The following is a blog is by Clint Bolser, Bridges Division President, on Developmental Disability Awareness Month 2019:
The month of March is a time where individuals, families, guardians, providers, governmental officials, and communities take the opportunity to shed light and enhance awareness for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Over the past 22 years of my career, I have been active in supporting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. This month, I have chosen to blog about the history of this important month.
We can certainly thank President Ronald Reagan for proclaiming March “Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month” in 1987. There is no doubt a lot of good has happened in the past 32 years to enhance the lives of people with disabilities. Therefore, you can see that this proclamation impacted the lives for many and paved the way for several advances that have since taken place.
As the de-institutional movement began in the 1980s, many people began transitioning from institutional living to living in communities. Programs that focused on independent living and community services began to boom! Services such as career planning and supported employment began to emerge.
In addition, individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities became known as productive members of society. This concept at the time was new to many people. Biases, misconception, and stigma became main points to advocacy discussions. These discussions still take place to this day.
Another big milestone over the past 30 years was the passage of the American with Disabilities Act in 1990. Advocate groups around the country recognized the importance of engaging and working with people who have disabilities. These advocacy groups knocked down huge barriers and proved common misconceptions wrong.
In the early 2000s, it was recognized that investing in individuals with disabilities at an early age was instrumental in their future success.
Parents, families and advocates also knew the importance of addressing the full spectrum of services to individuals with disabilities. Advances in healthcare, independent and self-directed services, the importance of inclusive educational settings and individuals living longer were all added to ongoing conversations and legislation.
In 2004, the passing of the Individuals with Disabilities Educational Act (IDEA) guaranteed early intervention, special education and services to transition high schoolers into adulthood. Even though challenges continued, our work was not finished! Continued hope and possibilities gained traction with these successes.
Today, our journey must continue.
With all these emerging successes, it continues to be disheartening that we see hurtful words, stereotypes and increased bullying of individuals with disabilities in our schools and community. There have been campaigns over the past 10 years to end the use of the “R” word, but this word continues to be thrown around with no conscience of how demeaning it can be to people.
In addition, unemployment rates among people with disabilities continue to be embarrassingly high. Even though the unemployment rate in general is low, this is still a huge barrier in our community. Our fight and advocacy will continue and it is important that we are all engaged in this process. We must stay determined to advocate for all people, regardless of their differences.
Our ask to you: be an advocate each and every day!
Whether it is standing up for someone when seeing an individual with a disability being mistreated, advocating for additional funding to advance the services and opportunities for people, hiring someone with a disability, or just greeting and saying hello to a person with a disability in your community, we can all make a difference.
Advocating and awareness must begin to happen year round! One month a year of awareness is not enough. We call you to spread awareness each and everyday. You never know, your actions may change someone’s life for the better. Bridges thanks you in advance for continuing to support our efforts.
In 2000, Bridges was born out of a mother’s love for her son. Over the past 18 years, we have transformed into a national company serving people with disabilities as well as the aging population across six states.
By experiencing and fundamentally understanding the hurdles those in the disability community face each day, Bridges will always keep our focus on you, the families and individuals we support. Our dedicated team is passionate about delivering services that exceed expectations. Our genuine understanding and decades of experience provide life-changing services.
Clint Bolser, Bridges Division President