In 1987, President Ronald Reagan signed legislation making March Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. Arcs around the country plan to advocate for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Deinstitutionalization — the movement to end confinement of the developmentally disabled in mental hospitals, erase once and for all the term “mentally retarded” from our language, and reintegrate the developmentally disabled into the mainstream of life — began in the 1970s and early 1980s.

“It laid the foundation for significant social change, and the presidential proclamation called upon Americans to provide the encouragement and opportunities necessary for people with developmental disabilities to reach their potential,” Robert B. Fleming of the Special Needs Alliance wrote in 2012.

It is no accident that the movement to secure equal rights for the developmentally disabled surfaced in the same period with the human rights campaigns for gays, African-Americans and Native Americans. The developmentally disabled have the right to live, learn and work as they choose.

They are our family members, neighbors, co-workers and friends; they have ambitions, goals, hopes and dreams; they marry and have families and they want the same things we have. They are entitled to a fair opportunity to fulfill their lives.

Local governments are working to give equal access to the intellectually and developmentally disabled by enacting resolutions that are inclusive and that assist them in doing business in government offices.

It’s encouraging to witness a large segment of our population gaining the rights and opportunities that we largely take for granted. This March, we can say that things have come a long way from the abuses of confinement and the cruel stigma of the word “retarded.” We can’t turn back now.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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