Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month: A Time to Reflect

By Elisa Dillard Rainey, CELA

Since 1987, when President Ronald Reagan declared March to be “Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month,” this has been a time to celebrate progress and recognize the remaining challenges facing those with special needs.

One of the biggest victories has been the increased involvement of individuals with disabilities in mainstream life. I can remember when friends of my grandparents’ generation were sharply criticized for refusing to institutionalize a child with severe disabilities. While decades of activism by parent advocates have since resulted in deinstitutionalization and increased community-based services, those services are fragmented. Just figuring out what’s available—which differs dramatically by state─ takes time and energy. Then begins the process of navigating government bureaucracies. As a result, exhausted and vulnerable families often fail to get all the services to which their loved ones are entitled.

As a young child, I had no opportunity to interact with individuals of any age who had special needs. Then, as a teen, I spent several summers as a counselor for a camp for kids with muscular dystrophy, and it was eye-opening. We were close to each other in age, and the line between counselors and campers was blurred. We were really just a bunch of kids hanging out. We became friends, and it changed my life. It felt magical.

Today, students of all abilities routinely share classrooms. Actors with disabilities are featured in award-winning TV shows and movies. Dolls with disabilities teach children about accepting differences.

And yet, bullying has reached epidemic levels. The behavioral or physical differences of young people with disabilities are too often targeted by classmates who are themselves struggling with the insecurities of childhood and adolescence. The “r” word is still casually, and cruelly, used.

Everyone deserves an opportunity to reach their personal potential. Each of us is unique, with our own mix of abilities and disabilities. There’s a lot more educating to be done before we’re able to eradicate intolerance, and the earlier that children begin to learn about—and accept—differences, the better.

During Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, let’s pause to consider the ways—large and small—that we can work each day to eliminate the barriers that continue to impede individuals with special needs as they work to build lives that are independent and fulfilling.


One Comment

  1. Sharon Carroll March 17, 2017 at 8:50 pm

    How do we bypass a Governor who will not listen…A Gov. Who contracts out the care of our loved ones..A Government so filled with corruption and fraud to numerous to count them all….My loved one is Autistic and mentally help available for her in the needed years to help her achieve her potential regardless how small…But due to the High School she was helped greatly…saw big changes in her was the last year age wise that she could attend which was only a little over a year..We were given waivers into a local day program and paid for thru Columbus Services….of which did not look out for her best interests…thus the neglect began……when contacting the State Officials at DDBDDH…who are there to help,did nothing,filed no complaints..nothing…….my case workers come and go…they are either out on sick leave or vacation leaving us with out help even though the money is there for her…….months have drug into years with out help to find another day program….she has mentally regressed as when we complained about the neglect,she was thrown out if the Day program…yes really professionals looking to the needs of her and what was best for her…my years of pushing for the best for her has now been wasted….her schedule of years has been disrupted and her little mind now is disrupted…age wise she will always be my little girl due her mental capacity..Are there groups or an Attorney to help make the Gov. Do their job….thank you

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