Breaking Ground 102 - How Your Input Can Shape the Council’s Work for Change

By Jolene Sharp, Chief Public Information Officer, TN Council on Developmental Disabilities

Have you ever faced a problem with a disability service that was so frustrating, any solution felt impossible? Have you ever found a program that was so wonderful, you wished you could make it available everywhere?

Progress for people with disabilities depends on stories like those. Finding and using supports to live a full life can be very hard work. It also gives every member of the disability community a powerful force for change: personal experience.

You aren’t alone in finding how to turn those experiences into change. Many years ago, a law was written that would change the landscape for people with developmental disabilities and their families. The vision laid out in that law continues to take shape today – but it relies on your input.

A Law with a Bold Vision

Councils on Developmental Disabilities, which exist in every state and U.S. territory, were created by the federal Developmental Disabilities Act (DD Act). The DD Act is a beautiful law that was largely written by families of people with disabilities.

The DD Act’s stated purpose is to “assure that individuals with developmental disabilities and their families participate in the design of and have access to needed community services, individualized supports, and other forms of assistance that promote self-determination, independence, productivity, and integration and inclusion in all facets of community life.”

The DD Act means you get a say in policies and practices that support people with disabilities to live the lives they want for themselves, as full members of their communities. The Act doesn’t make empty promises. It includes concrete ways to make change happen. One of those ways is through state Councils on Developmental Disabilities.

How do councils like ours help make the DD Act vision a reality? The answer could fill many pages. We’ll focus here on the tool that councils use for planning and tracking progress: the state plan.

Putting the DD Act into Action

The DD Act gives councils the work of:

  • supporting advocacy (making sure the voices of people with disabilities are heard),
  • building capacity (growing the supports that are available),
  • and systems change (making the disability services system better).

The Act then gives the structure for councils to use to do that work. It requires each council to write a new state plan every five years. The plan outlines major goals, and shorter-term, more specific objectives.

The state plan is our map for how we will do the work given to us by the DD Act. It guides where we invest our efforts and funds, and how we know whether we’re making progress. In fact, we send updates to the federal government every year to show our progress on state plan goals.

We Need YOU

The Tennessee Council’s current state plan began in 2017 and ends next year, in 2021. As you may imagine, we start working on a new state plan many months ahead of time.

The DD Act says our work must be guided by people with developmental disabilities and their family members. Before we can write a new state plan for the Tennessee Council, we need your input. This is where your experiences can help shape change.

For many months, Council staff have worked to create a public input survey. This survey will form the basis of our state plan. It’s how we hear from the disability community all across Tennessee about what issues are most important.

We need your voice. This survey gives you the chance to tell us what services and supports you use, how well they are working, and where there are gaps.

You can tell us where we should focus our work, and what most needs to change. The more people who respond, the better our information will be as we plan our goals for the next five years.

Without your input, we won’t know about that service that felt impossible, or the program that turned things around for you. Those are experiences only you can share.

Building on Progress Together

The Council has been working for decades to grow opportunities for people with disabilities in Tennessee. We have seen – and helped create – great change in that time. As a result of our work:

None of that would be possible without the guiding input of Tennessee’s disability community. Your perspectives help us understand the needs and challenges of our system, and how our work can open new doors for people with disabilities. While we are proud of the progress we have made together, we know many challenges remain.

We look forward to the work ahead. Help us make Tennessee the place we all want it to be for people with developmental disabilities. We can’t wait to hear from you!

If you need help filling out the survey, call Council Director of Program Operations Alicia Cone at (615) 253-1105. 


Our Current State Plan

The Council’s Current State Plan (2017-2021)

  • Goal 1: Developing Leaders - Prepare Tennesseans to be leaders who influence policy and practice through scholarships, information, internships, and training. 
    • Examples of projects under this goal: Partners in Policymaking®, Council scholarship fund, other training and education opportunities
  • Goal 2: Impacting Policy and Practice - Improve Tennessee policy and practice through tracking key legislative activity, developing and nurturing collaborations, and providing resources for demonstration projects. 
    • Examples of projects under this goal: Employment Roundtable, Disability Policy Alliance, providing perspective on the impact of proposed laws, advising as requested on disability-related legislation. This includes all the Council’s work on federal and state policy priorities. Visit the council website at for more details.
  • Goal 3: Informing and Educating Stakeholders - Implement public information activities that increase Tennesseans’ awareness of disability policies and practices. 
    • Examples of projects under this goal: Breaking Ground, e-newsletters, social media, Tennessee Disability Pathfinder

Want to learn more about the Council’s work? Read other examples of key projects over the decades in our online brochure.