Since 1987, March has been recognized as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. This designation was made by former President Ronald Reagan who felt that those with disabilities needed to be provided with the tools and encouragement to lead a normal and full life. Speaking with the Superintendent of the Morgan County Board of Developmental Disabilities (MCBDD), both this year and last year have truly been time for growth and better understanding, fully expanding on what President Reagan had elaborated on in the past.
Wendy Gorrell, who serves not only as the Superintendent for the MCBDD, but also as the President for Region 5 in Ohio, which consists of 18 counties (including Washington County), has been hard at work at creating an environment that is welcoming and inclusive to all.
Gorrell elaborated on where the local County Board began and how far they have come, even during the overarching pandemic. In previous years, much of what took place at the MCBDD facility and workshop were group activities. Whether it was an art class or an exercise class, most activities hosted were part of a “one size fits all” approach instead of an individualized one.
Gorrell explained, “Like anything else, experts felt that this was the correct way to do things, having those with disabilities together seemed to be the way to provide a setting that felt comfortable.” Recent discoveries, however, especially given the restrictions on social gatherings throughout the pandemic, have shown that this approach might not have been the best one.
Due to COVID-19, the Morgan County Board of Developmental Disabilities workshop had to be temporarily closed to prevent large gatherings and adhere to social distance guidelines, which proved to be a blessing in disguise.
“Imagine going to school with someone for 8 years. You finally graduate, but then stay with the same group of people from high school for many more years.” Gorrell explained how this is what was being done not only at the MCBDD, but also with many other County Boards. “Sometimes we have some people from high school that we don’t care for that in turn, we would be stuck with forever.” Because of this method, in previous years there were many more MUIs (major unusual incidents) being reported, that have since decreased due to the new method being implemented by Gorrell. The idea of not having everyone together in one place, every single day, was becoming more and more popular with the providers at the County Board.
Our mission is to encourage people to embrace their individuality and empower them to succeed.
In 2020, mindsets were switched and new ideas were brought to light. A more individualistic approach was determined to be more successful than the previous idea of placing everyone together. The clients of the MCBDD began to be able to be more selective of what their day would look like. Some would prefer to go to a local art gallery to serve as a creative outlet, while others felt that staying home to help babysit or going for a car ride was more intriguing and fulfilling for them. This individualistic approach helped determine a new tagline for the MCBDD, something that is true to what is being done now, in 2021.
“Inclusion is Freedom”, the tagline from the MCBDD, has truly been a guiding light for how clients live their day-to-day lives. Gorrell explained how important it is to ensure that all, no matter a disability, live a “person-centered” life. “Taking an individual and branching out from who they are is truly how we help develop an inclusive, person-centered life and we have really been focusing on this method lately.”
Taking away the “caretaker” idea and replacing it with a provider, someone who can truly be a friend to the clients, has also proven to be a big push for individualism and inclusion. These providers are a crucial part in ensuring that the clients secure the tools for success and to encourage the idea of living whatever life they may choose.
There are many great things going on with the Morgan County Board of Developmental Disabilities as well as the many other offices across the state, said Gorrell. “Our mission is to encourage people to embrace their individuality and empower them to succeed, which is something we feel we have truly encouraged this past couple of years.”
When asked about how to spread awareness, she said that “Just making others feel like just another person, to make them feel welcome and a part of the community is truly the path to awareness. Whether at a local restaurant or at a Sunday church service, a smile and a hello go a long way.”
For more information on what’s happening with the Morgan County Board of Developmental Disabilities, visit their website at morgandd.org or by liking their page on Facebook. Visit nacdd.org for information on the national level in regards to #DDAwareness2021.