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History Book

Changing Times, Changing Attitudes


Cuyahoga County Board of Mental Retardation & Developmental Disability

On April 17, 1857, the state of Ohio established the Institute for Feeble-Minded Youth in Columbus. On April 24, 2007, almost 150 years to the day later, the Ohio General Assembly eliminated such words as idiot, lunatic and imbecile from the Ohio Revised Code.  

(The 1802 Ohio Constitution still bars idiots and insane persons from voting.)  

In 1967, four decades before the 127th Ohio General Assembly made the long-overdue change to the Revised Code, the 107th General Assembly passed Senate Bill 169, creating Ohio’s county boards of mental retardation.  

Those first years were difficult for the newly created Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities. In 1969 as man walked on the moon, the Board of DD was just learning to walk.  

Positive changes were coming, and three years later, Dr. Michael A. Donzella was named superintendent of the Board of DD, a position he would hold for the next 30 years.  

Over the years, the Board of DD has been confronted with a variety of challenges, both social and economic. More often than not, those challenges were met as its role in the community continued to expand to meet changing needs.  

In 1973, Cuyahoga County voters approved the organization’s first levy. It was the first of many successful levies that have helped to fund the Board of DD through the years.  

As the result of a rapidly changing environment in which more and more people, both young and old, needed assistance, the Board of DD continued to expand its vital position in the community, strengthening and enlarging programs; adding to its capabilities; expanding its client base and formulating procedures that were not only relevant for the day, but for well into the future.      

1992: End of Cold War...Clinton/Gore vs. Bush/Quayle  

Through the 1980s expansion was the key as additional adult training centers and developmental centers began operation.  

Rather than wait for changes, the CCBDD anticipated them, and in 1988 created its first strategic plan, a four-year approach to the future. To make the plan work, the organization looked back at the changes that had occurred in the two decades since its formation. It took a tough look at itself as a human service organization and the environment in which it had to work.  

In 1992, shortly after the end of that initial strategic plan, the Board of DD celebrated its silver anniversary, with several individuals who had been interested and involved from the beginning recalling events of that first quarter century. The Board of DD published those reflections in a 25th anniversary history along with another booklet that featured a timeline of its history in comparison with world and U.S. events.  

At that time, Dr. Donzella said that when the Ohio General Assembly created county boards of mental retardation, “These boards focused their attention primarily on providing education and training programs for people with mental retardation. That was pretty much the scope of the charge at the time.  

“ Now we are charged with serving those with mental retardation which is a developmental disability such as autism, cerebral palsy, spina bifida and Tourette syndrome, and those with developmental disabilities, and with delivering services to people who were not even part of the definition when the boards of mental retardation were created. Just as that initial need changed, future needs are not going to be for the same kind of services we have been providing. We will increase our skills in helping those with disabling conditions become functioning members of our society...perhaps more important, we will help others understand them.”  

Over the next several pages, learn how those ‘future needs of 1992’ have been met, as the Cuyahoga County Board of DD and Ohio’s 87 other county boards of mental retardation and developmental disabilities celebrate four decades of expanding opportunities for individuals with DD.

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Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities
1275 Lakeside Avenue East
Cleveland, Ohio 44114-1129
PHONE: (216)241-8230 - FAX: (216)861-0253