Disability Rights California Welcomes Push to Reform DDS Conservatorships and Calls for Alternatives That Help Disabled People Lead Self-Determined Lives

All people with disabilities should have the power to determine the course of their own lives
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Disability Rights California Welcomes Push to Reform DDS Conservatorships and Calls for Alternatives That Help Disabled People Lead Self-Determined Lives

Behind every effort to take choice, autonomy, and control away from a historically marginalized group are the assumptions that only certain people are entitled to make decisions for themselves, and that a dominant group should get to determine what’s best for everybody else.    

At Disability Rights California, we believe that:  

  • People are the experts in their own lives, including and especially marginalized people. 
  • Instead of telling marginalized people what’s best for them, our systems should be listening to them, lifting them up, and giving them the support they need to direct the course of their own lives. 
  • Self-determination does not mean being able to do everything on your own.  It means getting to have the final say in your own life—that you can make things happen if you want them, or keep things from happening if you don’t want them.   
  • The power to make decisions about your life, and to have others honor those decisions, is not a privilege to be earned or reserved for a select few, but a fundamental human right.  
  • People with disabilities deserve to have support and assistance to make their own decisions, consistent with their own preferences and beliefs. Conservatorship interferes with this right by putting the conservator, and the court, in charge of the person’s life and decisions. 
  • Although the law says conservatorship should be used as the very last resort under very limited circumstances, in practice, it is all too often turned to as a first resort for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.   
  • California must do more to strengthen and expand access to less restrictive alternatives, like Supported Decision-Making, make it easier to review and get out of conservatorships, and improve oversight of conservators. 

Britney Spears’s experience living under a conservatorship shows how easily people can become trapped in a system that takes away the power to make some of the most personal and important decisions in an individual’s life, such as choices about their own body and reproductive health, how and where to receive medical treatment, how to spend the money they earn, whom they spend time with, and even whether they can vote or marry.  

Ms. Spears is not alone in her experience. Conservatorship is regularly imposed on people of all life experiences, including older adults, people with psychiatric and other disabilities, and nearly 60,000 Californians with intellectual and developmental disabilities.   

Of those 60,000 individuals, 413 are conserved not by a family member or other trusted person, but by the California Department of Developmental Services (DDS). Under current law, those conservatorship duties are delegated to the local entity, or regional center, tasked with making funding decisions about the long-term supports and services for that individual. This poses a serious conflict of interest.  

This week, DDS announced a number of actions “designed to enhance the experience of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities who are conserved by DDS.”  These actions include reviews of DDS’s conservatorship process and all of its 413 conservatees, in partnership with national subject matter experts and other California Health and Human Services departments.   

Disability Rights California appreciates DDS’s call to hold itself and system partners accountable through this process. We look forward to learning more about this new initiative, including how DDS plans to engage the expertise of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities as part of its commitment to collaborating with experts.   

Having the power to determine the course of our own lives— to make choices about our health and body, to be with the people we love, to do the things that matter to us — is an issue not only of disability justice, but of reproductive justice, gender justice, racial justice, and social justice and civil rights more broadly. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities deserve no less just because they may need assistance to exercise that power.   

Disability Rights California looks forward to collaborating with those with lived experience, DDS, and state and national partners to bring long-needed change to the DDS conservatorship process, and to California’s entire conservatorship system. 

Media Contacts

Melody Pomraning
Communications Director
Disability Rights California
(916) 504-5938


Disability Rights California (DRC) – Is the agency designated under federal law to protect and advocate for the rights of Californians with disabilities. The mission of DRC is to defend, advance, and strengthen the rights and opportunities of people with disabilities. For more information visit: https://www.disabilityrightsca.org. For more information about conservatorship and its alternatives visit: https://supportwithoutcourts.org/