A disability law center is a private non-profit advocacy agency created to enforce and strengthen rights and opportunities for disabled people. The federal Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act mandates that each state in the US establish and maintain a system of protection and advocacy that protects, empowers, and advocates on behalf of persons with disabilities. Disability law centers were established to fulfill this mandate.
“Disability” includes mental, physical, developmental, sensory, and emotional disabilities. The goal of disability law centers is to promote the fundamental rights of all persons with disabilities. They provide legal and legislative advocacy in the areas of discrimination, abuse and neglect, and the denial of basic services or human rights because of a disability. Services in the areas of special education, access to community services, health care, and disability benefits are available at a disability law center.
In the area of special education, disability law centers represent students kept out of school because of disciplinary actions associated with their disability. They also handle cases of neglect and abuse of disabled students and the improper use of restraints or seclusion. Centers also investigate cases of bullying or harassment of disabled students. Advocacy services are available for blind and hearing-impaired students to ensure that they receive appropriate specialized services.
A disability law center may also investigate allegations of abuse or denial of rights of disabled persons in nursing homes, psychiatric facilities, prisons and jails. Investigations include issues of unlawful restraint or seclusion, long-term isolation or segregation, and the withholding of medication or medical care. A center may also provide representation or advocacy in commitment proceedings, or deal with issues of informed consent for psychiatric procedures or medication.
Basic civil rights and access to employment and public accommodations are important advocacy areas for a disability law center. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that reasonable accommodations be made for disabilities in the areas of housing and employment. Law centers advocate for laws that give disabled persons access to all public buildings and accommodations within their communities.
Disability law centers also provide assistance in obtaining social security benefits or transitioning back to the work force following a temporary disability. They offer transition services to disabled youth aging out of the school system and in need of employment or life skills training. Law centers also provide training in social security and disability law to legal aid organizations, paralegals, and private attorneys.
Protection and advocacy services include legislative advocacy and impact litigation in systemic issues affecting the fundamental legal rights of all disabled persons. Many disability law centers also offer free community education seminars on disability issues. In addition, they provide special education training to parents of developmentally disabled children.