Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month: Celebrating Abilities in All Stages of Life
March is National Developmental Disabilities (DDAM) Awareness Month, aimed at increasing awareness around and acceptance of the many individuals with developmental disabilities. In 2020, the United States Census Bureau reported 40.6M Americans, or almost 13% of the United States population, had one or more disabilities. Of this number, approximately 1 in 6 US children had been diagnosed with a developmental disability.
What are developmental disabilities?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines developmental disabilities as learning, language, behavior, or physical development delays. These include:
- Intellectual disabilities
- Learning disabilities
- Cerebral palsy (CP)
- Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
- Attention-deficit disorder (ADD) and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
Click here to learn more about Autism Acceptance Month, celebrated each April.
Timeline of Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month and Related Legislation
Prior to the 1960s, individuals with most types of developmental disabilities were referred to as “mentally disabled.” They were sadly misunderstood, hidden from societal interaction, and often institutionalized. President John F. Kennedy used his personal experience with his sister Rosemary’s disabilities to push for greater understanding and acceptance of persons with disabilities.
Kennedy formed a panel of leaders focused on removing this group’s many community, educational, and employment exclusions. As the years progressed, the US government and future US Presidents would work together to create a more supportive environment for those with disabilities:
- 1975: President Gerald Ford signed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA) into law to ensure free and appropriate public education for all children with disabilities.
- 1984: The US Congress passed the Developmental Disabilities Act, created “to help assure that persons with developmental disabilities achieve their maximum potential through increased independence, productivity, and integration into the community.” The Act instructs individual states to create five-year strategic plans to devise and implement new statewide services for those with developmental disabilities.
- 1987: President Ronald Reagan proclaimed the month of March as National Developmental Disabilities Month, further showing the government’s support of much-needed services and support for those with a disability.
- 1990: President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), making discrimination against those with disabilities illegal in all areas of public life: schools, places of employment, transportation, and all public or private locations.
- 2004: The US Congress renamed the EHA Act of 1975 as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), adding autism and traumatic brain injuries as new categories covered by this legislation.
- 2008: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is amended, easing the path for individuals to establish their disability and receive additional support services.
- 2014: The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) becomes law, allowing those with disabilities more straightforward access to support, training, and employment opportunities
Click here for more information on ADA Awareness Day, held annually on July 26th.
Individuals with Developmental Disabilities in the Workforce
As children with developmental disabilities complete their education and enter additional training programs and employment, it is imperative to ensure their unique needs are continued to be met. Many organizations today tout diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives, but what do these initiatives look like for persons with developmental disabilities?
The Office of Disability Employment Policy found that persons with a disability currently account for 3.6% of the US workforce. However, only about 4% of companies consider disabilities in their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. A considerable amount of emphasis is placed on the acceptance of those of all ages, genders, races, ethnicities, cultures, religions, and sexual orientations. Moving forward, the focus must shift to accepting the various abilities and unique needs of those with developmental disabilities within the workplace.
Ways to Include Persons with Developmental Disabilities in DEI Initiatives
There are serval ways your company can extend a caring hand in the workplace:
- Be open to hiring a new employee with a developmental disability: Everyone has abilities – open your heart and see the unique perspective someone with a developmental disability brings to your company.
- Start with a review of your current hiring practices: Is your application easily accessible and able to be completed by everyone regardless of their level of disability? How can you make the process easier?
- Evaluate the physical requirements of the positions: Do positions with your company require heavy lifting or long periods of sitting? If so, how can you make changes to accommodate everyone interested in employment?
- Update workspaces that are accessible to all: Do the cubicles in your office allow for wheelchairs? Are the bathroom and kitchen facilities ADA-compliant? If not, look for solutions and be proactive in correcting the issues.
Moving Forward with Acceptance of Developmental Disabilities
At the beginning of this reform initiative, it was imperative first to gain a deeper comprehension of the needs of individuals with developmental disabilities, followed by implementing new legislation to support them. As shown earlier in the timeline, we have come a long way in the last 60 years. With a continued desire to understand the unique challenges facing those with a disability, additional advances in support services will be made, resulting in more opportunities for this very able group of individuals at every stage of life.
Ways to Get Involved in Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month
There are several ways to get involved in DDAM in April to show your support for people with developmental disabilities, including:
- Wear orange: The official color of Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month is orange, a vibrant color symbolizing positive energy. Throw on something bright and spread positivity today!
- Learn more: 15% of the world’s population have some form of disability. WeThe15 is a global sports initiative to change attitudes, create opportunities, and improve mobility and accessibility for the 1.2B persons with a disability worldwide. This video shares how this campaign chooses to celebrate the many abilities of this demographic group.
- Share your support on social media channels: Use the official hashtag on all of your posts: #DDAwareness2023