with disabilities. The New Mexico chapter started in 1955. The official mission of the nonprofit group is to fight for the rights of those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Veronica Chavez Neuman, CEO for The Arc New Mexico, said they serve approximately 1,000 people in the state, most of whom are adults. When the organization first began, those with disabilities did not have a lot of rights and families were often not supported.

“Parents were told when their children were born to institutionalize them,” she said. “They were told they would never walk, talk or contribute to society.”

Chavez Neuman knows about that firsthand. She has a sister and a daughter with disabilities.

“My parents were encouraged to put my sister in an institution,” she said. “My mother did not do that. She thought it was ridiculous and thought they could take care of her.”

The Arc, she said, helps its clients become fully included and participating members of their community. They do this in a variety of ways, Chavez Neuman said. The organization reviews public policies, laws and proposed laws that will affect this segment of the community.

“We have to stay on top of it,” she said. “We have to make sure we are involved in what is going on policy wise that will impact this group of individuals.”

Another way they do this is by becoming the legal guardian of their adult clients, which is the case with Schattschneider. The guardianship allows the organization to help him navigate routine responsibilities, such as paying rent, making doctor’s appointments and future planning.

“I make sure he makes informed decisions,” said his guardian, Tiffany Baker. “Sometimes he can’t process what he’s being told. I break that down for him and make sure he understands.”

Baker said she recently helped him set a budget so he would be able to set aside money to attend a professional football game. This fall he will travel with a companion to Dallas to fulfill a lifelong dream of seeing, as Schattschneider puts it, cowboys.

The Dallas Cowboys are his favorite football team and cowboys are his favorite type of people. Each afternoon, usually after taking a walk or going on an outing to the store or park and speaking to his younger brother on the phone, Schattschneider sits down in his small living room in his brown recliner and watches cowboy shows.

Schattschneider is physically capable of maintaining his household with prompting. Leo Ortega, one of his daily helpers, said Schattschneider likes to help cook dinner and one of his favorite things to do is clean his own plate and take out the trash. He can also complete household chores, such as vacuuming.

Chavez Neuman said the organization has evolved through the years. Most recently they began offering sexual assault services for their clients by coordinating treatment with local therapists who specialize in helping individuals with disabilities.

The Arc New Mexico will hold its annual conference for families of those with disabilities and the general public June 10-11 at Hotel Albuquerque. This year’s theme is “Transition Through the Lifespan for People with Disabilities.” There will be talks on sexuality, early intervention, end of life decisions, self-advocacy and finances. Guest speakers include Lt. Gov. Howie Morales and Attorney General Hector Balderas. The cost is $50 in advance and $60 at the conference. To register and for information, visit arcnm.org.

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