Ever wonder how March came to be Developmental Disability Awareness Month? The origins of the advocacy month go back nearly 60 years.
In October 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed the “Maternal and Child Health and Mental Retardation Planning Amendments,” which amended the Social Securities Act. As you can probably tell by the outdated language in the amendment title, people with disabilities were previously not a priority to legislators. JFK was inspired by his sister Rosemary, who was born with intellectual disabilities, to change that.
Less than a decade later, the amendment was expanded to include other neurological conditions like cerebral palsy and epilepsy. It also received a more inclusive name: Developmental Disabilities Services and Facilities Construction Amendment. This also seems to be the first official use of the term ‘developmental disabilities.’
By 1975, disability advocates begin to focus on decreasing institutionalization and increasing community integration. The amendment is renamed again, to the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act (DD Act) – and this is the name we know today.
Through the later 1970s and 1980s, lawmakers continued to emphasize deinstitutionalization and independence. In 1987, President Ronald Reagan declared March to be Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month and asking all Americans to help people with developmental disabilities reach their potential.
The term ‘‘developmental disability’’ means a severe, chronic disability of an individual that--
(i) is attributable to a mental or physical impairment or combination of mental and physical impairments;
(ii) is manifested before the individual attains age 22;
(iii) is likely to continue indefinitely;
(iv) results in substantial functional limitations in 3 or more of the following areas of major life activity:
(II) Receptive and expressive language.
(VI) Capacity for independent living.
(VII) Economic self-sufficiency; and
(v) reflects the individual’s need for a combination and sequence of special, interdisciplinary, or generic services, individualized supports, or other forms of assistance that are of lifelong or extended duration and are individually planned and coordinated.
- Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act of 2000
(Full text here)