Changes to Social Recreation and Camping: FAQ

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Changes to Social Recreation and Camping: FAQ

Welcome to the first in a series of posts about recent changes to the law, and how they could impact your ability to access supports and services under the Lanterman Act.

First up are changes that Disability Rights California advocated for after hearing about the many barriers people had been running into when seeking social recreation and camping services.  After being unavailable for more than a decade, these services were restored by the Legislature in 2021, with hope that restoration could help narrow longstanding racial and ethnic disparities in spending on regional center services.  However, for too many families, making it possible for regional centers to fund social recreation and camping did not necessarily lead to ready or meaningful access to those services. 

Over the last two years, Disability Rights California heard numerous stories of children and parents who sought swimming lessons, summer camps and similar activities, only to run into barriers ranging from regional center policies that placed strict limits on access to a lack of providers with the capacity to accept payment from regional centers.  While some regional centers tried hard to find workarounds, some workarounds— such as reimbursing families who could pay out of pocket— did not work for low-income families, particularly from underserved communities.

Huge gratitude and credit to Legislature for adding language to the Lanterman Act that addresses these barriers and makes their intent clear—that social recreation and camp are meant to promote inclusion and help disabled people live the lives they want in the community, and should therefore be made widely available.  

For more details, check out this Fact Sheet/FAQ, which summarizes the changes to the law and talks about what steps your regional center may be taking next in response.

Increased Access to Social Recreation, Camping and Non-medical Therapies

Fact Sheet and Frequently Asked Questions

This fact sheet is based on the law at the time it was written. We try to update our materials; however, laws are regularly changing. If you want to make sure the law has not changed, contact us or another legal source. 

On July 1, 2023, California law changed to make it easier for you to participate in social activities, go camping, and get non-medical therapies like art, music, and dance. 

What services are affected by these changes? 

These changes affect social recreation, camping, and non-medical therapies that are paid for by your regional center.  These are social and recreational activities that take place in the community, serve both disabled and non-disabled people, and promote integration.  

These services often focus on athletic activities, but can also include music, art, dance, and other recreational activities. They can be classes, lessons, sports leagues, or similar programs.  They can also include organized outings in the community, such as outings to parks, beaches, baseball games, community festivals, or other recreational events.

This fact sheet will refer to this group of services as “social recreation.”

Who provides social recreation services?

Social recreation services can be provided by different organizations, such as:

  • Regional center vendors
  • County or city parks and recreation departments
  • Nonprofit or other community-based organizations
  • Religious organizations like churches, synagogues, or mosques
  • Private recreational business such as karate schools, ballet studios, or art studios
  • Camps run by public or private organizations
  • Afterschool programs

What kinds of changes are in the new law?

California changed the law to make it easier for you to get social recreation that meets your needs.  There are three changes.  The new law:

  • Lists things that regional centers cannot do anymore to limit your access to social recreation.
  • States the Legislature’s intent about access to social recreation.
  • Makes it easier for regional centers to pay for social recreation through participant-directed services.

What restrictions on social recreation are no longer allowed under the new law?

If you are asking for social recreation, the regional center cannot:

  • Say you have to use in-home supportive services (IHSS) before they authorize social recreation.
  • Require you to give up or exchange hours of a different service, like respite, to get social recreation hours.
  • Make you pay for some or all of your social recreation services, which could look like:
    • Saying you or your family have to pay a certain amount, and that the regional center will only cover expenses over that amount.
    • Saying that the regional center will only pay up to a certain amount, and that you or your family must cover all costs above that amount.

If your regional center is doing these things, they are not following the law. These kinds of restrictions are not allowed, either as a formal written policy, or as an informal, unwritten practice.

What does the Legislature want the new law to accomplish?

The Legislature wants it to be easier for people to get the social recreation that they need.  They made this clear by adding intent language to the law. This is where the Legislature states their goal, or intent, for these changes. This language helps guide regional centers and DDS by telling them what their rules about social recreation are supposed to do overall.

The intent language says:

  • The Legislature values the inclusion of people with Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities, including through recreation opportunities.
  • The Legislature wants social recreation to be widely available to people served by regional centers. These services should be available both to help with socializing and to help people lead the lives that they want in the community.
  • The Legislature wants to increase access to social recreation, especially for:
    • Children.
    • Communities who have not gotten enough services in the past.
    • People who cannot afford to pay for these services first and wait for the regional center to pay them back later.
  • Regional centers should make it easier to get these services.
    • They shouldn’t just tell people where they can go to get social recreation for themselves.  They should fund those services, along with the supports people need to access them.
    • They should help increase the number of vendors and make it easier and faster for providers to become vendors.  
  • DDS should help regional centers do this by giving them any guidance they might need to increase access or keep track of how much is being spent on social recreation.
    • This should be important to DDS.  If regional centers need this help from DDS, the Legislature wants DDS to give them help quickly.

What does the new law say about participant-directed services and why?

The new law makes it possible for social recreation to be provided through participant-directed services.  This should increase the number of providers willing to do business with regional centers, which should then make it easier for more people to get social recreation from providers they want.

Regional center billing systems are generally set up to pay vendors after they have served people and turned in paperwork to show that the services were provided. But most social recreation providers are not vendors, and are not set up to accept payment that way. They typically require payment before classes, lessons, or other services start. This mismatch had kept many providers from doing business with regional centers directly.  As a result, some people could only access social recreation by paying for it up front using their own money, and getting reimbursed by their regional center. However, this was not a good option for those who could not afford to pay a provider first and wait to be paid back. 

Participant-directed services helps with this problem by making it easier for social recreation providers to be paid on time, before activities start, by processing payments through a fiscal management service, or FMS. FMSs are companies that are able to pay for social recreation activities upfront on behalf of regional center clients and get reimbursed by the regional center later.  

DDS and regional centers hope that allowing social recreation providers to be paid through a FMS will reduce the need for families to pay out of pocket for services. It should also expand the number of available providers, and make it easier for people to get social recreation from providers of their choice, since providers do not have to be vendors to get paid this way.

What changes will regional centers make to their policies to follow the new law?

All regional centers have rules about social recreation that were put in place before the law changed. They may need to be updated to reflect the new changes. This includes policies or practices that may limit access in ways that aren’t allowed anymore or don’t match the Legislature’s intent.

DDS wants regional centers to look at their old policies and practices and revise them if necessary. DDS is planning to give regional centers written guidance in early Fall 2023 about how to do this. Regional centers will need to either submit their changes to DDS for approval, or explain to DDS why they think no changes are necessary.  The guidance will tell regional centers how long they have to do this.  

How will this work at my regional center? Will there be a way to hear from them about what may change or happen next?

Yes.  Regional centers must do outreach to their communities about these changes. The written guidance from DDS described above will have more information about how regional centers should make that happen.  

You can ask your regional center for more details about when, where, and how that outreach will occur. However, they may not know these details until after DDS puts out its written guidance.

If you think your regional center may need to change policies or practices because of the new law, this community outreach process would be one way to share your questions or concerns with them.

I am planning to ask for social recreation soon. Should regional centers be following the new law now?

Yes. DDS expects regional centers to follow the new law even if they don’t have a new policy in place yet.  

To ask for social recreation services, contact your service coordinator and tell them you are interested in these services. Ask for an Individualized Program Planning (IPP) meeting and be ready to talk about why you want these services and how they will help you meet your goals. More information about how to get regional center services through your IPP is available here: 

It may take some time for regional centers to fully implement the changes and train all their staff. For example:

  • Your service coordinator might not know about the new law yet. If that happens, you can show them this fact sheet and suggest that they contact their Director of Client Services for more information.
  • Your regional center may not immediately have processes in place. 

Where can I find the full text of the new law on social recreation?

These changes were made through a budget-related bill, AB 121. The full text of the new law is available below:       

SEC. 21.
Section 4688.22 is added to the Welfare and Institutions Code, to read:

(a) The Legislature finds and declares all of the following:

(1) The Legislature places a high priority on promoting the full inclusion and independence of individuals with developmental disabilities, including through opportunities for recreation, consistent with Section 4501 and paragraphs (6) and (7) of subdivision (b) of Section 4502.

(2)  As such, it is the intent of the Legislature for social recreation services, camping services, and nonmedical therapies, including, but not limited to, specialized recreation, art, dance, and music, to be made widely available to consumers, not only for socialization, but to lead the lives they want in the community.

(3) It is further the intent of the Legislature to prioritize increasing access to those services, especially for consumers who are children, subject to disparities in the receipt of regional center services, or unable to afford paying for services upfront and awaiting reimbursement.

(4) It is further the intent of the Legislature for regional centers to prioritize access to those services, not only by referring consumers and their families to existing opportunities for social recreation services and camping services, but also by funding those services directly along with the supports they may need to access them, increasing the availability of vendors, and expediting vendorizations accordingly.

(5) It is further the intent of the Legislature for the department to prioritize and expedite any policies, procedures, or written directives that may be necessary to facilitate regional center efforts to increase access, collect data, or track expenditures pertaining to these services.

(b) Effective July 1, 2023, a regional center shall not require a consumer or family member to do any of the following:

(1) Exhaust services under the In-Home Supportive Services program (Article 7 (commencing with Section 12300) of Chapter 3 of Part 3 of Division 9) in order for their regional center to consider funding or to authorize purchasing social recreation services, camping services, and nonmedical therapies, including, but not limited to, specialized recreation, art, dance, and music.

(2) Exchange respite hours or any other service or support authorized by the regional center for service hours of social recreation services, camping services, or nonmedical therapies, including, but not limited to, specialized recreation, art, dance, and music, as a condition of service authorization by the regional center of social recreation services, camping services, and nonmedical therapies.

(3) Pay a copayment, or a similar shared pay arrangement aimed at offsetting costs, in order to receive social recreation services, camping services, or nonmedical therapies, including, but not limited to, specialized recreation, art, dance, and music.

(c) Notwithstanding the rulemaking provisions of the Administrative Procedure Act (Chapter 3.5 (commencing with Section 11340) of Part 1 of Division 3 of Title 2 of the Government Code), the department may implement the provision of social recreation services, camping services, and nonmedical therapies, including, but not limited to, specialized recreation, art, dance, and music, by means of written directives or similar instructions consistent with this section, including, but not limited to, the provision of those services as participant-directed services.