Since the moment our nation declared independence, the words “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” have represented our freedom. These rights are said to be inalienable and for all.

However, it wasn’t until 1990 that individuals with lived experience of disability were included and protected federally by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Before this, those who lived with disabilities were often cast aside, ignored, hidden, and disrespected.

The unfortunate reality is that, sometimes, this still happens.

Thankfully, there are hard workers committed to changing this.

Before we get to that, though, let’s talk stats:

  • In the United States, about 6.5 million people experience intellectual disability, according to the Census Bureau.
  • Here in Philadelphia, 16 percent of residents live with emotional, intellectual, and/or physical disabilities. 
  • As of 2016, Philadelphia had the greatest population of people with disabilities among the largest U.S. cities (Pew Charitable Trusts).
  • According to Pew, 22 percent of people living in poverty in Philadelphia were also disabled as of 2016.

Individuals with disabilities must not be cast aside. We work with them, we pass them on the street, we sit next to them on the bus, we love them, we celebrate them. This is why the work of the City of Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services’ Division of Intellectual disAbility Services, as well as the Public Awareness Committee, are essential. 

More than 30 years ago, the Public Awareness Committee was charged to create, promote, and enhance the supports and services available to individuals with intellectual disabilities. Today, individuals have access to quality services and supports that foster choices in their everyday lives, meaningful personal relationships with friends/family/neighbors, presence and participation in their communities, and dignity and respect as valued residents of Philadelphia.

We encourage you to consider individuals, groups, or organizations who promote and provide vital programs, supports, and services in these areas: recreation, health and wellness, employment/career development, socialization, spirituality, politics, art, music, education, and volunteerism.

We will be celebrating these individuals, groups, and organizations at the 30th Annual “My City, My Place” Brighter Futures Awards, virtually at 2:30 p.m. March 25. Join us as we honor the winners of these awards: those who truly make a difference. These winners believe in the right of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for each and every Philadelphian.

About the Author: Catherine Wilson is a graduate extern from Temple University’s Institute on Disability serving the Public Awareness Unit at DBHIDS’ Division of Intellectual disAbility Services. She is completing a master’s degree in counseling psychology at Temple’s College of Education and Human Development.