We're Breaking Down Barriers & Changing Stigmas


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Developmental disabilities, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are “a group of conditions due to an impairment in physical, learning, language or behavior areas.” This encompasses a wide variety of physical, emotional and academic challenges.

This month is noteworthy because it celebrates an openness and acceptance for disabled people, who not too long ago were voiceless in society.

Almost thirty years ago, President Reagan declared March as “Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month.”  It was important for Reagan to take the stigma away from people who were institutionalized based on their cognitive skills or even physical abilities.

Before 1987, when Reagan brought more attention to these issues, some people with a disability were more likely to be placed in various mental health facilities or somewhere that offered assistance for the families. Reagan sought to “deinstitutionalize” disabled people and bring them back into society where they could be educated and perhaps become a productive member of society.

Since the onset of modern technology, as well as direct intervention programs, we now know that the range of cognitive and physical limitations is immeasurable.

Consider that in the early 1900s, people who were deaf might have been institutionalized simply because his or her speech might not have been understood by others. One example, sensorineural hearing loss, inhibits sounds which in turn delays speech; however, this condition does not mean this person is incapable of learning or understanding what is happening in society. There are many diseases and conditions that do not inhibit learning, but for which people have been negatively labeled based on a disability.  

While there were various organizations, such as Arc, which set the tone in the 1950s for a more conscious and accepting society, there were not very many resources to teach and educate people who learned differently.

It was not until 1975, when congress passed Public Law 94-142,which provided support for states while also protecting the educational rights of children with disabilities. This law “guaranteed a free, appropriate public education to each child with a disability in every state and locality across the country” (US Dept. of Ed.) and is currently known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Over time, society has become more accepting of all people regardless of their disability. The educational plans have developed into detailed lessons specifically formulated for exceptional children. Fortunately, members of the disabled community have options and resources to assist them for optimum learning and an enhanced quality of life.

It is so wonderful we have outlets such as the internet to help create the awareness people with developmental disabilities need. Continued support is what is necessary for this community to continue to succeed. 

Society and acceptance for the disabled community has come a long way since President Reagan advocated for this community. There is still work to do, but I think he would be proud of the progress. 

*Note: For more information about this topic, please click on the links below.  

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 2015. Facts About Developmental Disabilities. http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/developmentaldisabilities/facts.html

Harbour CK, Maulik PK. 2010. History of Intellectual Disability. In: JH Stone, M Blouin, editors. International Encyclopedia of Rehabilitation. http://cirrie.buffalo.edu/encyclopedia/en/article/143/

US Dept. of Education. 2007. History Twenty-Five Years of Progress in Educating Children with
Disabilities Through IDEA. http://www2.ed.gov/policy/speced/leg/idea/history.html

C.C. Malloy lives in Greensboro and is a steadfast supporter of children with disabilities. Any information here should not be considered legal advice and counsel should be sought for personal educational guidance. For additional support, please visit her website, Bizigal’s Exceptional Blooms.

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About This Blog

An Exceptional World

A resource for exceptional parents of exceptional children.


 Micki Bare assistant editor/web editor

About This Blog

C.C. Malloy is a disability advocate and the mother of three fantastic young adults. A freelance writer, she writes about the daily opportunities parents encounter raising a child with a disability. Her blog focuses on helping parents cope with the functions of their child’s educational accommodations from the start of elementary school through transition to college. Malloy has been published in a variety of newspapers and magazines, including Carolina Parent Magazine. For additional assistance and support, please visit her website Bizigal's Exceptional Blooms.

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