March is National Developmental Disabilites Awareness Month

On February 26, 1987, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed March to be “Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month.” This proclamation was made at a time when alternatives to institutionalizing or isolating individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities was taking hold across the nation and organizations such as Clausen House were providing real opportunities for people with developmental disabilities to reach their full potential within the community.  As President Reagan then proclaimed “New opportunities have been created through the efforts of those with developmental disabilities and their family members, along with professionals and officials at all levels of government. Working together, they have brought about significant changes in the public perception of young people and adults with developmental disabilities, opening new doors to independent and productive lives.”President Reagan invited “all individuals, agencies, and organizations” concerned with the issue to observe this month with appropriate activities aimed at increasing public awareness of the needs and the potential of Americans with developmental disabilities. President Reagan urged all Americans to accord “our fellow citizens with such disabilities both encouragement and the opportunities they need to lead productive lives and to achieve their full potential.”

In the 28 years since establishing March as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month much progress has been made to advance the rights of individuals with developmental disabilities. For example, on the national level the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 2004, providing additional workplace protections against discrimination and equal access to education. The Olmstead decision in 1999, made provision for community based residential accommodations.  In California, the Lanterman Act extended similar rights and protections for citizens with developmental disabilities living within the state.

However,  the work of advocating for the fair and equal treatment of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities is far from over.  Budgetary pressures at local, state and national levels threaten to reduce and eliminate funding for many programs that support education, community integration and independent living.  Stereotyping and bias still exist.  Bullying and high unemployment among individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities are persistent problems, as is access to affordable healthcare and affordable housing.

Let us all commit ourselves in March 2015 to continuing the work that was started more than a quarter of a century ago to create opportunities and adequately fund services that encourage individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities to live full, productive lives and reach their full potential as contributing members of our community.