The idea of forming a national organization of state agencies emerged in the early 1960s as a by-product of efforts by President John F. Kennedy. Suddenly the needs of persons with lifelong cognitive disabilities were removed from the shadowy recesses of individual family struggles and thrust into the spotlight of national attention.
Services provided by states were confined largely to overcrowded and understaffed institutions. Some states subsidized day activity centers for children and adults which typically were operated by nonprofit community organizations. The subsidy levels, where they existed at all, were extremely modest in most states.
In 1961, President Kennedy appointed a panel of experts to prepare a national plan for "combating mental retardation." The President's Panel on Mental Retardation offered 97 recommendations for improving research, training, income maintenance, and service programs. In November 1963, the president signed legislation aimed at building a federal-state partnership in improving services to children and adults with "mental retardation and related disabilities."
Recognizing "the rapid developments taking place … in the field of mental retardation services," a group of state officials with responsibility for "mental retardation" services within their states met in Columbus, Ohio on February 28, 1963, to discuss establishing "an organization …. to take advantage of the tremendous national interest presently developing as a result of the support of the President of the United States and the work of his Panel on Mental Retardation."
The initial meeting of the "Coordinators of State Programs in Mental Retardation" was held in Portland, Oregon on May 23, 1963. Seventy-five individuals from 38 states attended the meeting, with 24 of the participants self-identifying themselves as their state's coordinator of mental retardation programs.
The minutes of the first meeting record that "… the new organization would provide a vehicle for effective communication between the federal agencies and the various states concerned with research, training, programs and finance."
The association was formally incorporated in the state of Washington on January 31, 1964.
In 1970 the association hired the first executive director, Robert M. Gettings who had worked at the National Association of Retarded Children in government affairs and then for the President's Committee on Mental Retardation prior to taking over at the association where he served until 2007.
50th Anniversary of the National Association of State Directors of Developmental Disabilities Services. Historical video highlights watershed events in history of the developmental disabilities movement. Written and narrated by Robert Gettings.