Frontline Initiative Change

Alliance Member Profile:
American Association on Mental Retardation


Doreen Croser is the Executive Director of AAMR in Washington, D.C.

The American Association on Mental Retardation (AAMR) was founded more than 120 years ago in Media, Pennsylvania, when six pioneers met to discuss the future of a new field. From that meeting came a vision and direction that has evolved into the AAMR of today, an association which has more than 9,500 members in the United States and 55 other countries. To accommodate the diverse interests of members, AAMR has nine Special Interest Groups, including one for Direct Support Professionals, and 16 divisions which include such areas of interest as Community Services, and Leisure and Recreation.

The Association’s basic mission is to increase the knowledge and skills of individuals working in the field of mental retardation and related developmental disabilities by exchanging information and ideas. It strives to enhance life opportunities for people with disabilities and their families by promoting progressive public polices, new research opportunities, and services that support individual choice and human rights.

Current goals of AAMR include the following: (1) promoting high-quality services and supports that enable full community inclusion and participation, (2) advocating for progressive public policies, (3) expanding the capacity of organizations, (4) promoting research and its dissemination and application, (5) influencing public awareness and attitudes, and (6) promoting the human rights and dignity of people with mental retardation and related disabilities.

Services offered by AAMR include publications, education and training programs, annual conventions, leadership development opportunities, public education, and advocacy. Among its publications are important books such as Quality of Life, monographs, training manuals, fact sheets, a useful newsletter entitled News & Notes, and Innovations. Innovations is a popular new series that translates ground-breaking research in areas such as vocational training and behavioral support into practical information. The Association’s periodicals, The American Journal on Mental Retardation and Mental Retardation, are among the most respected journals concerning people with mental retardation in the world; six issues of each are published annually.

The Association's chapters and regional units sponsor meetings and training sessions. The national organization holds an annual convention each May which attracts more than 2,000 people from all over the world including 700 speakers, many of whom speak about direct service issues. The AAMR Training Institute sponsors workshops on timely topics such as managed care, leadership training, and ethical challenges.

In early December, there is an Annual Public Policy Forum in Washington, D.C., where recent policy changes and future directions are discussed. The Association is a member of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities and works in Washington, D.C., in support of positive disability legislation and improved regulation. It also serves as amicus curiae (or advisor) to the courts as the need arises.

A major challenge facing our disability service network is attracting and keeping a well-trained, committed workforce. We continue to be plagued by high turnover, low wages, and increased competition for workers. The Association has been involved in workforce issues for decades. In fact, at AAMR’s 43rd Annual Meeting in Chicago in 1919, staff shortages due to low salaries was a major issue. Over the years, AAMR has played an important role in supporting workers by providing skills training and promoting leadership development. Recently, in addition to creating the AAMR Special Interest Group for Direct Support Professionals, the Association restructured its membership categories and actually reduced the cost of dues so that workers with limited incomes could afford to join and benefit from the many fine AAMR programs. Furthermore, AAMR has actively supported John F. Kennedy, Jr.’s worker initiative “Reaching Up,” and helped to create the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals. We have done this because we recognize the long-term viability of our field is dependent upon a stable, well-trained workforce. It will take many people working together in many different ways to achieve this important goal. Such cooperation is essential, however, if we are to achieve our vision of an improved quality of life for people with disabilities in our society.