In 1987, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed March as National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. I tend to have a mixed reaction to these types of distinctions. Please don’t get me wrong. I am all in favor of awareness, especially when it’s awareness of issues I care about, such as disability rights, or the fact that every human being deserves the rights to the same opportunities. I guess my problem with the awareness month concept is that, by inference, awareness is limited to one month.
That being said, developmental disabilities, persons with developmental disabilities, and their families who are the tireless advocates deserve our awareness (during March and beyond). Developmental disabilities include, but are not limited to, individuals who have an intellectual disability, autism, cerebral palsy, severe seizure disorder or a severe head injury that occurs before the age of 22. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 13 percent of children have some form of a developmental disability.
Until the 1970’s, few options were available to the individual with developmental disabilities who wished to live independently or be engaged in meaningful activities. Many were institutionalized in settings where they were warehoused and forgotten. Thankfully, much has changed since those days. In Ohio, the push for change was initiated by parent groups advocating for a better life for their children with developmental disabilities. As early as the 1950’s, these parent groups established local councils and held fund raising campaigns to pay for community services. Eventually, the local councils evolved into county boards of developmental disabilities; first established in 1967 and called “169 Boards” after the legislative bill that established the boards. Today, there are 88 DD boards in Ohio; one in every county.
Services and options for persons with developmental disabilities have evolved dramatically over the last fifty years. The credit for this evolution goes to the family members who fought tirelessly to improve the lives of their sons, daughters, brothers, sisters or other family members with a developmental disability. They are the ones with an awareness that never stops.
Stay tuned…Just around the corner? May is National Mental Health Month.