Winston Churchill, one of the 20th century's most influential leaders, recognized the importance of learning from the past. He wrote:
"The farther back you look, the farther forward you are likely to see."
He was right.
Knowing our past puts the present in perspective and offers insight into our future.
After decades of dependence on state-run institutions, we have reason to celebrate. We began 2001 with no one with developmental disabilities living in an institution in our state.
For some, this may seem like a minor accomplishment.
But for those who know where we've been, who know how people with developmental disabilities were treated in the past, this milestone is just short of miraculous.
Developmental disabilities refer to severe, chronic impairments that occur before age 22, that are likely to continue indefinitely, and result in substantial functional limitations. Developmental disabilities affect approximately 1.6% of the national population.
The past, dismal and distressing as it was, gives us an opportunity to savor our progress. It also offers a chance to re-commit ourselves to making even further strides in the future.
The past is not pretty. Institutions were often overcrowded and didn't come close to meeting what would be considered minimum standards today. At the time, people were often referred to as "mentally deficient" or "mentally retarded."
Thanks to the commitment and activism of hundreds of parents, change began to occur sometimes small, barely discernible changes but changes, nonetheless.