The Developmental Disabilities Council is authorized though a piece of federal legislation called the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act. This law is often referred to as the "D.D. Act." Quoting from the Act,
The purpose of the Act is to assure that individuals with developmental disabilities and their families participate in the design of, and have access to, culturally competent services, supports, and other assistance and opportunities that promote independence, productivity, and integration and inclusion into the community."
Congress passed the first Act in 1963. In the years that followed, the Act was amended several times and passed through reauthorization by Congress every few years. In the 1970 reauthorization of the D.D. Act, Congress decided to strengthen state efforts to coordinate and integrate services for individuals with developmental disabilities. Thus, Congress established and authorized funding for Developmental Disabilities Councils (D.D. Councils) in each state.
Throughout its history, the D.D. Act has recognized that individuals with developmental disabilities experience discrimination; are at greater risk than the general population for violation of their human and civil rights; may be unable to access specialized and generic services and supports, thus going unserved or underserved; and often require lifelong, coordinated and individualized support.
In order to assure the purpose of the Act, Developmental Disabilities Councils were created and charged with engaging in three main activities in support of individuals with developmental disabilities:
- Systems Change
It is these three primary activities that anchor the work of the Pennsylvania Developmental Disabilities Council. Within these three activities, the Act further identifies specific concerns that are of particular importance or "emphasis" for the work of the Councils. These areas include access to quality inclusive childcare; opportunities to live within and participate in community life through inclusive education, work, recreation, and leasure; access to housing and transportation; and so forth. These emphasis areas, in turn, form the basis for the Council's funding objectives in its State Plan. The DD Act mandates that the state plan is revised and revisited every five years, informed by public input.