National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month is observed in March in the U.S. This class of disabilities can refer to impairments in learning and behavior and impairments in physical and/or intellectual functioning. The campaign seeks to raise awareness about including people with developmental disabilities in all facets of community life. It also creates awareness of the difficulties that people with disabilities still face in fitting into the communities in which they live.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), developmental disabilities are defined as impairments in physical, learning, language or behavior areas, and include:
- Autism spectrum disorders
- Cerebral palsy
- Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
- Learning or intellectual disabilities
- Hearing loss
- Vision impairment
- Other developmental delays
Before the 19th century, people with developmental disabilities were treated violently and lived in poor, unhygienic environments. Many were ‘passed on,’ a practice of carting off people to be dropped in another town. More awareness about developmental disabilities spread in this century both in England and in the U.S.
Social reformers such as Dorothy Dea became leading advocates of the human rights of people with disabilities. Since it was socially unacceptable for a woman to speak in Congress, she asked another reformer, Samuel Gridley Howe, to present her argument for rehabilitating people with disabilities. The motion was passed in the Senate and the House of Representatives but was vetoed by President Pierce. Even the Romantic poets of England such as Byron, Wordsworth, and Keats, who highlighted the goodness of leading a simple life close to nature, were instrumental in prompting authorities to situate asylums in the countryside.
Other reformers and educationists such as Edouard Seguin believed in the benefits of sensory and muscular training to force the central nervous system to “take over” and perform duties that children were otherwise unable to. Maria Montessori was influenced by his methods while working with children with disabilities and other children. The nature of training and institutions continued to evolve over the century, leading to an adverse development. Custodial institutions started being established by the end of the century, which essentially segregated pupils from the rest of the community. It was only after the deinstitutionalization movement of the 1970s and 1980s that Ronald Reagan declared March the month for National Developmental Disabilities Awareness in 1987.
Each March, the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities (NACDD), and their partners work together to create a social media campaign that highlights the many ways in which people with and without disabilities come together to form strong, diverse communities.
The campaign seeks to raise awareness about the inclusion of people with developmental disabilities in all facets of community life, as well as awareness of the barriers that people with disabilities still sometimes face in connecting to the communities in which they live.
The 2022 theme, “Worlds Imagined”, focuses on how the world is changing as we move through and beyond the pandemic. With this theme, NACDD plans to highlight intersectionality and disability, as well as how people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are living longer and more productive lives than ever before. The 2022 DDAM theme encourages exploration of new and ever-changing opportunities.
“As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has- or ever will have- something inside that is unique to all time. It’s our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression.”-Fred Rogers
In this quote, Mr. Rogers truly articulates a “world imagined.”