The Measure of a Great Society: Thoughts from NASDDDS Conference

First, congratulations to the National Association of State Directors of Developmental Disabilities Services (NASDDDS) on their 50th anniversary as an incorporated association. I just returned from their annual conference in Virginia, a gathering of leaders from state government as well as federal officials, community leaders, family members and persons with lived experience. It was an opportunity to reflect on the past, examine the present, and create the future.

Fortunately, one thing that has faded into the past is the labeling of individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD) with derogatory terms, as well as the belief that the way to treat these individuals was put them out of sight and keep them out of mind. Gone, or nearly gone, are the days of large institutions that offer only a life of despair and hopelessness. Today, there is hope, there is understanding, and there is a future that looks bright. Through the tireless work of this association, of people with lived experience, of families, advocates and dedicated community providers, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have opportunities and possibilities they never had before.

I came away from this conference stronger in my belief that the future could be bright if there is a united and coordinated effort to create an expectation of a full life for every individual. The next step toward this goal involves a single focus on community integration with opportunities for independent living, integrated employment and educational opportunities. I saw how, in states across the country, officials and stakeholders are looking at ways to create these opportunities and make integrated community living, and maximizing independence, a reality for every person.

Much has been written in recent years about how one would go about measuring the quality of a country, or a state, or a community: is it the wealth, is it the number of parks or museums, maybe the history or the size of their armed forces? No, those are not the measures of a great society. The greatness of a society is measured by how every person, including those with disabilities, is given the opportunity to be successful as an integrated member of the community and regarded as equal.