Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month is Here

Guest article by Paul Jarvis


When Congress declared March as National Developmental Disabilities Awareness month in 1987, President Ronald Reagan issued a proclamation inviting Americans to, “observe this month with appropriate observances and activities directed toward increasing public awareness of the needs and the potential of Americans with developmental disabilities.” Reagan also urged Americans to provide encouragement and opportunity for individuals with developmental disabilities to lead productive lives and to achieve their full potential.


At the time of the first DD Awareness Month, the federal government had already conducted a two-year program designed to increase employment opportunities for individuals with developmental disabilities. The program resulted in an employment rate of a little more than 2% of the 4 million individuals estimated to have had a developmental disability in America. Today, the employment rate of working age individuals with disabilities is roughly 36% of 20 million Americans. This is still less than half of the 76% of working age adults without disabilities who are employed, but it’s progress.


On Wednesday, March 8th, more than 500 Ohioans with disabilities, family members and other stakeholders descended upon the Ohio Statehouse to kick off the 31st Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. And while much progress has been made since Reagan’s proclamation, more work is needed to improve public perception and understanding of people with developmental disabilities.


The theme for this year’s DD Awareness Month is “Life Side by Side”. It represents the hope of many individuals with developmental disabilities, and their families, that living in a home, working at a job, and enjoying the many other benefits of being a member of a community can be achieved at the side of others who do not have a disability. Given appropriate supports, this dream is already a reality for thousands of Ohioans with developmental disabilities.


Ohioans have and continue to be generous in their support for the needs of individuals with developmental disabilities and their families. Unfortunately, services and supports for people with developmental disabilities have a sordid history that includes sterilization, forced institutionalization, and unsanitary living conditions. Those days are long gone, but never to be forgotten. Thanks to support from Congresses, Presidents, Governors and state Legislatures, people with disabilities have rights and the ability to seek redress from their government, just like everyone else. 


Thanks to Governor John Kasich’s support, Ohio is an Employment First state, a policy which encourages community employment for individuals with developmental disabilities. In the most recent budget and the previous budget, the state is dedicating more resources to providing affordable and accessible housing for individuals with developmental disabilities to live in the community. Efforts are being made to reduce the long waiting list for services and to improve transportation options so that more individuals can live in the community, among their peers without disabilities.


And that is living Life Side by Side!


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