What is The Arc?

What is The Arc?


The Arc is the national organization of and for people with developmental disabilities and their families. It is devoted to improving supports and services for people with developmental disabilities and their families. The association fosters research into the prevention of developmental disabilities.


The Arc was founded in 1950 by a small group of parents and other concerned individuals. At that time, little was known about developmental disabilities. There were virtually no programs and no activities in communities to assist in the development and care of children and adults with developmental disabilities. There was no support for families who did not want their children to live in institutions.

In the early days the association worked to change the public perception of children with developmental disabilities and to educate parents and providers regarding the potential of people with developmental disabilities. The Arc also worked to provide services for children and adults who were denied day care, preschool, education or work programs.

In October 2000, The Arc completed a year-long celebration of its 50th anniversary at its annual national convention. Convention delegates passed new by-laws and agreed on core values to guide The Arc in the 21st Century.

Who belongs to The Arc?


The Arc members are people - people with developmental disabilities, parents and other family members, friends of people with developmental disabilities, and professionals who work in the field. The Arc is a grassroots organization with 140,000 members who are affiliated through approximately 1,000 state and local chapters across the nation.

At the national level, a 24-member national board of directors and a delegate body of representatives from each chapter guide The Arc's work. National headquarters staff located in Silver Spring, Maryland, Bedford, Texas and Washington, DC carry out their decisions and directives.

Why does The Arc exist?


The Arc works to ensure that the estimated 7.2 million Americans with developmental disabilities have the services and supports they need to grow, develop and live in their communities. For children these services include early intervention, health care, a free appropriate public education and supports for their families.

For adults, services and supports may include preparation for employment, help in finding a job, independent living skill training, leisure and recreation activities and any other supports they need in order to live independently in their own communities.

The Arc also exists because people with developmental disabilities need help to ensure that their rights as citizens of this country are protected, and they are supported to live as they choose.

Finally, The Arc advocates for research into the prevention of the causes and remediation of the effects of developmental disabilities.

What is our mission?

 The Arc of the United States advocates for the rights and full participation of all children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. With its network of members and affiliated chapters, The Arc of the United States improves systems of supports and services; connects families; inspires communities; and influences public policy.

 How does The Arc implement its mission?


The Arc is recognized as the foremost partner with families and people with developmental disabilities to support and enhance the quality of their lives. The Arc does this through advocacy on behalf of individuals and families at the legislative, system and individual levels.

Providing information and technical support to individuals, families and organizations assists them in fulfilling their dreams. At some point in his or her life each person with developmental disabilities may need an advocate. Advocacy takes place at the personal, local, state and national level. Individual advocacy is available through every local chapter of The Arc.

At the state level, advocacy occurs at the executive and legislative branches of government, administrative agencies, school districts and other providers and provider organizations.

At the national level, The Arc advocates with members of Congress, executive branch agencies, federal courts and organizations representing teachers, law enforcement, housing providers, transportation providers, recreation and health care providers.

The goal of The Arc of the the United States is to be a national force that will create a society that will provide opportunities for people with developmental disabilities to have choices about where and how they live their lives in the community.