California’s protection & advocacy system

For legal assistance call 800-776-5746. For all other purposes call 916-504-5800 in Northern CA

or 213-213-8000 in Southern CA. TTY 800-719-5798.


Protection & Advocacy, Inc. 1978 - 2008

Disability Rights California 2009 - Present

Graphic image from page 9 of 2013 Annual ReportDisability Rights California celebrates 35 years | 1978 - 2013 Highlights

1977-78: investigative TV series on abuse in institutions results in federal Developmental Disabilities Act... all states required to name protection and advocacy agency... 1978 Gov. Jerry Brown designates DRC, then called Protection & Advocacy, Inc. as statewide agency.

1979-1985: we help stop deregulation of Education of All Handicapped Children Act... help get home-based services for children on SSI... launch popular "how to advocate for your rights" publications... we play role in major victory, the Social Security Reform Act... our bill passes to improve fair hearings for people with developmental disabilities.

1986-1990: we now help people with mental health disabilities and set up peer self-advocacy services... file Zebley amicus brief, successfully challenges federal SSI standards for children... file Coffelt class action to speed pace of individuals leaving state institutions... shooting of man in mental health crisis spurs our advocacy for expanded police training.

1991-1995: we set up Office of Patients' Rights to serve state hospital residents... our review of state hospital deaths brings new restraint procedures... our bills pass to conform state law with Americans with Disabilities Act... our bill on Fair Housing for People with Disabilities passes... Coffelt suit settles, affecting 2300 living in state institutions - since, thousands have moved out... we help Sandra Jensen become first person with Down syndrome to receive heart transplant.

1996-2000: our suit results in Chanda Smith consent decree improving services for 80,000 disabled students in LA... our class action against Bay Area Rapid Transit settles, achieves better access for 40,000 riders... we set up Office of Clients' Rights Advocacy to help people with developmental disabilities get services... following scalding death at psychiatric facility - we get new regs for water temperature controls... our services extended to people with all disabilities.

2001-2005: our Emily Q case means 1000 young people receive wrap-around therapeutic behavior services... start work on access to voting issues... begin services for Social Security beneficiaries and those with traumatic brain injuries... support Prop 63, creating Mental Health Services Act to extend community based services... our report on deaths from prone restraints brings standards for use in health care facilities.

2006-2010: Remembrance ceremonies create awareness of 40,000 who died in state institutions... our name changes to Disability Rights California... judge halts cuts in response to our Oster class action to prevent 20% reduction of IN-Home Supportive Service hours for 300,000 recipients... our Darling case filed to stop elimination of center-based adult health services for 35,000... we help defeat bill limiting rights to sue for lack of architectural accessibility.

2011-2013: Napper class action settles - keeps community mental health clinics open for 6,000 in Sacramento... we begin employment-related assistance statewide to those needing Dept of Rehabilitation services... we join 100 LA groups to halt restriction of supported housing... Darling case settles, we help hundreds with successful appeals for new community based health services... we present perspective of state hospital residents at town forums... our bill passes requiring state institutions to report all abuse and unexplained deaths to police... Oster case settled, with less harmful cuts of 8% in IHSS hours.


Freedom now disability marchHistory & funding

In 1975, after television news exposed horrific abuse and neglect at Willowbrook, a state institution for people with cognitive disabilities on Staten Island, New York Senator Jacob Javits successfully pushed Congress to mandate and fund Protection and Advocacy systems in each state.

The laws which give Protection and Advocacy systems the special responsibility to protect and advocate for people with disabilities also give those organizations a unique tool with which to accomplish that task: access to facilities or programs providing their care, and access to their confidential records. This access permits Protection and Advocacy systems to conduct abuse or neglect investigations, provide information and training about the rights of individuals with disabilities, and monitor a facility or program's compliance with respect to the rights and safety of people who receive their services. Protection and Advocacy systems are also unique because courts have recognized that the broad Congressional authority allows them to bring actions in their own name to vindicate the rights of people with disabilities.

In May, 1978 California's Protection & Advocacy, Inc. (PAI) was founded to provide the services required under the federal Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act of 1975. For many years it was governed by a seven member Board of Directors appointed by the Governor and advised by a state appointed Review Committee.

PAI opened its first office in Sacramento in 1978; more regional offices followed: Los Angeles, 1980; Bay Area, 1985; San Diego, 2002; Fresno, 2008. In addition, the organization has satellite offices in 26 locations throughout the state.

The Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness Act (PAIMI) was created in 1986 in response to Congressional findings of abuse and neglect of individuals with psychiatric disabilities in residential care facilities. In addition to providing legal representation to persons with psychiatric disabilities, we expanded our services to include peer/self advocacy and investigations of abuse and neglect.

In 1992, Congress enacted the Protection and Advocacy of Individual Rights Act of 1992 (PAIR), extending Disability Rights California’s mandate to people with physical, learning and sensory disabilities.

image of man holding disability rights signIn 1993, we became a cross disability advocacy agency when Congress expanded the protection and advocacy role to individuals with disabilities who were not eligible for services under other programs. Programs and services were expanded throughout the 1990's with the addition of the Protection and Advocacy for Assistance Technology (PAAT) program, the Protection and Advocacy for Beneficiaries of Social Security (PAABS) program, the Protection and Advocacy for Traumatic Brain Injury (PATBI) and Protection and Advocacy for Voting Access (PAVA) program.

Beginning in 1993 PAI worked with other advocates and constituency groups to ensure that state funded advocacy services were independent. In 1993, PAI opened the Office of Patients Rights after legislation made it possible for the state contract with us to provide advocacy services to persons with psychiatric disabilities in state hospitals, and to provide training and technical assistance to county patients rights advocates. In 1998 we established the Office of Clients' Rights Advocacy after the passage of state legislation made it possible for us to contract advocacy assistance, training and technical assistance to clients of the 21 regional centers.

We receive support from the State Bar of California's IOLTA program, which funds legal services for low-income people around California, and from the Equal Access Fund, created by the California legislature to provide individual legal help and system-wide advocacy for indigent Californians. Other funding comes from attorney fees and donations.

In 2008, the Board changed our name to Disability Rights California to more accurately describe our work.

Today, we are the largest disability advocacy agency in the nation, with 220 staff members. The Board of Directors, all of whom are now appointed by existing board members, reflect the diverse constituency of the agency and the ethnic and language community of California.

List of funding grants and contracts