Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities: Powerful Results from a Small Investment

One of the key partners in the TennesseeWorks Partnership from the very start has been the Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities, but I’ve learned that many people aren’t very familiar with what the DD Council does. So I asked my friends at the council to share some information about the DD Council’s role and its activities.

About the Author

Janet Shouse is a parent of a young adult with autism, and she is passionate about inclusion, employment of people with disabilities, medical issues related to developmental disabilities, supports and services, public policy, legislative initiatives, advocacy, and the intersection of faith and disability. She wears many hats at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, including one as a disability employment specialist for TennesseeWorks.

Our hope is that this weekly blog will offer information you want to know, so if you have a question you want answered about employment for people with disabilities or other mysteries of the world of work, please email me at janet.shouse@vumc.org.

By Wanda Willis, executive director, Lauren Pearcy, public policy director, and Emma Shouse, communications director of the Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities

The Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities is a state agency that leads initiatives statewide to improve disability policies and practices, educates policymakers and the public about promising practices in the field of disability services, and facilitates collaboration and coordination across public and private organizations. You may be familiar with one or more of the DD Council’s initiatives, but most people are surprised to learn about the council’s role in starting numerous programs and initiatives across Tennessee during its 40-year history.

For example, did you know that the DD Council is responsible for initiating these groundbreaking programs in Tennessee?

Visit the DD Council website to learn more about these and other council initiatives at www.tn.gov/cdd.

Background and History of DD Councils

Every state has a Council on Developmental Disabilities, thanks to a federal law written by families more than 50 years ago. The Developmental Disabilities Act (the “DD Act”) created three programs in every state and U.S. territory:

These three programs are often called the Developmental Disabilities Network or “DD Network” for short.

How Councils Differ from Other Disability Organizations

There are lots of disability organizations dedicated to improving the lives of individuals with disabilities. How are Councils on Developmental Disabilities different?

The DD Council is unique in several ways:

1) It’s part of the executive branch of state government;

2) 60% of our members are private citizens with disabilities and their family members, providing a feedback loop between government programs and the people who use them;

3) Nine state departments that oversee disability programs serve on the DD Council. Council staff take great care to recruit nominees for the council that represent diversity in Tennessee, including all geographical areas, different cultures, ages and genders, as well as a wide range of disability areas. (See our current members.)

Unlike other state agencies that serve people with disabilities, the DD Council does not provide direct support services, such as those provided through Medicaid waivers, special education, or Vocational Rehabilitation. Councils on Developmental Disabilities are intentionally designed to play a different role: helping improve and coordinate government programs and assuring the people who use their services have a voice in shaping public policy.

A key function of DD Councils is conducting a comprehensive review and analysis of federally and state-funded services for people with developmental disabilities. In Tennessee, the council surveys 15 state agencies who administer 59 unique programs that Tennesseans with disabilities use. Using this information, the council identifies priority areas to work on during a five-year period that align with our mandates in the DD Act. You can read about the council’s state plan here (State Plan).

Ongoing Impact – What we are doing right now

The council has several current innovative initiatives for you to watch:

  • A disability leadership academy for state employees who work in disability programs was launched in 2016 and will become an annual course available through the state’s staff development program. The academy is focused on shared principles for state disability services and a higher level of collective impact by state agencies in the lives of people with disabilities served by government programs.
  • Internships in State government, including the governor’s office, the Department of Economic and Community Development, and the Department of Education were all started with help from the council. We are working on strategies to open up internships across state agencies for students with disabilities.
  • An Employment Roundtable focused on improving coordination in disability employment services is convened by the council every month that brings together 10 state departments. Results have included increased communication across agencies, learning about best practices and problem solving. The group discusses experiences of people who are having difficulty accessing services and finds ways to band together and help out.
  • Providing technical assistance to public and private entities to learn about the concept of ‘supported decision-making’, a less restrictive option to add to Tennessee’s conservatorship laws. National legal expert Jonathan Martinis is working with the council to prepare informational materials and present to stakeholders about this innovative concept.

Federal Proposal Eliminates State Councils on Developmental Disabilities

The White House recently released the president’s budget proposal for 2018. The budget proposes eliminating Councils on Developmental Disabilities, along with State Advisory Boards for Traumatic Brain Injury and Statewide Independent Living Councils. The three different councils would be combined in a new program in federal government that has no membership requirements or clear purpose at this point, with less than half the funding that the three programs now receive. You can help!

You Can Help Preserve the State Council on Developmental Disabilities!

The federal government is accepting public comments on this budget proposal through Friday, Aug. 11. You can help by sending an email today stating how the DD Council has impacted you and the state of Tennessee. Send email comments to P3I-comments@acl.hhs.gov . (Please copy the DD Council at tnddc@tn.gov.)

Connect with the Council

Via web:

In person:

If you are a person with a disability or family member, there are several opportunities to be involved with the DD Council. If you would like more information on our leadership training opportunities or might be interested in serving on our governor-appointed council, contact Communications Director Emma Shouse at 615-253-5368 or emma.shouse@tn.gov