A Personal Story; What Developmental Disability Awareness Month Means to Our Family

By Raymond Hampson, Board Member, The Arc of California

As a father of a 32-year-old son with a developmental disability, I am reflecting on this past month of March and wonder what has Developmental Disability Awareness Month meant for my son and our family.

I am thinking back to a time when parents were advocating for their children to live home and in the community and not be placed in an institution; a time when parents wanted their children educated next to their typically developing peers. I applaud the parents that helped form the Lanterman Act in California that allows our children and adults with disabilities to have the proper services and supports to live in the community. I am very thankful for these parents who advocated for equality and inclusion.

I know it is my responsibility not to lose these important services and it is my responsibility to help expand and shape these service as we move into the future. I also know I cannot do this by myself. I must listen, learn and follow the lead of my son and his peers on what they want and need to live a fuller life in the community.

Having a month designated as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month helps acknowledge that my son and his peers matter; that they belong in the community and have something to contribute to the community. It lets the larger community know that having a developmental disability is a part of the human existence and makes the world more diverse and beautiful. That they will no longer be placed in an institution because others are uncomfortable around or know how to react to a person with a Developmental Disability.

We need to celebrate our pioneers who led the disability rights movement like Ed Roberts and Judy Heumann, parents like Shirley Dove & Julie Beckett, leaders like Sue Swenson & Colleen Wieck and all the parents who advocated for the Lanterman Act.

I thank everyone who has impacted my son’s life and made it possible for him to live with his supports in the community. Together, we will all continue to make improvements in the lives of people living with disabilities.

A Personal Story: How I Became Ms. Wheelchair California

By Kathleen Barajas, President, Project AIR

Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month (DDAM) was established in 1987. Each year, it gives the disability community an opportunity to share their personal stories, and to educate others about individuals with disabilities. It is especially important because at any time in a person’s life, they can become a member of our disability community. Disability touches everyone’s life in one way or another and should not be seen as negative or hopeless.

In honor of DDAM, I am sharing my story. I want to thank The Arc of California for allowing me the space to share and inspire others to do the same.

Hi! I am Kathleen Barajas, and I am a Disability Rights Advocate in Los Angeles. I am an individual with severe cerebral palsy, which not only affects my mobility and coordination, but my speech as well. I very often say that it is not my disability that is difficult, but the way that some people view and interact with me based on how my disability makes me appear.

In 2016, I competed for and won the title of Ms. Wheelchair California. Although I knew that I would be at a slight disadvantage because of my speech, I felt that I had a good advocacy background that would provide the boost I might need. For the interview session, I was able to have my cousin with me as my revoicer, however the judges understood me fairly well and only asked a few times to have something I said revoiced. Much of the same occurred when I participated in the Ms. Wheelchair America 2017 Competition in Michigan, and I was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award.

In 2020, I founded Project AIR, a nonprofit organization whose mission is “To educate communities in the appropriate treatment and accommodation of individuals with speech impairments and more severe disabilities.” Our board consists of prominent leaders in the disability community who are adamant about educating about individuals with disabilities. We have created pamphlets/booklets on various disability-related topics, and we have given presentations to organizations in our community on those topics. It is crucial that all individuals be treated with respect and dignity, and it is through education that this will be achieved. Please visit our website at https:// project-air.net/ to learn more.

We encourage others in the disability community to share their story with us at info@thearcca.org.


A Personal Story: Why Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month is Important to Me

By Joseph Meadows, former Board Member for Arc of California and Arc of United States

Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month gives me, and other people with disabilities, the chance to share our stories. I have lived in Sacramento, CA and lived independently in a group home for 15 years. I have previously served for many years on the Board of Directors for The Arc of California and The Arc of United States. In November 2022, one of my roommates Jon passed away. Over the years he became much more than just a roommate. He was my best friend, and I miss him dearly.

Jon taught me something important that I want to share with everyone: “People should be seen for their gifts and talents and not their disabilities.”

People with disabilities have a voice and the same desires for what they want in life as anyone else.

My friend had a gift for gardening that he shared with me, and in return, I showed him how to ride the city bus so he could go out into the community. One of our favorite things to do together was attending the Sacramento River Cats baseball games. In the picture above, I am on the left side and Jon is in the middle. We both loved sports and going out to eat at Buffalo Wild Wings.

I continue to be active in the community and grateful I had the opportunity to share my life with a good friend. Jon continues to inspire me to be an advocate and help raise awareness for the disability community and being fully accepted for who we are — a human being.

Join this month’s campaign and share your story! What do you want people to know about living with a disability?

If you are a friend or family member of a person with a disability, share something about them that you love or makes you proud. Email us with your photo and story at info@thearcca.org

Together, we want to build a future of acceptance, equality and inclusion. It starts by understanding each other better. This is our month to help people understand developmental disabilities! Join Us!