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This quick summary describes each of DRNC’s 2025 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.

View the full description of the 2025 Targets.

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.  These students are sometimes sent home or punished instead of getting the help they need to succeed. Many students with disabilities in North Carolina are pushed out of school when they are told they can only come to school for a few hours a day, or that they must receive instruction only at home. Black students are sent home more often than white students. Getting excluded from school means these students miss out on months or even years of learning time. Sometimes, students with disabilities get kicked out before anyone even knows they have a disability. Studies show that up to 85% of kids in youth development centers (YDCs) and juvenile detention centers (JDCs) have disabilities that should have gotten them help in school, but most of them didn’t get this help. 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.

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 access to 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 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 

Monitoring and Investigations

At Disability Rights North Carolina (DRNC), we are responsible for checking on places where people with disabilities live and receive services. This means we have the power to visit and investigate these facilities to ensure disabled people are treated well and not harmed or neglected.

Sometimes, we focus on specific issues, like making sure schools support students with disabilities properly and don’t use inappropriate restraint and seclusion. We also look into how children are cared for in psychiatric residential treatment facilities (PRTFs).

By changing our focus based on community feedback, reports, and new laws or policies, we can address the most current problems, prevent new ones, and improve services. This work is vital to our mission. With the resources we have, we will:

  • Visit different types of facilities regularly, talk to students, residents, and staff, and check if these places are safe and follow legal standards.
  • Find individuals who could live in the community with support and help them transition safely with the right services.
  • Investigate deaths and complaints of abuse, neglect, or civil rights violations in these facilities.
  • Push for changes to improve care quality and protect the rights of people in these facilities.


DRNC’s outreach work involves connecting with disabled people, communities, organizations, and other important groups. We aim to raise awareness about our services, educate people on disability rights, and help individuals access the resources and support they need to live independently.

Our goal is to build strong relationships with disability communities in all 100 counties of North Carolina, focusing on rural areas, communities of color, older adults, and LGBTQ+ people. Through our outreach, we gather input from people with disabilities across the state to help guide our advocacy efforts.

In the past, we have focused on helping people with disabilities affected by disasters or pandemics. Right now, with support from USAging, our main outreach project is called Project ACCESS (All Communities Count Equitably for Safety and Support). This project aims to ensure fair access to COVID-19 and flu vaccines for disabled people and adults over 60, especially those in rural and historically marginalized communities.

Voting Rights

People with disabilities still vote at lower rates than those without disabilities. This happens because of structural and procedural barriers, and because policymakers, election boards, political parties, funders, voter engagement advocates, and volunteers often overlook the needs of disabled voters.

At Disability Rights North Carolina (DRNC), we work to improve voting rights by making sure groups working on voter engagement and mobilization consider the needs of voters with disabilities and make their efforts accessible. We promote the benefits of early voting, identify and address barriers at polling sites, and work to remove obstacles to voting, including absentee voting.

Information, Referral, and Self-Advocacy Support

Another key part of our work at DRNC is supporting self-advocacy among people with disabilities. We provide information and referral services, conduct outreach and education, help direct disabled people to community resources, and offer self-advocacy materials to help people learn about and enforce disability rights.

Public Policy Advocacy

We also engage in public policy advocacy with funds from individual donors to support our work. As the state’s Protection and Advocacy organization, we ensure that the perspectives of people with disabilities are considered in policies, state rules, and state laws.

Representative Payee Reviews

DRNC ensures that people with disabilities who have a representative payee managing their Social Security benefits are not abused, neglected, or exploited. Our representative payee reviews include:

  • An interview with the individual or organizational representative payee
  • A review of the representative payee’s financial records for the requested beneficiary or a sample of beneficiaries served
  • A home visit and interview for each beneficiary included in the review
  • An interview with legal guardians and third parties when applicable