The Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act (DD Act)
Allan Bergman on the DD Act
Q2: The Mental Retardation Facilities and Community Mental Health Centers Construction Act was passed in 1963. What did this do?
The Mental Retardation Act of 1963 laid the foundation for the community system. It established the university affiliated facilities, research centers, teaching centers, training centers, hopefully, to be the hub of a community delivery system, at least one in every state was the plan.
There was also a direction here that we have to look at special education, we have to look at rehabilitation, the whole range of human services for this population that has tended to be underserved and, for the most part, warehoused in state public institutions and in some cases in private institutions. So, the cornerstone of that piece of legislation was, one, to put mental retardation front and center in the United States of America as an issue that needed to be attended to that before this had never been in any significant way in any federal piece of legislation.
There might have been a passing reference someplace within the handicapped statutes, but this was a dedicated piece all because of his commitment and what the panel had recommended, and they had said to him, "Mr. President, be bold." And in his New Frontier Initiative, he was bold on many things, as he was with the whole space program, he was equally bold with mental retardation saying it is time for this country to pay attention to these individuals and obviously for him it was personal.
It wasn't just an issue, it was an issue he understood. He loved his sister dearly, but he saw the stigma, the rejection, the stereotype, the lack of services, and his family had money, so money wasn't the issue.
But if there weren't trained clinicians, if there weren't trained professionals, it didn't matter if you had a million dollars in the bank, they'd sort of throw up their arms. So this was both a personal and an organizational and a political commitment to the millions of other individuals like his sister to say, "We’ve got to do something, and this country can do better."