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March is National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month

by Dr. Lisa Merritt

MHI Executive Founder

This year’s theme, Through My Eyes, encourages us to imagine life from the viewpoint of people with disabilities. I grew up in Long Island with a neighbor with Down’s Syndrome a few doors away and another with Cerebral Palsy (CP) and I underwent surgery at 3 for congenital spinal abnormalities. As children we just accepted one other and our challenges. Dr. Darrell Pone, born with Cerebral Palsy, stayed in “mainstream” school with us and overcame multiple surgeries and physical impairments and went on to become a physiatrist, inspiring me to also subsequently join the field. We are medical specialists trained in the field of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, and our work helps all conditions that impair function, across the entire life spectrum. March is National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month (DDAM), a time when we emphasize awareness about developmental disabilities, and other disabling conditions. This year’s theme encourages us all to go “Beyond the Conversation and see Through My Eyes.” It asks us to celebrate the progress we have made toward community inclusion while also thinking bigger and bolder about “what’s next?” I am grateful to have been inspired by Dr. Pone and by incredible early leaders in the Disability Rights movement, including an elective in the late ‘80s in which I worked with leaders in the San Francisco Bay area like Dr.Sheldon Berrol and Judith Heumann.

Dr. Berrol as noted in the PMR Journal in 2013 was “an academician, clinician, teacher, and advocate for people with disabilities. He was an early pioneer in the field of brain injury rehabilitation and was also an active participant in the disability rights movement. Sheldon Berrol firmly believed that the acute medical phases of rehabilitation are, in many cases, only the first phase in a progression of graded rehabilitation efforts and processes aimed at achieving optimal community reintegration over months or even years. He was one of the very first persons to systematically look at the wide variety and scope of medical and rehabilitation care needs of patients with brain injury after acute neurosurgical and trauma care. …..Berrol's interest and experiences took him beyond traditional medical approaches to understand the importance of neuropsychological evaluation and cognitive rehabilitation as key components of treatment plans. He was not reticent to voice his views on controversial subjects, such as cognitive rehabilitation. He worked with other rehabilitation professionals to develop new models of community-based services that included vocational and educational reintegration. The social and economic benefits of these approaches are now recognized and appreciated as being as important as neurologic recovery, but unfortunately they were not substantially accepted until after Berrol's untimely death in 1991.”

Judith Heumann was considered the “Mother of Disability Rights, and She’s a Badass” (Washington Post.) She was an internationally recognized disability advocate. She served in the Clinton and Obama Administration and was a Senior Fellow at the Ford Foundation. Judy's story was featured in the documentary Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution, a 2020 award winning Oscar-nominated documentary film produced by the Obama Higher Ground Production. In 2020, she published her memoir Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist written with Kristen Joiner. There is also a Young Adult version called Rolling Warrior. She was instrumental in the development and implementation of legislation, such as Section 504, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

My early training and life-long career cemented my passion and commitment to education and improving care coordination and navigation for vulnerable populations. The hard work of the MHI team fully embodies the final phase of successful rehabilitation goals-community integration and successful management of individual wellness and self care programs. We appreciate your support in helping us make it happen.

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