History Note

History Note

Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities celebrates gains

Minnesotans with developmental disabilities in October celebrated the 50-year anniversary of the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities (MNCDD). The following is excerpted from a presentation.

In September 1950, Gov. Luther Youngdahl spoke at the first Arc Convention in Minneapolis. He provided hope, speaking of the rights of people with developmental disabilities including the right to happiness, to play, to companionship, to respect, to develop, and to love and affection.

The Minnesota Division of Public Institutions was issuing an opposite message: “No state institution building will be empty.” By 1960 a peak was reached with 6,008 people with developmental disabilities in state institutions, with waiting lists and overcrowding.

Worse yet, a 1962 survey found that many Minnesotans supported institutionalization. They believed that people with developmental disabilities should not drink, drive a car or even vote.

President John F. Kennedy and his brother, Sen. Edward Kenney, helped change those attitudes. But change took time. On October 30, 1970, almost 20 years after Youngdahl’s speech, President Richard Nixon signed the Developmental Disabilities Act into law.

 One year later the first state council was appointed by Gov. Wendell Anderson. “As governor in 1971, I announced the formation of a Developmental Disabilities Council. It was my hope that it would coordinate state services for people with all neurological disabilities. I can proudly say that the (council) has far exceeded my expectations.

The 1970 act required states to begin planning services. Finally, states were held accountable for supporting people with developmental disabilities beyond state institutions.

Parents recognized the importance of this as a stark contrast to the longtime absence of community services. The 16 basic services mandated by law ranged from diagnosis to treatment to education to recreation. The council funded small demonstration projects in 12 areas statewide. The council also funded regional development commissions as a part of the planning mission.

The council was guided by Wolf Wolfensberger’s wisdom, that “If it doesn’t involve risk, inconvenience, and sacrifice, it probably isn’t advocacy.” Countless advocates took this risk and helped create change. (Wolfensberger was a pioneering academic who greatly shaped disability policy and practice during that time.)

In the 1970s, another significant council project was the Community Alternatives and Institutional Reform Report, the CAIR Report. The council also initiated a public information campaign that included billboards and a set of stories called “Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom.”

A functional approach set the stage for the next decades. When the 1980s began, small grants continued, and the council concentrated all funding for three years on respite care. Sixteen organizations provided respite care for 918 individuals, and provide information and referral because of the council’s support.

A grant from the McKnight Foundation funded training for staff and boards, resolving existing service delivery problems, and increasing physical accessibility of facilities.

Other important studies and policy analysis, involvement in legal actions and ambitious new programs continued after those early years. MNCCD has it fingerprints on everything from the groundbreaking Partners in Policy advocacy program to jobs creation and meaningful employment

Changing lives and changing the societal view of people with developmental disabilities has been at center of MNCCD’s work for 50 years.

See The New Stargazers: 50 years of Bold Achievement at https://mn.gov/mnddc/

The History Note is a monthly column produced in cooperation with the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities. Past History Notes and other disability history may be found at  www.mnddc.org