This quick summary describes each of DRNC’s 2024 advocacy Targets, explains why they are important, and tells how DRNC is working to address these legal problems. These Targets will help us determine what work we should focus on to help the disability community of North Carolina.
Keep students with disabilities in school
Students with disabilities get excluded from school more than other students. This is often because they have difficult behaviors related to their disabilities. Teachers do not always know what to do. Some send them home or punish them instead of helping them to succeed. They send Black students home more often than white students. DRNC helps these students stay in school.
*Please note: DRNC does not help with problems with private schools. IDEA, the law for special education services does not cover private schools.
Ensure disabled students are safe from abuse and harmful interventions at school
Students with disabilities are at high risk for abuse at school. Abuse can be physical or emotional. It also includes when school staff uses harmful actions like physical restraint and seclusion. DRNC makes sure students with disabilities are safe in their schools.
Advocate for people with disabilities to have equal access to integrated jobs that pay at least minimum wage
People with disabilities can have problems finding work, keeping their jobs, or getting better jobs. Some are not given fair chances, are demoted, or even fired. They might also not get what they need for their disabilities to do their job. Others are not paid fairly and work in separate settings like sheltered workshops. DRNC helps make sure people with disabilities have the chance to be trained for fair paying jobs, understand the impact of work on their benefits, and are not treated unfairly.
Enforce the right of people with disabilities to have equal access to their community
Equal access means a person can use and enjoy places, programs, and services in their community just like a non-disabled person. DRNC works to make sure people with disabilities have the same opportunities as others. We receive a lot of requests for legal help about accessing community places like businesses, public buildings or medical services. Our focus is on fixing unfair access problems that affect many people with disabilities. We want to improve things for everyone, creating a fair and inclusive community for all.
Reduce North Carolina’s Over-Reliance on Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facilities (PRTFs)
Children and youth do best when they get the help they need in their own communities. But many children are being sent to treatment facilities (called PRTFs) because there are no treatment options in their community. Many of these children are people of color, in the child welfare (foster care) system or living in poverty. DRNC works to help kids get the mental health services they need in their communities.
Reduce unnecessary institutionalization of individuals with disabilities and improve home and community-based healthcare services and supports
The current health and human services system in North Carolina tends to favor putting people with disabilities in institutions instead of supporting them to live in their own homes and communities. This means that some people who could live successfully in the community are stuck in institutions. Others who are already living in the community are at risk of being forced into institutions because of cost-cutting measures and problems with how services are provided.
The pandemic showed even more problems in the healthcare system, especially for people with mental health needs. More and more people are being involuntarily committed to hospitals because they can’t get the services they need in their communities. People shouldn’t have to go to hospitals or institutions just to get the services they need. It’s expensive and creates more trauma. DRNC works to help more people with disabilities live in the community and help them receive services and supports in the community.
Protect the housing rights of people with disabilities under both federal and state law
Many people with disabilities face discrimination when it comes to finding and keeping a place to live. They are often denied the changes they need to make their homes accessible. Some even are harassed or treated unfairly because of their disability.
Adding to the problem, many disabled people don’t understand their rights when it comes to evictions. They may not know how to defend themselves in court or find new housing after being evicted. This is especially challenging for those who are also people of color, LGBTQ+, or low-income. To make things worse, there is a serious shortage of affordable housing.
DRNC works to ensure that people with disabilities can live independently in accessible homes in the communities they choose.
Advocate for a safe, equitable and just criminal legal system for people with disabilities
In North Carolina, people with disabilities face many challenges in the criminal legal system. They are more likely to be in prisons and jails and have violent interactions with law enforcement where they are at risk of being hurt or killed. Some people with mental health disabilities are kept in solitary confinement without treatment. Many people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are not identified or supported, which puts them at risk of abuse and makes it harder for them to succeed when they are released.
DRNC works to make sure that people with disabilities are treated fairly and have access to the programs and services they need. We also want to improve mental health care in jails, as they are often ill-equipped to provide necessary treatment. We work to hold jail administrators accountable and advocate for better conditions.
Enforce the right of disabled people to control their own lives
People with disabilities have their rights taken away through guardianship and commitment proceedings. Guardianship means someone else makes decisions for a person with a disability, taking away their own power to decide. Unfortunately, North Carolina doesn’t appoint attorneys to fight for disabled people during these proceedings. Because of this, guardianships are being used too much and not always in the best way. This affects people of color, LGBTQ+, and those who are low-income even more.
Involuntary commitment happens when someone with a mental health condition is held against their will because they are seen as a danger. There are not enough affordable and quality community mental health services, which results in too many involuntary commitments. DRNC works to address these problems and enforce the right of disabled people to control their own lives.
DRNC’s Work Outside the Advocacy Targets
DRNC’s outreach work engages and builds relationships with disabled people, communities, organizations, and other key stakeholders to increase awareness of DRNC’s services, provide education on disability rights, and connect them to opportunities, resources, and supports they need to overcome barriers so they can live independently in the community they want.
Monitoring and Investigations
As the Protection & Advocacy organization for North Carolina, DRNC is federally mandated and empowered to conduct monitoring and investigations in facilities where people with disabilities live and receive services. We work to keep them free from abuse and neglect.
Information, Referral and Self-Advocacy Support
DRNC helps people with disabilities stand up for their rights and advocate for themselves. We provide information and referral services, which means we give them helpful resources and connect them with the right organizations. Our goal is to empower individuals with disabilities and their advocates to learn about and protect their rights.
People with disabilities face challenges when it comes to voting. They vote less compared to people without disabilities. This happens because there are barriers that make it difficult for them to vote, like rules and processes that are not accessible. People who make decisions about voting, like policymakers, election boards, political parties, and others, don’t always focus on the needs of disabled voters.
DRNC works with partners to make sure that efforts to engage and mobilize voters are accessible to people with disabilities. We promote early voting, address issues at polling places, and remove barriers to voting, including for absentee voting. Our goal is to make sure that everyone, including people with disabilities, can vote easily and have their voices heard.
Public Policy Advocacy
DRNC advocates for public policies that support people with disabilities. We rely on funds from individual donors to carry out our important work. As the state’s protection and advocacy organization, we make sure that the needs and perspectives of people with disabilities are considered in administrative agencies, state rules, and state laws.
Representative Payee Reviews
At DRNC, we have an important job of making sure disabled people who have someone managing their Social Security benefits (called a representative payee) are treated well and not taken advantage of. We do this by conducting reviews that include several steps:
- We talk to the person or organization that is the representative payee and ask them questions.
- We look at the financial records of the representative payee for the disabled person or a group of disabled people.
- We visit the homes of the disabled individuals and talk to them about their situation.
- If there are legal guardians or other people involved, we also talk to them to gather more information.