Connections - 03.30.23

From Awareness to Action: Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month 2023

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Each year since 1987, the month of March has been observed as Developmental Disabilities (DD) Awareness Month. This annual campaign is led by the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities (NACDD) and its partners.

Every month of the year, ANCOR members support people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) to live full lives and be included in their communities. Each day, thousands of ANCOR member organizations around the country support people with I/DD to:

  • Access competitive integrated employment
  • Live in their own home or the setting of their choosing
  • Participate in and give back to their communities through civic engagement and volunteering
  • Advocate for themselves and other people with disabilities in front of elected representatives
  • Learn about their rights
  • And more

DD Awareness Month is an important campaign to raise awareness about the inclusion of people with I/DD in all areas of community life, and the contributions people with I/DD make to their communities. In some instances, DD Awareness Month can also serve to raise awareness of the barriers people with disabilities still face when trying to access the communities in which we all live.

This second part is significant. While still necessary, it’s not enough to simply raise awareness about the different types of developmental disabilities that exist or to celebrate the many ways that our society has made progress in how we treat people with disabilities. Although those are valid points to acknowledge, we can’t stop there. We must also recognize the work we still have in front of us to break down the barriers that continue to deny people with I/DD their right to participate fully in their communities.

Colorful artwork created by Jamila Rahimi

Artwork by DC-based artist Jamila Rahimi.

This ties closely to the theme for DD Awareness Month 2023 — Beyond the Conversation. This year’s theme pushes us to think beyond awareness toward action; highlighting how people with and without disabilities come together to move past discussions and take action on inclusive education, employment, accessibility, and more. Beyond the Conversation encourages us to ask the question: What’s next after we raise awareness?

In its DD Awareness Month 2023 Celebration Video, NACDD’s CEO Donna Meltzer says, “While conversations are an important part of the process in moving us toward action, we need to get to that action in order to create the change we want to see happen in our country and in our local communities.”

This DD Awareness Month, I’ve been reflecting on a phrase that one of my friends and mentors taught me to apply when acknowledging that we all (myself included) still have a lot of work to do to make disability inclusion a reality: “When you know better, you do better.” There is still so much we each have to learn, but what perhaps matters most is what we do after we learn something we didn’t know before.

In other words, after our awareness is changed, what have we done with that new knowledge to create change? What action have we taken to break down barriers to inclusion (barriers that are not just physical, but interpersonal, too)? The last time you heard someone use ableist language—did you say something? When was the last time you automatically did something for a person with I/DD because without asking, you assumed they needed help? The last time you saw a person with I/DD working at their place of employment—how did you treat them?

I fully acknowledge that awareness is critical. We don’t know what we don’t know. But we can’t let that excuse us from the responsibility of learning more and doing better. So, in the words of my friend and mentor, when we know better, we have to do better; because what is the point of awareness if we keep it to ourselves?

To close out DD Awareness Month 2023, ANCOR is rounding up a few resources from national partners and peer organizations that are pushing us beyond awareness and toward action:

Alli Strong-Martin is the Communications Coordinator at ANCOR.