Educate Yourself on Developmental Disability Awareness Month


Maeve Sullivan, Guest Writer

Earlier this year when I joined the Mercer Island Best Buddies club,  I was unaware of the history of discrimination toward people with disabilities and I was surprised by how few people talk about it. I realized I wanted to change this and I decided to become an advocacy chair for the club. 

As an advocacy chair I work towards spreading awareness about different challenges people with disabilities face today through social media campaigns and presentations. Our most recent project was an Instagram story challenge with the goal of ending the use of the R-slur. 

March is Developmental Disability Awareness Month. A developmental disability is one that affects day-to-day life and generally lasts a person’s whole life. Some common examples of developmental disabilities include cerebral palsy and autism spectrum disorder. 

March was named Developmental Disability Awareness Month in 1987 under the Reagan Administration. At this time in America, people with disabilities were fighting for equal rights and opportunities. People were turned away from jobs and education opportunities, and were ultimately outcast by society because of their impairments.

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was one of the main pieces of legislation written with the goal of protecting people with disabilities; however, it was never passed. It was not until 1975 that children with disabilities were allowed to attend public schools.  

In 1990 the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed, prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities. The ADA granted people with disabilities more access to public transportation. This act was passed after the Capitol Crawl, a protest where people with disabilities threw away their wheelchairs, canes, and crutches and crawled up the stairs of the Capitol to demonstrate what it was like to have very limited accommodations like ramps. 

It is shocking to know that this is a very recent change to our society and there is still more we can do in the future.  

Examples of some changes made at Mercer Island High School as a result of the ADA’s passing include the ramp next to the stairway in the commons, the ramp next to Band lot, and the wheelchair elevator next to the stairs at the end of the 400 hall where it connects to the 300 hall. Our bathrooms also include wheelchair-accessible stalls which were all changes made nationally after 1990 and the ADA.

Wheelchair-accessible stalls in bathrooms. Photos by Chris Twombley.
One of MIHS’ wheelchair-accessible ramps in the main hallway.
The wheelchair lift situated in the 400 hall.

One of the most proactive ways of spreading awareness about discrimination against people with disabilities is having open conversations with close friends and family members. There are many ways to educate yourself about disabilities as well as challenges that people with disabilities face. Research different types of disabilities; developmental and physical. This is a good start in introducing yourself with the many different types of disabilities and give some perspective on how diverse the disability community is. 

I have included some informational links below to helpful articles and websites. A movie that provides first hand accounts with the Civil Rights movement for people with disabilities is “Crip Camp.” “Crip Camp” is a raw documentary that shows the discrimantion people with disabilities faced from America in the later half of the 1900s. 

Another way to spread awareness is having conversations with family members and close friends about these issues. Not many people enjoy talking about discrimination in general because it is an uncomfortable topic; however, learn from past mistakes we have to talk about them. I encourage you this March to have the difficult conversations and use the month to reflect and deepen your understanding of the challenges people with disabilities face. 

This month I also challenge you to research specifically ableist terms and look into their meaning and why they are considered offensive. Ableism is the discrimination against people with disabilites from able-bodied people. I linked a few websites that give a more specific definition of ableism and also terms to avoid. I encourage you to make a pledge to yourself or with friends or family to not say these words. This small step is an easy way to help spread awareness about the harm these words cause others as well as educating yourself.