White House Hosts Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Developmental Disabilities Act

On Friday, November 15, the White House hosted a celebration for the 50th Anniversary of the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act (DD Act), originally signed into law by President Kennedy in 1963 as the Mental Retardation Facilities and Community Mental Health Centers Construction Act of 1963. The event marked a unique opportunity for the intellectual and developmental disabilities (ID/DD) community to celebrate the accomplishments of the past, examine current challenges, and look ahead to the future of disability policy. Speakers from the Obama Administration and representatives from several disability organizations were featured.


Claudia Gordon speaking at the podium; the education panel discussion; the employment panel discussion; Aaron Bishop at the podium with closing remarks Summary of the Event

Claudia Gordon and Paulette Aniskoff from the White House Office of Public Engagement offered a warm welcome, acknowledging the importance of the DD Network in supporting improved lives for people with ID/DD and their families. Jeff Rosen, Chair of the National Council on Disability, observed that while much has been accomplished, there is much work yet to do; a sentiment echoed throughout the day. In her opening remarks, Sharon Lewis, Principal Deputy Administrator, Administration for Community Living, and Senior Advisor to the HHS Secretary on Disability Policy, emphasized the key role of the DD Act in establishing a vision and a platform upon which progress towards self-determination, self-advocacy, and community integration could be built, and the need for continued innovation. Speakers also outlined current challenges facing people with disabilities including system fragmentation, variation between states, waiting lists for supports and services, and public attitudes related to developmental and intellectual disabilities.

The event continued with panel discussions on education, employment and long-term services and supports, featuring 15 speakers from a variety of perspectives, including self-advocates, family members and federal leadership. Each panel considered the historical context and importance of the DD Act, an assessment of the current status of policy and practice in the area, and a perspective on the future of disability policy.

The education panel featured references to the days when students with intellectual or developmental disabilities were relegated to the “classroom next to the boiler” and were prevented from getting to know their classmates. The importance of full inclusion of students was emphasized as a key area of progress since the passage of the DD Act. Looking to the future, panelists considered whether our culture will evolve sufficiently such that our schools can meet the needs of all students in an inclusive fashion as a natural part of their function.

The employment panel featured a discussion of the importance for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities to perform meaningful work and to receive a competitive wage. Panelists commented that sheltered workshops segregate workers and communicate lower expectations, and discussed the need to achieve a goal of workforce participation at the same rate as non-disabled citizens.

The long-term services and supports panel emphasized the importance of self-determination and person-centered supports and services. It was noted that while progress has been made in assisting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to direct their own supports, more work needs to be done. “Listen to us!” was the policy recommendation from Elizabeth Weintraub, Self Advocacy Specialist. Panelists discussed the role technology may play in the future, as well as the challenges of waitlists.

Closing remarks were offered by Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Acting Commissioner Aaron Bishop. Bishop issued a challenge to those present to re-invigorate the vision of self-advocacy and full inclusion and continue this progress into the next fifty years.

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Last Modified: 11/26/2013