How does the Council define developmental disability?

The federal definition of developmental disabilities covers persons whose disability occurs before age 22 and includes a mental or physical impairment or a combination of both. There must be a substantial limitation in three or more of these major life areas: self-care; expressive or receptive language; learning; mobility; capacity for independent living; economic self-sufficiency; or self-direction.

As a federally mandated and funded agency, one of the Council’s functions is to ensure that its programs, projects and activities are available to persons who meet the federal definition of developmental disabilities. This is accomplished through the approved State Plan, as implemented by: Council actions; the Program Development Fund grants that provide start-up funds for innovative and needed services; and the 13 local Regional Offices on Developmental Disabilities through planning and coordination at the local level.

In California law, a developmental disability is more narrowly defined as occurring before the age of 18 and includes specific categories of eligible conditions: mental retardation, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, autism, and “conditions requiring services similar to those required for persons with mental retardation.” California law requires that the individual be substantially handicapped by the disability. In March 2004, new regulations took effect that define substantial disability as significant functional limitations in three or more of the major life activities contained in the federal definition above.

How many people in California have a developmental disability?

The January 1, 2004 statewide population, as reported by the California Department of Finance Demographics Unit, was 36,144,000. By using the Gollay and Associate national prevalence estimate of 1.8 percent, an estimated 650,592 of those Californians met the federal definition of a developmental disability.

To determine the most recent estimates for California or any of its counties, visit the California Department of Finance (DOF) website for updated demographic information. Estimates of individuals who meet the federal definition of developmental disability can be obtained for any population area in California by using the DOF demographic information and multiplying the number by .018.