Advancing Opportunities for People with Disabilities: A Reflection

March is National Disability Awareness Month. 

I think sometimes that we have so many “Awareness” months that they become trite and inconsequential.  Certainly, we are all aware of disabilities. But it was not so long ago that persons with disabilities were not thought to be able or worthy to receive an education.  Their only option was spending their life at home or being sent away to an institution to be forgotten.  That was the case in the early 50’s, just 70 years ago.  

Institutional reforms began in the 1960’s, and we in Erie were fortunate to have Gertrude Barber as a member of the Presidential Committee that brought to the forefront the needs of persons with developmental disabilities.  

Legislation was enacted in the 70’s to ensure the education and rehabilitation of children and adults with disabilities.  In 1987 President Reagan proclaimed March as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. This proclamation, which was built upon the institutionalization movement of the 70’s and 80’s, inspired further social change by asking Americans to provide the “encouragement and opportunities for people with developmental disabilities to reach their potential.”

Fortunately, advocates continued to push for change by encouraging Congress to recognize that persons with disabilities deserve more. The passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 made discrimination against people with disabilities sanctionable. Soon after the Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1994 passed, which guaranteed early intervention and special education.

So today in March 2022, the goal of the Barber National Institute continues: to enable children and adults with disabilities to fully participate in all aspects of the community whether it is education employment, housing, or recreation.   We are committed to working with families to secure necessary resources to achieve the dreams for their child or adults. 

We look forward to your continued support to enable us “to make dreams come true for our families” and to keep disability services at the forefront of our legislators and community.

People with disabilities are a diverse group with hopes, dreams, and beliefs above and beyond their disability.
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