Last week, 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.
Paulette Aniskoff from the White House Office of Public Engagement and I 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.
And on November 13, in honor of October’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month, the White House hosted 20 juniors and seniors with disabilities from five Washington, DC area high schools – the Chelsea School (Hyattsville, MD), Cardozo Education Campus (Washington, DC), Eleanor Roosevelt High School (Prince George’s County, MD), Falls Church High School (Fairfax County, VA), and the Model Secondary School for the Deaf (Washington, DC).
The day-long event in the Indian Treaty Room of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building included panel discussionson career choices and soft skills necessary for workplace success, along with an opportunity to tour the White House and partake in a mentoring lunch session with visiting panelists.
The students also met Tina Tchen, Chief of Staff to First Lady Michelle Obama. She told the First Lady’s story, highlighting the grit, perseverance and resilience that the First Lady showed in her own educational path. Ms. Tchen reminded the students that they should not doubt themselves, and that the First Lady’s story can be their story.
Claudia Gordon is an Associate Director of the Office of Public Engagement.