Each March, the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities (NACDD) partners with Association for University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD) and National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) to create a social media campaign that highlights the many ways in which people with and without disabilities come together to form strong, diverse communities. The campaign seeks to raise awareness about the inclusion of people with developmental disabilities in all areas of community life, as well as awareness to the barriers that people with disabilities still sometimes face in connecting to the communities in which they live.
The NACDD has a great blog that I would encourage everyone to follow https://www.nacdd.org/dd-awareness-month-blog/. There is no better way to kick of National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month than to share the Kick Off blog post by Emily Kranking:
Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month is a time where our great nation reflects on the achievements of people who have developmental disabilities. Developmental disabilities such as cerebral palsy, autism, muscular dystrophy, Down syndrome, or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder affect one’s growth and/or cognition. As of 2017, about 1 in 6 children are identified to have some type of developmental disability.  But people shouldn’t have to be worried or alarmed if someone has a developmental disability. They can usually live normal lives as long as they have the proper supports.
However, disabilities in general are given stigmas by society. Many people still assume because one is disabled, it means that they need help with everything. Or they aren’t bright enough for school or get a job. Or they can’t find love, get married and have kids on their own. This is why months such as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month are important for the public. They spotlight the disability community and show how people with developmental disabilities live normal lives. In return, the public can learn how they can help people with developmental disabilities achieve their dreams.
So why isn’t the country celebrating and recognizing Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month more broadly? Is the country so used to people with developmental disabilities as symbols of humility and pitifulness that they are not ready to embrace powerful people with developmental disabilities like Greta Thunberg, for instance? Is the notion of someone who has Down Syndrome or an intellectual disability seem so precious that we naturally have the feeling to protect and take care of them?
As someone with cerebral palsy, I have been there. Getting baby talked, literally at one point getting watched and praised over walking away from my wheelchair, as if I was a baby taking her first steps, by two random women and even prayed over by a religious man. Just because I have a young aroma around me with my baby voice, baby face and a feminine fashion sense, it doesn’t mean I’m incapable of being independent, having emotions and acting my age.
This month, I am premiering in my first motion picture Best Summer Ever at the South by Southwest Festival and the ReelAbilities Film Festival. It is the first movie musical starring people with disabilities. I am one of the leads, along with my friend Jacob who has Asperger’s syndrome. We feature numbers of actors, singers and dancers with many developmental disabilities. We are off to a giant start! This could be the second biggest movie about disabilities in recent history after last year’s The Peanut Butter Falcon, which starred my friend and BSE co-star Zachary Gottsagen.
Gottsagen, who has Down syndrome, has recently gained universal acclaim after being the first actor with Down syndrome to present at the Oscar’s. He has also gained a few accolades for his incredible performance. Zachary is starting to shake expectations of disabled actors by proving that we are able to work in movies and plays. Could he be shaking low expectations of people with developmental disabilities in general? If Zachary can do something big in life, if my cast and crew members can do something big in life, so can all people with developmental disabilities! That’s what Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month is all about.