For 33 years March has been known as National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. 

When President Ronald Reagan signed the proclamation in 1987, the estimate of the number of individuals in the U.S. with developmental disabilities was 4 million. Now it is estimated that there are more than 4.6 million individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) in the U.S. alone.

Although great strides have been made in the 32 years, there is still much that can be done to create a culture that is more inclusive of individuals with I/DD.

Americans are becoming increasingly aware that such disabilities need not keep individuals from realizing their full potential in school, at work or at home, as members of their families and of their communities. This year’s theme, “Our Time to Shine,” will promote inclusion and respect at local, state and national levels.

Individuals with I/DD were instrumental in getting President Obama to sign Rosa’s Law in 2010. This law eliminates outdated and derogatory terminology in federal legislation. This legislation was a result of the public campaign to end the use of the “r” word which eliminates the use of the term “retarded” and other derogatory terms at the federal level and discourage the use by the public at large.

Productive, self-directed lives within the community increasingly became an obtainable goal. At the same time, due to improvements in healthcare, people with developmental disabilities are living longer, leading to questions about the lifestyle of “retirement-age” individuals. This conversation continues as providers of services and funding sources look at balancing these needs with the limited resources.

Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, according to the National Institute of Health, are disorders that are usually present at birth and that negatively affect the trajectory of the individual’s physical, intellectual and/or emotional development. Many of the conditions affect multiple body parts or systems. As adults many individuals, particularly those with only an intellectual disability, may be able to lead independent lives in the community without paid supports. A percentage of individuals will also have very significant disabilities that may require constant care and support. 

The middle group can be successful with supports that encourage as much independence as an individual is capable of achieving in their every-day life.

Adults with I/DD do not have an entitlement in the current system. Individuals who want support services must apply through their Managed Care Organization. 

In the seven western counties this is through Vaya Health. Supports are then provided according to each person’s individual service plan.

For additional information on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities you can visit the following web sites: The Arc of North Carolina (, The Autism Society (, Easter Seals/United Cerebral Palsy (, American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (

For information on potential grant funding to support services and programs for individuals with disabilities contact the Evergreen Foundation at

The mission of the Evergreen Foundation is to improve access to and public awareness of quality prevention, treatment, and support services by the provider community to individuals and families with intellectual/developmental disabilities, behavioral health, and/or substance abuse needs in Jackson, Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Macon and Swain counties.

Denise Coleman is the executive director of the Evergreen Foundation.