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March Is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month
March 1 - March 31
In 1987 President Ronald Reagan proclaimed March “Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month.” The deinstitutionalization movement of the seventies and early eighties had laid the foundation for significant social change, and the presidential proclamation called upon Americans to provide the “encouragement and opportunities” necessary for people with developmental disabilities to reach their potential.
As those citizens began living within the general community in larger numbers, programs to provide career planning, job coaching and supported employment began to emerge. The idea that individuals with developmental disabilities could become productive members of the workforce was new to many people, and entrenched preconceptions had to be overcome. Advocates recognized a moral imperative to engage individuals with developmental – and other – disabilities. With passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, workplace discrimination against people with disabilities became sanctionable.
The expectations of young people with developmental disabilities and their parents began to shift. Productive, self-directed lives within the community increasingly became the goal, and (increasingly) an obtainable goal. At the same time, due to improvements in healthcare, people with developmental disabilities were living longer, leading to questions about the lifestyle of “retirement-age” individuals. In short, the national conversation began to address the full spectrum of services needed for people with disabilities to live secure, fulfilling lives. Passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 2004, further cemented the resolve of self-advocates and their supporters. With its guarantees of early intervention, special education and services to transition high schoolers into adulthood, IDEA opened a world of possibilities.
Yes, a quarter century after the establishment of Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, the world has changed in important ways. Much, though, remains to challenge us. In the coming years, we’ll need to fight not only for more advances but to retain the accomplishments of past decades. It is a fight in which we must all engage.