It’s not always easy being, advocating for or working with people with disabilities. Even with all the attention special education and individual needs are getting on a national level.
Part of the battle for people with disabilities is getting people to see them, not just their challenges. We see that through people classifying people with disabilities as “the handicapped”, “the disabled”, and even worse terms.
The problem with those classifications is that they put the disability before the person. Vocabulary aside, the community is working on addressing public awareness.
They do this through Developmental Disabilities Month. The month of March has themes that the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities creates each year to bring people with disabilities to the forefront.
Learn how this tradition got started, what a typical month is like, and what last year’s theme held below.
The History of Developmental Disabilities Month
Though it’s hard to have a disability now, it was even harder forty or fifty years ago. Back then, instead of treating people with disabilities like humans, they threw them into institutions. These institutions were like jails and many people were abused both emotionally and physically.
It wasn’t until the 1970’s when we saw a decrease in institutions that society took notice. It was President Ronald Reagan who declared March Developmental Disabilities Month.
With this, people began to learn more about people with disabilities and professionals started to do more research. A large number of advocacy groups were formed in the following years and still exist today.
But what is the point of Developmental Disabilities Month (DDM)? According to Regan himself, it’s to “increase the public awareness of the needs and potential of Americans with Developmental Disabilities”.
And while the themes change every year, the purpose hasn’t changed since. As people become more and more aware, we’re moving away from the visibility part of the equation. Instead, we focus on how to show that people with disabilities deserve inclusion and equal treatment.
A Typical DDM
Each time March comes around, the people at NACDD have spent months and weeks getting ready for the event. They need to figure out a theme, four sub-themes, and activities that go along with each.
A potential theme could be something about helping people see the similarities between someone with and without disabilities. We’ll go into last years theme in detail later.
The theme would have a name, potentially “Inclusion and Innovation” or something like that. Within that theme, the people who plan the month create sub-themes. There are four, one for each week of the month.
Sub-themes are a way to divide something as big as inclusion into easier-to-chew pieces. The purpose is to start conversations, go through activities, and bring attention to a way that people with disabilities are being underserved.
With the development of social media, we’re seeing more people engage with DDM than ever. Each year there are hashtags and prompts for posts that feature the theme.
Though, yes, there are some nasty comments sometimes, the majority of social media posts stay positive. Many people use this as a chance to engage friends and family members that are unaware of daily struggles.
Schools and centers that work with developmentally disabled students often have special events. It’s a time for the community of people with developmental disabilities to rally together. There’s power in numbers and the community shows that every year.
DDM 2018: See Me for Me
In 2018, the national council decided on the theme of “See me for me”. The purpose of this theme was to help those without disabilities see through someone’s challenges.
Like anyone else, people with disabilities want to be seen as the person they are, not as their disability. And the monthly sub-themes of the month went with that.
2018 Sub Themes
The sub-themes divided the months into physical places. Where do we see people with disabilities and how can we do a better job to treat them like everyone else in that part of our lives?
For example, week one was “see me as your classmate”. This week focused on education and the ways people with disabilities show up in schools. Yes, they have different ways of learning and different needs, but there are more similarities than you’d think.
Some schools and classrooms focused on engaging with the general school population. Others used this week to advocate for more funding and resources for special education departments.
For those who don’t know the in’s and out’s of special education, teachers showed how they create individual learning plans to help their whole classroom.
What are successes like for each student? For the class in general? The creativity of special education teachers should not go overlooked.
They spend their days creating fun and engaging activities that teach people with disabilities. One person may need that activity in an audio format, while another may need to learn more hands on.
Check out this calendar of suggested activities from last year’s theme for examples.
Week two was about seeing people with disabilities as people in the community. How can the general public make the community more welcoming and inclusive for those with disabilities?
How can we do a better job including people with disabilities in public places without focusing on their specific challenges?
Weeks 3 and 4
Week three focused on people with disabilities in the workplace. There are a huge number of unemployed people with disabilities because most employers aren’t willing to personalize the job to fit someone’s needs.
Even now, with legislation in place to stop discrimination, we still see a large unemployment problem.
Finally, week four focused on people with disabilities as our neighbors and our friends at home.
Developmental Disabilities Month 2019
As of this writing, we don’t yet know the theme for 2019. We do know that the national council will put a lot of work into planning it and that we look forward to seeing the results.
If you want help integrating activities from a developmental disabilities month calendar in your community, click here to find resources.