Lanternman Act

The State of California accepts a responsibility for persons with developmental disabilities and has an obligation to them which it must discharge. Affecting hundreds of thousands of children and adults directly, and having an important impact on the lives of their families, neighbors and whole communities, developmental disabilities present social, medical, economic and legal challenges.
The Lanterman Developmental Disabilities Services Act (Lanterman Act) is the portion of California law that sets out the rights and responsibilities of persons with developmental disabilities. It also creates the agencies, including regional centers, responsible for planning and coordinating services and support for people with developmental disabilities and their families.
The Lanterman Act establishes an entitlement to services and supports for persons with developmental disabilities, those at risk of developing a developmental disability, and their families. This entitlement ensures that individuals with developmental disabilities and their families have the right to receive services and supports which will enable them to make decisions and choices about how, and with whom, they want to live their lives; achieve the highest self-sufficiency possible; and lead productive independent and satisfying lives as part of the communities in which they live.
In addition to the entitlement to services and supports, the Lanterman Act creates the regional centers which serve as the central coordinating agency in a community network. Regional Centers have the mandate to ensure that the individuals with disabilities for whom it is responsible receive services and supports which will assist them in living productively in their communities. The regional center may accomplish this task by securing services and supports directly, or by assisting consumers and families to locate and access services and supports from other agencies. This model of service delivery recognizes that California’s network of services and supports for persons with developmental disabilities is large and complex. Therefore, the Legislature designed the service delivery system to have one central coordinating agency that consumers and families can contact regarding all of their questions and needs.


The Lanterman Act explicitly:

  • Accepts California’s responsibility for and obligations to its citizens who have developmental disabilities;
  • Provides for the establishment of an array of services and supports to meet the needs and choices of each person who has a developmental disability throughout their life;
  • Sets forth the values of the system which include choice, inclusion, independence, respect, maintaining children in the family home, and support for persons with developmental disabilities to become valued members of their home community;
  • Establishes the individuals and families of children with developmental disabilities as the primary focus of the system;
  • Guarantees the civil and service rights of persons with developmental disabilities;
  • Establishes a network of non-profit community-based regional centers to provide assessment and diagnosis, information and referral, lifelong individualized planning and service coordination, purchase of necessary services included in the individual program plan, assistance in finding and using community and other resources, early intervention services for at-risk infants and their families, genetic counseling, residential placement and monitoring, training and educational opportunities for individual and families, community education about developmental disabilities, advocacy and coordination of services and supports;
  • Defines the composition of volunteer Boards of Directors of regional centers as including individuals with developmental disabilities, parents, and others with specific qualifications;
  • Defines developmental disability as a disability that:
    • Occurs before the age of 18, and
    • Continues or can be expected to continue indefinitely, and
    • Constitutes a substantial disability, and
    • Includes mental retardation, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and autism and “disabling conditions found to be closely related to mental retardation or to require treatment similar to that required for mentally retarded individuals,” and
    • Is not solely physical in nature
  • Provides that infants and toddlers (0 to 36 months) who are at risk of having a developmental disability or who have a developmental delay may also qualify for services;
  • Provides that individuals who are at risk of having a child with a developmental disability may be eligible for a referral for genetic diagnosis, counseling, and other preventive services;
  • Establishes the Individual Program Plan (or the Individualized Family Service Plan for children 0-3) as the operating mechanism to identify, plan and provide services and supports;
  • Establishes an appeal process for consumers and families to use in the event they are not satisfied with a decision made by a regional center;
  • Defines the roles and responsibilities of partners in the service delivery system including the Department of Developmental Services (DDS), Area Boards, Protection and Advocacy, and the State Council on Developmental Disabilities;
  • Defines the responsibilities of service coordinators;
  • Requires regional centers to provide services in the most cost efficient way possible and to use all other resources, before using any regional center funds;
  • Includes provisions related to rates and monitoring of service providers; and,
  • Establishes a performance contracting process between regional centers and the Department of Developmental Services (DDS).

What are my rights under the Lanterman Act?

The Lanterman Act creates a number of rights for people with developmental disabilities. Those rights include, but are not limited to:

  • Treatment and habilitation services and supports to help you achieve the most independent, productive and ‘normal’ life possible;
  • Services that protect your liberty and are provided in the least restrictive (most integrated) way;
  • Dignity, privacy and humane care;
  • Treatment, services and supports in natural community settings to the greatest extent possible;
  • Participation in an appropriate program of publicly supported education regardless of the degree of disability;
  • Prompt medical care and treatment;
  • Freedom of religion and conscience, and freedom to practice your religion;
  • Social interaction and participation in community activities;
  • Physical exercise and recreation;
  • Freedom from harm, including unnecessary physical restraints, isolation, excessive medication, abuse or neglect;
  • Freedom from hazardous procedures;
  • Choices in your own life, including where and with whom you want to live, your relationships with people in the community, how you spend your time (including education, employment and leisure), the pursuit of your personal future, and the planning and implementation of a plan that fits your needs and desires; and,
  • The opportunity to make decisions and to have information you understand to help you make choices.

These general rights are in addition to the rights everyone in California has under the law.