DD 101

Learn about developmental disabilities and accessible communication.


What are Developmental Disabilities?

Developmental disabilities (DD) are severe, chronic disabilities that begin at birth or during childhood and young adulthood and are likely to continue throughout one’s life. Examples include autism, cerebral palsy, and Down syndrome.

The Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act (DD Act) defines a developmental disability as a severe chronic disability that:

  • attributes to a mental and physical impairment or both;

  • manifests before a person turns 22;

  • will likely continue indefinitely;
  • results in substantial functional limitations in three or more of the following areas of major life activity: self-care, receptive and expressive language, learning, mobility, self-direction, capacity for independent living, economic self-sufficiency; and
  • reflects a person’s need for individually planned and coordinated services, supports, or other forms of assistance that are lifelong or for an extended duration. 

TCDD uses the DD Act’s definition to guide its work. However, our programs and policy activities also impact the broader disability community.

The DD Act

The DD Act is the federal law that guides TCDD’s work. In all U.S. states and territories, including Texas, programs authorized by the DD Act allow people with DD and their families to help shape policies that impact their lives. In all U.S. states and territories, the DD Act supports programs that:

  • conduct important research and test innovative, new service delivery models;
  • bring the latest knowledge and resources to those who can put it to the best use, including self-advocates, families, service providers, and policymakers;
  • investigate cases of abuse and serve as advocates for individuals with DD and their families;
  • and more.

To learn more, visit the Administration for Community Living’s DD Act webpage, where you can download the full text of the law in English and Spanish.

Respectful & Inclusive Language

Everyone deserves dignity and respect. Yet historically, our words have contributed to negative attitudes and misrepresentations about the value of people with disabilities in our society. To end discrimination — at work, at school, and in our communities — it’s important to stop using language that denies a person’s value, identity, individuality, and capability.

TCDD uses People-First Language as an objective way to refer to people with disabilities. As its name implies, People-First Language puts the person first and the disability second. By focusing on the person rather than the disability, People-First Language aims to end harmful generalizations, assumptions, and stereotypes.

Not all people with disabilities use the same language to refer to themselves and their community. Some people prefer Identity-First Language, which embraces a person’s disability as an identity and puts the identifying word first (for instance, “autistic person” instead of “person with autism”). Other people may prefer that you not mention their disability at all.

Keep in mind that norms and preferences are constantly evolving, particularly when it comes to language that represents the identity of a person or group. Do your research. When in doubt, always ask.

Plain Language Basics

Plain language, also called clear language, is a type of communication that makes it easier for people to find, understand, and use information to meet their needs. TCDD uses plain language in its informational materials and resources so people can find the information they need and understand the information the first time they read or hear it. The following list includes basic guidelines to start using plain language.

Write for your audience
Identify your audience and write for your readers. Don’t write for experts, lawyers, or your management — unless they are your intended audience. Address separate audiences separately.

Use active voice with strong verbs
Active voice sentences follow a subject-verb-object format. So, “We mailed your form on May 1,” instead of “Your form was mailed by us on May 1.” Also, avoid hidden verbs. For instance, “The Council will meet,” instead of “The Council will be meeting.”

Be brief and to the point
Eliminate unnecessary words. Each paragraph should contain no more than five sentences. Vary the length of sentences but emphasize shorter (20 words or less) over longer.

Write conversationally
Present your information as if you were talking to a friend. Tailor your communication to an individual reader rather than a group of readers. Use personal pronouns such as we, our, us, and you. Use contractions such as we’re instead of we are.

Choose simplicity
Use simple and descriptive section headings. Craft short paragraphs. Write with ordinary and familiar words — think about the words your readers might use when searching for information online. Avoid jargon and explain technical terms that might be unfamiliar.

Most important first
Organize content around your readers’ needs. Start with the most important information, then provide details. Highlight action items. Separate your content into sections and use lists to make it easier for readers to quickly scan and understand the information.

Put everything in context
Don’t assume what your readers may know about a subject. They should be able to understand articles, emails, or webpages without needing extra research.

Visit plainlanguage.gov to find more plain language guidance and training resources.


People-First Language
We developed a one-pager that includes examples of People-First Language, which TCDD uses as an objective way to refer to people with disabilities. You can download this resource in English and Spanish:

A Quick Guide to Disability Language
When describing disabilities, many people use either People-First Language or Identity-First Language. This guide offers information and tips on using language that promotes dignity and respect for everyone.

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