Californians with Developmental Disabilities Gain More Rights

Man in wheelchair with sign
Advocates for disability rights at the Civic Center in California protesting California health care budget cuts. | Photo: Steve Rhodes/Flickr/Creative Commons License

An additional layer of protection for individuals with developmental disabilities has been added to the Lanterman Developmental Disabilities Services Act, a 1969 California law that guarantees equal access to services and rights for persons with developmental disabilities.

AB 1687, also known as the Persons with Developmental Disabilities Bill of Rights, went into effect Jan. 1 and adds a fundamental right to the Lanterman Act: a prompt investigation. It applies to any alleged abuse perpetrated against persons with autism, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, and various other developmental disabilities.

Common types of abuse against a person with a developmental disability can range from mental and verbal to physical and sexual abuse, explained Evelyn Abouhassan, senior legislative advocate at Disability Rights California, an organization that supported the bill.

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The bill was introduced after a growing number of abuse allegations against developmental care facilities in California surfaced. In one example from 2013, the Center for Investigative Reporting found that a nursing assistant at California's Porterville Developmental Center abused persons with developmental disabilities.

"Records show the investigations by state regulators and local police into a brutal beating at Porterville in late 2010 - in which witnesses reported [a nursing assistant] allegedly stomping a patient unconscious - were beset by lengthy delays and shoddy work," CIR reported on the case in the Central Valley. "The public health department waited more than a year to start interviewing witnesses about Hansen's role in the incident."

Californians with disabilities are victimized at a much higher rate than those who do have disabilities. Additionally, recent reports show that crimes against individuals with developmental disabilities often go unreported. Existing law requires a health or developmental center to report any instances of resident deaths, injuries, and sexual assault to law enforcement agencies.

But often times, these type of cases are often referred to Social Services and infrequently prosecuted by law enforcement, explained Abouhassan. "People with disabilities are 10 times more likely to be victims of abuse and neglect," she said. "This bill highlights and brings to the forefront the issues around abuses with people with disabilities and lays a prompt investigation," she said. "It adds and clarifies the right to a prompt investigation. If people believe that right was violated, they can file a complaint."

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