According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, an estimated 43,000,000 U.S. citizens have disabilities. The Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act Amendments of 1994 report that more than 3 million of these individuals have developmental disabilities and that the majority of the disabilities are severe and likely to continue indefinitely. Many more Americans are at high risk for developing disabilities because of poor prenatal care, poor environmental living conditions, lack of early educational opportunities, and lack of access to appropriate health and human services. It is a documented fact that individuals with disabilities, as a group, occupy an inferior status in our society and are severely disadvantaged socially, vocationally, economically, and educationally. These facts hold true in Mississippi, where the population of individuals with disabilities is estimated at over 350,000, and the highest rate per population in the United States. Over 40,000 of these individuals have developmental disabilities.

The Institute for Disability Studies (IDS) is Mississippi's Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities Education, Research, and Service. Housed at The University of Southern Mississippi, IDS strives to meet its federal mission to enhance the quality of life across the life span for citizens with disabilities and their families, regardless of culture, ethnicity, or socioeconomic background. Quality of life is enhanced through leadership activities that promote policies of inclusion at home, school, work, and recreational settings. Through supportive efforts to facilitate the availability of an array of individual and family supports that are community-based and culturally competent, IDS promotes the independence, productivity, and community integration and inclusion of individuals with disabilities. Supportive efforts include interdisciplinary preservice training; community service activities that involve outreach training, technical assistance, and model service demonstration; and dissemination of state-of-the-art practices based on applied research.

As part of the national network of Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities Education, Research, and Service, IDS relies on similar programs across the country for support in developing and implementing core functions. All IDS functions and programmatic activities are grounded in a firmly committed set of values-based beliefs and guiding principles.