Who We Are

The TN Council on Developmental Disabilities exists to improve services and supports to make life better for people with developmental disabilities and their families.

The Council is a:

  • Bridge builder
  • Dot connector
  • Change maker

We build bridges between the experiences of real people with disabilities and the policies and service systems that affect their lives.

We see the big picture across government programs to help connect dots and fill gaps to meet real needs. 

We use these connections to make change toward greater inclusion, independence, and self-determination for people with disabilities in Tennessee.

The Council sees the big picture, connects our state systems to each other and to real people’s experiences, and moves our entire disability services system toward the future people with disabilities want for themselves. 

Our focus is broad, covering the lifespan for Tennesseans with intellectual and other types of life-long disabilities that need support services.

We are an independent agency within state government. Our work is informed by a diverse group of citizens directly experiencing disability, appointed by the governor as Council representatives from every region of the state. Policymakers from state agencies that oversee Tennessee’s disability programs and other partner agencies also serve on the Council.

The Council is established by the federal Developmental Disabilities Act (Spanish language version of the Developmental Disabilities Act.) and by Tennessee Executive Order 50.

In addition to Councils on Developmental Disabilities, the Developmental Disabilities Act ("DD Act") also created other partner agencies in every state and U.S. territory. These groups make up the state "DD Network" - state councils on developmental disabilities, protection and advocacy agencies, and university centers for excellence in developmental disabilities. Learn all about TN's DD Network and how we work together here.

What is a "developmental disability"?

Over the evolution of the federal law known now as the Developmental Disabilities Act, "developmental disabilities" were defined in different ways. Read about the history of the "DD Act" here.

Today, here is the definition of developmental disability in federal law that guides our work. It is rooted in how the disability impacts a person's life over time - though we note that many of the efforts to improve public policy and programs for people with developmental disabilities has a positive impact on the much broader disability community.


  • (A) IN GENERAL.—The term ‘‘developmental disability’’ means a severe, chronic disability of an individual that—
    • (i) is attributable to a mental or physical impairment or combination of mental and physical impairments.
    • (ii) is manifested before the individual attains age 22;
    • (iii) is likely to continue indefinitely;
    • (iv) results in substantial functional limitations in 3 or more of the following areas of major life activity:
      • (I) Self-care.
      • (II) Receptive and expressive language.
      • (III) Learning.
      • (IV) Mobility.
      • (V) Self-direction.
      • (VI) Capacity for independent living.
      • (VII) Economic self-sufficiency; and
    • (v) reflects the individual’s need for a combination and sequence of special, interdisciplinary, or generic services, individualized supports, or other forms of assistance that are of lifelong or extended duration and are individually planned and coordinated.
  • (B) INFANTS AND YOUNG CHILDREN. —An individual from birth to age 9, inclusive, who has a substantial developmental delay or specific congenital or acquired condition, may be considered to have a developmental disability without meeting 3 or more of the criteria described in clauses (i) through (v) of subparagraph (A) if the individual, without services and supports, has a high probability of meeting those criteria later in life.

The Council on Developmental Disabilities uses this federal definition for purposes of our work.

Tennessee’s definition of "intellectual disability" and "developmental disability" can be found in state law in Tenn. Code Ann. § 33-1-101.

To read those definitions: 

  1. Visit this link, click "Tennessee Code," and agree to the site's terms and conditions. 
  2. Scroll down and click on the + symbol next to "Title 33 Mental Health and Substance Abuse and Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities."
  3. Click on "Chapter 1 - General Provisions."
  4. Click on "Part 1 - Definitions."
  5.  Click on "33-1-101. Title definitions." On that page, item #11 defines developmental disability and item #16 defines intellectual disability.

This project was supported in part by grant number 2201TNSCDD from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects with government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official ACL policy.

This website is supported by the Administration on Community Living, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as part of a financial assistance award totaling $1,470,950 with 84 percentage funded by ACL/HHS and $280,600 amount and 16 percentage funded state funds. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by ACL/HHS or the U.S. Government.