Taking action for a more inclusive world for people with disabilities

March is national Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month (DDAM) in the United States. Here at the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities (NACDD) we celebrate with an annual campaign designed to raise awareness of and advocacy for the inclusion of people with developmental disabilities in all facets of community life and to shine a spotlight on the barriers people with disabilities still face when connecting to the communities in which they live.

During DDAM, NACDD and our partner DD Councils create a social media campaign that helps clarify what developmental disabilities are, who people with developmental disabilities are, what matters to them, and celebrates the diversity, strengths, and contributions of the developmental disability community.

Our mission at NACDD is to work with our State Councils on Developmental Disabilities (SCDD) to empower people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, their families, and allies to build welcoming and supportive communities through policy and practice ensuring that people with I/DD can live a self-directed life in the community.

This year’s DDAM theme: Beyond the Conversation: It’s About Action!

Our theme this year is Beyond the Conversation: It’s About Action! Over the last year, DD Councils have been leading the way in having conversations, many of them uncomfortable conversations, about what community inclusion looks like in a post-pandemic world. Whether we are speaking about employment, healthcare and health equity, housing, or transportation, we are deeply examining how we move beyond the conversation and take action that will change opportunities in our local communities.

We want to use this campaign to showcase the excellent work that is being done to celebrate and improve the lives of people with developmental disabilities. If you have resources or materials that you think should be included and shared with this campaign, please send them to us! We will feature the submissions in our resource guide and they will be shared with audiences all across the country. Examples of resources include, but are in no way limited to, videos, toolkits, news blogs, photos, personal stories, promising practices, etc.

A special element of the campaign is to highlight artwork created by people with disabilities. With the artist’s permission, we highlight their art in the DD Awareness Month campaign imagery.

Similar to last year, we’ve selected artwork featured at local DC studio Art Enables to serve as logo imagery for DD Awareness Month. This year we have artwork from artist Jamila Rahimi. We were excited when we saw this original piece entitled “petals” as it creates the image of one petal separating from the crowd of other petals. This petal is taking action and moving beyond its safe space with the others

This year’s annual conference

Beyond the Conversation: It’s About Action! will also be the theme for the NACDD 2023 Annual Conference, July 24 – 27, 2023 which will take place in Orlando, Florida. 

NACDD invites individuals with disabilities, their families, educators, researchers, direct support professionals and other employers, policymakers, and others who support individuals with disabilities to submit ideas for sessions related to this year’s theme: Beyond the Conversation: It’s About Action! We want presentation topics that are innovative, impactful, and inspiring and are about taking action.

Learn more at the NACDD website.

Working with MCOs and others

We are also looking at the ways we are reaching Managed Care Organizations (MCOs) and individuals who are working with the I/DD community every day. By providing support and education, we can better help MCOs understand how they can address social determinants of health for all people with disabilities.

We know that MCOs worked incredibly hard to ensure individuals with I/DD and their families stayed as safe and healthy as possible during the pandemic. We were proud to partner with MCOs for better life experiences for people with I/DD.

The pandemic exposed issues such as mental health challenges like depression and anxiety often caused by loneliness or loss of the lifestyle individuals had pre-pandemic. Working together with MCOs we have been able to connect people with lived experience to teach and train MCOs about how to look at people not just as a patient, but a whole person coping with challenges in their life. Loss of a family member, a change in job status, or needing to let go of a direct support professional can have a huge impact on one’s health status and learning to engage fully with individuals with disabilities was key.

Measuring success

The annual awareness month is largely run as a social media campaign through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok. By capturing engagement and analytics, we can measure and learn what information is compelling for those with a stake in the information such as individuals with I/DD, loved ones, caregivers, organizations and others who share it.  

NACDD also uses rigorous metrics to evaluate the effects of the campaign to determine what individuals in the community want and need.  We are also looking at the ways local DD Councils are using the campaign to address challenges.

For example, using plain language and conveying information with images and iconography helps individuals with intellectual disabilities better understand written materials.

We look forward to seeing action plans from individuals, organizations, and the community at large that will create a more inclusive future for people with disabilities!

Read more from Donna Meltzer

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