March kicks off Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month (DDAM). This is a starting point resource for employers to actively support and recognize employees who live and thrive with developmental disabilities. Learn how your organization can celebrate DDAM.
Developmental disabilities are a group of conditions due to an impairment in physical, learning, language, or behavior areas, and can include: vision impairment, learning or intellectual abilities, cerebral palsy, and autism spectrum disorders to name a few. These conditions begin during the developmental period and may impact day-to-day functioning, as explained in guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For more context, visit the National Disability Institute’s website.
While companies are not required to track demographic information on applicants and employees, the Society for Human Resource Management recommends collecting this information to protect against unlawful discrimination claims and to monitor diversity efforts. Collecting employee information can be done during the job application process or after onboarding.
If you’re looking for resources to support your employees with developmental disabilities, the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities (NACDD) is a good starting point. The NACDD partners with like-minded advocacy groups and organizations including state councils of developmental disabilities. These councils are federally funded, self-governing organizations, charged with identifying the most pressing needs of people with developmental disabilities in their state or territory. You can find a list of the NACDD state councils here.
Use the quick navigation links below to jump ahead to a specific topic:
- The History of Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month
- Why DDAM Is Important
- How DDAM Is Traditionally Celebrated
- Employee Considerations
- How to Recognize DDAM at Work
- TED Talks and Documentaries to Watch
- Books to Read
- Guest Speakers
- How Companies Are Celebrating
The History of Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month
You may still be wondering: What is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month? Since 1987, March has been recognized as DDAM. The idea was birthed and still remains vital to increase “public awareness of the needs and the potential of Americans with developmental disabilities,” as stated in Ronald Reagan’s 1987 proclamation. The month serves as a reminder to provide daily encouragement and opportunities to support employees with disabilities as they lead productive lives and achieve their full potential.
Also this month:
March 1 — International Wheelchair Day
March 13 — Deaf History Month begins
March 13-19 — Neurodiversity Celebration Week
March 21 — World Down Syndrome Day
March 30 — World Bipolar Day
Why Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month Is Important
Companies that acknowledge and prioritize every employee within the company structure will find this guide beneficial to creating a safe and inclusive environment where employees can thrive. DDAM remains important to dispel any misconceptions and stereotypes that surround people with disabilities. Allies are critically important to promoting awareness. The best way to show solidarity for someone else within the community is to move beyond awareness and turn ideas into action.
The population of employees with disabilities continues to grow. According to the Office of Disability Employment Policy, persons with a disability make up 39.6% of the labor force participation rate as of January 2023, compared to 37.8% in 2022.
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How Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month Is Traditionally Celebrated
The National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities has deemed this year’s theme as “Beyond the Conversation.” The organization usually engages companies with a series of themed events but this year decided to allow companies the space to create lasting memories with their own employees. They are asking companies to share their events by using hashtags #DDawareness2023, #DDAM2023, #BeyondtheConvo, or #BeyondtheConversation. The NACDD has created a guide that might prove useful.
Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month Employee Considerations
Companies should consider looking at this month as a way of learning from those with developmental disabilities. Awareness is the practice of knowing, acknowledging, and accepting individuals’ experiences as they relate to disability. It is important to remember that moving beyond your own comfort levels is key to developing a greater understanding. Keep in mind that there are both hidden and visible disabilities. The important factor here is to treat everyone with the same level of respect and consideration.
How to Recognize Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month at Work
Invite guest speakers. Use a full-service speakers bureau such as Collective Speakers – Disability Equality to book advocates and motivational speakers dedicated to disability issues. Guests can conduct talks in person or via Zoom. This could be a part of a series of monthly speakers or a standalone event. Make it collaborative by allowing time for a Q&A at the end. Note: If you have a smaller budget, use social media to find new speakers who may be a good fit or look into free webinars.
Host workshops. Bring in a professional to assist employees as they work to improve their communication skills when speaking about disability. This one-day event will contribute to your work toward building a more inclusive environment.
Choose a TED Talk or documentary to discuss. Recommend it at the start of the month and hold a panel discussion toward the end of the month.
Here are a few TED Talks to consider:
- Laura Whitaker’s “The Dandelion Shift: Seeing the Ability in Disability“ (2019)
- Meghan Hussey explores “4 ways to design a disability-friendly future” (2022)
- Sinéad Burke shares why inclusive design in the office matters (2017)
Here are a few documentaries to consider:
- “Lives Worth Living” (2011; available on PBS)
- “A Whole Lott More” (2013; available for download or streaming on Vimeo)
- “Let’s Work!” (2022; available on YouTube)
Partner with employee resource groups (ERGs). If you don’t have an ERG dedicated to employees with disabilities, consider starting one this month. PPG Industries, through its Abilities First Network, engages its employees with guest speakers and often uses partnerships through all of its ERGs to engage multiple sub-cultures within its company. If an ERG isn’t feasible, consider partnering with a local organization.
Organize an event where all employees can interact in a safe space and everyone feels included. This could be a team or company-wide lunch.
Host a contest. Get creative: host a workplace safety bingo or trivia games that engage everyone.
Put together a care package that features entrepreneurs with disabilities. Consider working with a company such as Three Basketeers, a gift basket making nonprofit founded by three men on the autism spectrum. The organization provides meaningful work for adults with developmental disabilities.
Wear orange! Orange is a color symbolizing energy and positivity. It is also the official color of DDAM.
Support a nonprofit such as The Autistic Self Advocacy Network, which is run by and for autistic people. The organization supports disability rights and has a resource library for people looking to learn more about living with disabilities. The Arc promotes and protects human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and actively supports their full inclusion. You can search Charity Navigator for top-rated nonprofit organizations dedicated to people with developmental disabilities.
Start a book club. There is a vast selection of books that recognize developmental disabilities. Choose a book at the start of the month so your team has time to finish it before a month-end discussion. We’ve mined the list of resources below from leading experts in disability advocacy.
Books to Read for Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month
- “Demystifying Disability: What to Know, What to Say, and How to Be an Ally,” by Emily Ladau (2021)
- “The Future is Disabled: Prophecies, Love Notes and Mourning Songs,” by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (2022)
- “The Power of Neurodiversity: Unleashing the Advantages of Your Differently Wired Brain,” by Thomas Armstrong, PhD (2011)
- “The Disability Experience: Working Toward Belonging,” by Hannalora Leavitt (2021)
Podcasts for Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month
- Disability Visibility: A podcast by Alice Wong featuring conversations on politics, culture, and media with disabled people.
- Included: The Disability Equity Podcast: A podcast by Johns Hopkins University Disability Health Research Center that challenges stereotypes of disability by sharing stories, data, and news.
- BoggsCast: A podcast by The Boggs Center on Developmental Disabilities.
Guest Speakers for Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month
- Alice Wong (she/her) is a disabled activist, writer, editor, media maker, and consultant. Wong is the founder and director of the Disability Visibility Project, an online community dedicated to creating, sharing, and amplifying disability media and culture. Her areas of interest are popular culture, media, politics, disability representation, Medicaid policies and programs, storytelling, social media, and activism.
- Becky Curran Kekula (she/her), who happens to be a little person, emphasizes the importance of creating a more inclusive society where individuals with disabilities are not just accepted, but embraced. Kekula is an international TEDx motivational speaker and disability inclusion advisor.
- Imani Barbarin (she/her) is from the Philadelphia area and holds a master’s degree in global communications from the American University of Paris. Barbarin writes from the perspective of a Black woman with cerebral palsy, and her published works include those in Forbes, Rewire, and Healthline. She runs the blog CrutchesAndSpice.com and a podcast of the same name.
How Companies Are Celebrating Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month
- March 1: Ohio Statehouse hosts an awareness and advocacy day event.
- March 3: Jackson County Board of Developmental Disabilities hosts celebration.
- March 25: Momentum Work disability services hosts event in California.
- March 26: Developmental Pathways hosts an arts showcase in Colorado.
- March 28: AARM, an advocacy group, hosts Disability Services Day at the D.C. Capitol.
- March 29: Arc Colorado hosts virtual and in-person luncheon speaker event.
In prior years:
- Wayne State University hosted a Disability Justice Series panel discussion.
- FCCI Insurance Group wore orange to show their support.
- Porzio Bromberg & Newman, P.C. spotlighted teammates who provided legal support.
- Community Access Unlimited nonprofit published a blog post of advocate viewpoints.
Visit our DEI calendar for a complete list of holidays, events, and commemorations for DEI leaders to recognize throughout the year.