The first national convention of The Arc US was held in Minneapolis, Minnesota on September 30, 1950. Parents of children with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) came together from across the country to start a movement and promote better lives for their children.
At the time, our country was deep in the throes of institutionalization. Hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities lived apart from their families, loved ones, and communities in large, over-crowded state hospitals. In the state hospitals, people with IDD were separated from the rest of society. Out of the public’s eye, they lived in horrific conditions. They experienced abuse, seclusion, neglect, and forced sterilization. Some were even murdered.
In 1950, parents wanted a different life for their children. They called on society to take action. They came together and asked for everyone – especially those outside of the disability services system – to understand the humanity in their children.
Over the past 70 years we have come so far. Today, people with disabilities are living in the community. They are going to school with their peers and attending post-secondary education. They are working, living in homes of their own, falling in love, getting married, and starting families. We know people with IDD can and do live how they choose.
For all of the progress that has been made, we know there are still many battles ahead. Many people with disabilities feel isolated. Too many people with disabilities are living in poverty. Too many people are living apart from their families, loved ones, and communities.
Research, interviews, and focus groups confirm this. People with IDD are still understood as different, separate, and unknown. They are skewed as weak and needy, vulnerable and dependent.
People with disabilities and their families are asking for so much more. They want to be known. They want belonging. They want justice and liberation.
At The Arc Minnesota’s 2020 Gala, we had a magical evening where nearly 800 people pledged to work alongside people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to launch a movement.
We are calling for a renewed movement, to relentlessly highlight the strength, wisdom, and capacity that people with disabilities have and to promote a just society where everyone is known to be valuable and have worth.
We now must work alongside people with disabilities and their families to support them so that they know this future is possible. We must work to have the individualized services and supports necessary to achieve and maintain that type of life.
Our work is also to form and support partnerships and coalitions, and to engage the community to move in this direction as well. We need employers who will hire people, landlords who will rent to people, and, as Governor Youngdahl conveyed in his 1950 speech, “neighbors who will befriend and support people.” We have to extend our reach outside of the disability community and engage all people.
In order to do this, we need to combat the low expectations and the negative stereotypes that people with disabilities face. We need to completely reframe the narrative that we have created for people with disabilities. We need a new narrative that highlights their power, strength, capacity, wisdom, and resiliency.
We are just getting started.
As we commemorate the 70th Anniversary of The Arc Minnesota, we are asking Minnesotans to again pledge your commitment to the movement, and share this message with those outside of the disability community as well.
We need people to publicly promise, “I will hire people with disabilities. I will welcome renters with IDD. I will get to know people with disabilities.”
Now is the time to build a world where people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have belonging and justice. Together we will demonstrate the strength and capacity of people with IDD, transform our collective thinking, and co-create a bright future for people with disabilities in Minnesota.