Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month

The month of March signals the start of Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month around the U.S. and you may see people wearing the official ribbon or yellow and blue clothing to mark it.

Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month is an annual recognition of how some people in the country live every day with a serious disability and need extra assistance to live as full a life as possible. It is an important national event that is recognized and celebrated around Florida.

The purpose is to “increase public awareness of the needs and the potential of Americans who face developmental disabilities and to provide the opportunities they need in order to live productive lives and to achieve their full potential”.

Let’s take a quick look at the history of Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, who it includes and why it’s necessary…

History of Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month

Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month began in 1987 when Ronald Reagan first declared March as the month to raise awareness of how many Americans live with debilitating conditions.

Reagan imagined the month of recognition as follows:

“…according to our fellow citizens with such disabilities both encouragement and the opportunities they need to lead productive lives and to achieve their full potential.”

Since 1987, significant progress has been made with general attitudes towards individuals with developmental disabilities. More than ever, such individuals can live productive and independent lives in the community rather than in institutions, as was previously the case.

Central to these improvements in attitudes have been both the legislative initiatives and programs introduced to support and provide opportunities for individuals with developmental disabilities to integrate into our communities.

However, every year it is necessary to remind ourselves that the work is not yet complete.

What are developmental disabilities?

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines developmental disabilities as impairments in either physical development or learning, language and behavioral development.

Most commonly, this includes the following conditions (but there are many more):

  • Autism spectrum disorders
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Intellectual/learning disabilities
  • Hearing or vision loss/impairment
  • Epilepsy
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Such conditions generally start at or before birth and last an entire lifetime. Most are “managed” conditions that impact the ability to live a full and active life.

While several conditions are listed above and are often grouped together, the degree of the resultant physical and learning impairment varies greatly in severity.

This leads to vastly different needs. Therefore, greater awareness of these varying needs is an important goal of Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month.

How widespread are developmental disabilities in the U.S.?

The CDC monitors how widespread developmental disabilities are across the country, as well as the associated risk factors, potential causes, and early warning signs. This allows parents to address the issue and get the support they need as early as possible in their children’s lives.

It may surprise you to learn that the CDC estimates that one in six children between the ages of three and seventeen have one or more developmental disabilities. It is likely, then, that multiple individuals living on your street must deal every day with such a disability.

Developmental disability legislation

Supporting greater awareness of the needs of people living with developmental disabilities has required many legislative changes to be made over the years. This legislation pre-dates the initiation of Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month.

The first legislation to address mental illness and intellectual disabilities was the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act (DD Act). This was signed in 1963 by John F. Kennedy, whose sister Rosemary was born with intellectual disabilities.

At that time, developmental disabilities received very little attention and most people suffering from such disabilities were institutionalized. After the personal involvement of the Kennedy family, attitudes towards intellectual disabilities started to shift.

The legislation was expanded with the Developmental Disabilities Services and Facilities Construction Amendment signed in 1970. It was the first law to use the term “developmental disability.”

In the following years, the laws were amended and updated, leading to the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act in 1975, which was the first legislation to recognize the importance of independence over institutionalization for people with developmental disabilities.

During the early 1980s, the high costs of institutionalizing people with developmental disabilities for the long term were reviewed. This led to the Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) waiver program, which was established in 1981 and incorporated into the Social Security Act in 1983.

Florida’s HCBS waiver program

The HCBS waiver program allowed the states to support the needs of people in their home or community, rather than in an institutional setting.

The program made long-term care services available to people with developmental disabilities, as well as other disadvantaged groups. The precise terms and conditions of the program were left to each state.

In Florida, the following are recognized as qualifying conditions for developmental disabilities:

  • Autism
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Spina bifida
  • Down syndrome
  • Prader-Willi syndrome
  • Phelan-McDermid syndrome
  • Intellectual disabilities

At the Law Offices of Hoyt and Bryan, LLC, we can help you with legal matters if you or a loved one have a developmental disability and are based in Florida. Call us at (407) 977-8080 if you need assistance.

Peggy R. Hoyt - The Law Offices Of Hoyt & Bryan
About the Author: Peggy Hoyt
Peggy R. Hoyt practices in the areas of family wealth and legacy counselling, including trust and estate planning and administration, elder law, small business creation, succession and exit planning, real estate transactions and animal law.