This summer, I am interning with the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities (NACDD). This organization serves as the national association for the fifty-six Councils on Developmental Disabilities (DD Councils) across the United States and its territories. In the 1970’s, the Developmental Disabilities Act was established to help protect people with developmental disabilities under the law. As it currently stands, a developmental disability is a disability which is attributed to a mental and/or physical impairment that significantly affects three or more major life activities. It is acquired before the age of twenty-two and is likely to continue indefinitely throughout a person’s lifetime. The Developmental Disabilities Act articulates that people with developmental disabilities have a right to appropriate treatment, services, and habilitation and that services should work to help people achieve maximum potential through increased independence, productivity, and integration into the community. Through the law, the State Councils on Developmental Disabilities were created to ensure that people with developmental disabilities are provided the services guaranteed to them in the Developmental Disabilities Act. NACDD works on behalf of the DD Councils to advocate for federal funding and a national policy agenda that looks to expand the rights of people with disabilities.
While working at NACDD, I have learned that there are a multitude of disability advocacy organizations that work to promote public policy that addresses issues facing the disabilities community. These organizations work on behalf of people with a wide range of disabilities, including blindness, hearing impairment, chronic illness, mental health, intellectual disabilities, developmental disabilities, and much more. NACDD works with these other disability organizations through a variety of coalitions and task forces to advocate for public policy. NACDD is unique in that we focus primarily on people with developmental disabilities, and our councils are directly established by the federal government. We place a large emphasis on self-advocacy, and thus at least one-third of the members in each state council are people with disabilities. It is important for us to have partners in the larger disability community so that we can work together to accomplish our common goals.
One of my main responsibilities at NACDD is policy work. I research various statistics to be used as talking points for legislation and I write letters of support/opposition to Congressmen regarding certain bills. I have been doing a variety of research on the topic of restraint and seclusion tactics being used in schools. Unfortunately, many students are currently subject to disciplinary tactics through the forms of restraint and seclusion, and students with disabilities are disproportionately affected by these incidents. We are hoping to use my research to prove that these tactics are too widespread and must be put to an end as they are very harmful to children. I have also recently been writing letters to Congressmen on behalf of my organization to support and oppose legislation regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act. This law was the first piece of Civil Rights legislation that aimed to protect people with disabilities. My organization works to ensure that people with disabilities are provided the services and support they need to live meaningful and productive lives. We work to promote legislation that supports and expands the ADA, not limit it. I also attend hearings and briefings on Capitol Hill to gain better insight from experts and Congressmen on bills being introduced in Congress. I hope to continue my policy work while here at my internship to help make a difference for the disabilities community.