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Targets for 2021

Targets for 2021

DRNC’s Board of Directors has approved the following Targets for 2021.

An introduction to our Target work
View Targets summary

Keep students with disabilities in school

(PAIDD, PAIR, PAIMI, PAAT) (Non-federal – IOLTA, LENS-MDC, and UVA Law Kennedy Fellowship) 


Students with disabilities are susceptible to being excluded from school when they exhibit challenging behaviors, even when those behaviors are related to their disabilities. Students with disabilities are excluded from school more often than students without disabilities through suspensions, expulsions, homebound placements, modified day schedules, alternative school placements, and juvenile court involvement. During the 2018-19 school year, students with disabilities received 24% of short-term suspensions, 17% of long-term suspensions, 26% of expulsions, and over 20% of alternative school placements, yet comprised less than 13% of the total student population. These exclusions often result in months or years of lost instructional time for students with disabilities. In 2018-19, the average length of a long-term suspension was 73 school days – nearly 40% of the school year.  

Black students with disabilities are excluded from school more often than White students with disabilities. In 2017-18, Black students with disabilities comprised only 31% of all students with IEPs in NC, yet those same students received over 63% of all long-term suspensions and expulsions. White students with disabilities comprised 45% of all students with IEPs in NC, yet received only 20% of all long-term suspension and expulsions. 

Sometimes students with disabilities are excluded from school before being formally identified. Studies indicate that up to 85% of children in juvenile detention facilities have disabilities that make them eligible for special education services, yet only 37% received these services while in school. Black and Brown children are over-represented in juvenile detention facilities.  

Some students with IEPs who go to school every day also are being excluded from the education that their non-disabled peers are receiving, due to ineffective special education instruction, and race and income inequities. This is particularly true in the area of literacy. Recent data and our individual cases indicate that many students with disabilities have literacy deficits that cannot be explained by their disabilities, and thus should be reading at much higher levels than their test scores reveal.  

Target Populations:

  • Students with disabilities serving a lengthy homebound placement or modified school schedule who can be served in a less restrictive setting if the school provides an appropriate placement, supports and services 
  • Disabled students serving a long-term suspension, multiple short-term suspensions, expulsion, or alternative school placement without the benefit of IDEA’s disciplinary safeguards, or who have been selected for discipline because of race or income in addition to disability
  • Students with disabilities whose literacy skills are significantly behind their non-disabled peers for reasons related to race, income, or category of disability.  
  • Disabled students who are incarcerated and not receiving appropriate special education services 

Ensure students with disabilities will attend school free from abuse, including abusive interventions



Many students with disabilities are subject to abuse at school, both as a result of physical and emotional abuse by school staff and the use of restrictive interventions, such as seclusion, restraint, and other aversives. Students with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to mistreatment; one study concluded that one in three children with an identified disability receiving special education services is a victim of neglect, physical abuse, or sexual abuse. This problem is compounded by reporting and exclusion issues: many children with disabilities are unable to report abuse because of communication issues related to their disability and/or attend school in segregated settings that allow abuse to go undetected and unreported by adults, including separate schools and self-contained classrooms. 

Students with disabilities should attend school in a safe environment, free from traumatic experiences, abuse and abusive interventions. DRNC will advocate for systemic changes in school system practices to prevent abuse and abusive interventions from occurring and remaining undetected. 

Target Populations:

  • Students with disabilities with communication challenges 
  • Disabled students in self-contained classrooms and separate schools 
  • Students with disabilities with significant behavior challenges 

Advocate for the employment of people with disabilities in competitive and integrated jobs



Work is the foundation for economic stability. People with disabilities continue to face barriers to finding work and staying on the job. Some choose not to work more or earn higher wages for fear of losing benefits. Others struggle to find employment at competitive wagesOur clients must have information about the full array of employment services available to them and access to competitive employment, free from discrimination.   

Target Populations:

 People with disabilities facing employment discrimination or other barriers to employment, including lack of reasonable accommodations or transition services 

  • Disabled people with inadequate information about work incentives and other resources to help them find and maintain employment 
  • People with disabilities receiving less than the minimum wage for employers who contract with the state or federal government for goods or services 

Enforce the right of people with disabilities to have equal access to their community



People with disabilities are regularly denied the full and equal enjoyment of the services offered by businesses, local municipalities, and the State.        

Target Populations:

People with disabilities who have been denied equal access, including technological access, to public places, programs, or services 

  • Disabled people who have been denied accommodations/modifications by colleges and universities 
  • People with disabilities who have been denied access or accommodations to healthcare by providers or agencies

Reduce North Carolina’s Over-Reliance on PRTFs



Since 2010, the number of psychiatric residential treatment facility (PRTF) beds in the state has increased 119%, to 1,081 beds. In addition, some North Carolina children and adolescents are sent to PRTFs in other states. Rather than increasing these institutional beds, North Carolina should be ensuring children are getting the services they need in their communities. Medicaid Transformation and the State’s development of tailored plans must include community services that will dramatically reduce reliance on PRTFs.  

As then-Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius reported to Congress in 2013, “children and youth generally maintained or improved their functional status when receiving services in the community,” and “waiver services cost about a third (32 percent) of comparable services provided in PRTFs.” In other words, children in this study fared better or the same when receiving services in the community, at a lower cost. In addition to these monetary costs, we know through regulatory services and our monitoring activities that PRTFs can be physically and emotionally costly, potentially setting up generations of North Carolina’s children and adolescents for a lifetime of misdiagnoses and mistreatment. 

DRNC will work to reduce reliance on these institutional settings, by developing and making available information to policy makers and the public that will demonstrate the need to shift resources back to the community for our youth. 

Target Population:

  • Children and youth placed in PRTFs or at risk for placement in PRTFs 

Reduce unnecessary institutionalization of individuals with disabilities and advance home and community-based healthcare services and supports



The current health and human services system is biased towards institutionalization over home and community-based services. Often, people with disabilities who could successfully live in the community with sufficient services and supports are stuck in institutional settings. Others, currently living in the community are put at risk of unnecessary institutionalization and segregation due to cost-cutting measures and a flawed implementation of the service delivery system. This system violates the rights of individuals with disabilities to receive services in the least restrictive environment under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Olmstead decision. Additionally, the State fails to comply with federal Medicaid laws regarding the Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic, and Treatment provisions of Title XIX of the Social Security Act (Medicaid Act). 

This Target will take a holistic approach to address these issues to reduce institutionalization, promote community integration, and promote access to medically necessary services so that adults and children with disabilities live where they want and have the services needed to enjoy full inclusion in the community. 

Target Populations:

  • People with disabilities in institutions who could be served in the community but have been denied transition to the community because of a lack of home and community-based services 
  • Disabled people in integrated settings whose rights to community-based services have been denied 
  • People with disabilities who face an increased risk of institutionalization or reinstitutionalization because of inadequate home and community-based services systems 
  • Children and adolescents diagnosed with complex needs who face increased risk of institutionalization because of a lack of coordinated service and/or inadequate home and community-based services 

Protect the housing rights of people with disabilities under both federal and state law



Disability Rights NC receives numerous calls from individuals experiencing housing discrimination.  Our callers may be living in homes that are not accessible for their needs, subjected to harassment or threats of eviction due to their disability-related needs, or simply are unable to find accessible, affordable housing. Others require reasonable accommodations/modifications to ensure they enjoy access to their homes equal to individuals without disabilities. DRNC is committed to combating housing discrimination to ensure people with disabilities may live independently in accessible homes in the communities of their choice.  DRNC will utilize Protection and Advocacy tools including targeted individual representation, education and training, and systemic advocacy to increase access to and funding for safe, affordable, accessible housing.   

Target Populations:

  • People with disabilities who have been denied equal access to fair housing 
  • Disabled people at risk of losing their housing due to their disability-related needs 

Advocate for safe, equitable and just criminal processes for people with disabilities



People with disabilities are not only overrepresented in North Carolina’s prisons and jails, they are also overrepresented in violent interactions with law enforcement and face challenges accessing equal treatment throughout the criminal process. Disability Rights NC has targeted for improvement the identification and treatment of people with disabilities in prisons and jails as well as worked to make the ADA’s right to access programs and services a reality in these institutions. While we will continue to be a leading advocate for people with disabilities in prisons and jails, this expanded target will encompass investigating the experience of people with disabilities at steps along the criminal process and identifying reforms needed to ensure the system is safe and fair for people with disabilities. 

In the prison context, the Department of Public Safety continues to house inmates with mental health disabilities in solitary confinement without needed out of cell treatment. DPS fails to identify and accommodate thousands of inmates with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, leaving them at risk of abuse as well as idled in prison and ill prepared for successful reentry. The prison-ADA system fails to identify and accommodate prisoners with disabilities.  DRNC’s goal is to remedy the ADA system in NC prisons so that inmates with disabilities are no longer discriminated against and are able to access programs and services while in prison and as part of their preparation for successful reentry upon release.   

Jails are neither designed nor funded to provide mental health treatment, yet with the erosion of public mental health services they have increasingly become de facto mental health facilities. Suicides continue to occur at an alarming rate in NC Jails.  Advocacy is needed to ensure Jail Administrators appropriately respond to an inmate’s mental health needs. Sadly, we have learned that Jail Administrators are also failing to protect the increasing numbers of arrestees in crisis due to substance use. There are few organizations monitoring conditions in our NC Jails, and DRNC can have a meaningful impact on the quality of care for people with disabilities. 

Target Populations:

  • People with disabilities confined in NC Jails 
  • People with mental health disabilities in prison who are not identified and/or are not receiving appropriate treatment  
  • Disabled prisoners who are not receiving accommodations and who are denied equal access to prison programs and services 
  • People with disabilities who come in contact with law enforcement and the criminal court system 

Prepare, advise, and advocate for people with disabilities before, during, and after a state declared disaster/pandemic



The novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, is creating an evolving situation with varied impacts to our disaster recovery work. The social aspects of how we continue our disaster work, from in person meetings with clients, attending Long-term Recovery Group meetings to advocate for needed disaster recovery resources, providing in person outreach to communities in Eastern North Carolina have been upended. In addition, we are facing the possibility of a busy hurricane season during an ongoing pandemic. Providing protection and advocacy for people with disabilities moving forward will be crucial to ensure that they have equal access to needed programs, services and supports to remain housed, safe, self-determined, independent, and free from abuse and neglect.  

The intersection of poverty, segregation and racism plays out in disasterscomplicating and stalling disaster recovery efforts. DRNC sees inequities in long-term disaster recovery for many of our clients. Our current and past cases include people with disabilities who have been relegated to flood-prone parts of the state and are experiencing homelessness and/or housing instability before the disaster.  Many have  lived on the margins due to the lack of needed health care resources,  lost their savings due to evacuation costs, and have lost jobs due to the disaster/pandemic. Most lack funds for security deposits or to put into escrow due to duplication of benefits issues.  Advocacy is needed to ensure that the civil rights of people with disabilities are enforced during these uncertain times. 

Almost two years after Hurricane Florence, many clients on our caseload are awaiting distribution of Community Development Block Grants – Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR)the last funding that will assist them with their recovery efforts. The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has approved North Carolina’s Hurricane Florence Action Plan that the State submitted. Clients are waiting for the application process to open to get in line for the last pot of money to assist with their recovery. The fear is that there will not be enough money to help everyone recover as many remain displaced, unstably housed or homeless from Hurricane Florence. The biggest barrier continues to be the tremendous shortage of affordable, accessible housing that is causing continued hardships for many people. It is essential that we respond proactively, sustain our strong efforts, and continue to build momentum around identified disaster related issues affecting people with disabilities. Legal advocacy and representation, training, outreach and technical assistance are required to assist emergency response and recovery systems to adequately address the needs of people with disabilities, whose voices must be amplified in these processes.   

Target Populations:

  • People with disabilities who have been affected by disasters/pandemics and are in need of support, services, resources and legal advocacy to return to their homes and communities 
  • Outreach and training to disability community, advocacy groups and public to provide clarity and understanding about the rights of disabled people before, during and after a disaster 

Promote the right of self-determination



Advocating for the right of people with disabilities to self-determination is fundamental to DRNC’s purpose as the Protection & Advocacy organization. Self-determination is the ability to make decisions and take actions to shape one’s own life. It is one of our most fundamental rights.  

Guardianship permits an individual, a corporation, or the government to stand in the shoes of a person with a disability and make decisions on their behalf. This relationship almost always results in the loss of some or all decision-making authority belonging to a disabled person. People with disabilities have the same right to self-determination as everyone else. They are entitled to be informed, receive respectful support, exert control in their lives, to act on their own behalf, and to direct their healthcare. This fundamental right does not end with a determination of incompetency.  

People with disabilities are able to participate in decisions affecting their own healthcare; however, they are often subjected to forced treatment, including involuntary commitments (IVC). This practice has traumatic and detrimental consequences for disabled people. DRNC will research and investigate the apparent misuse of the involuntary commitment process and the exclusion of people with mental health disabilities from participating in health care decisions affecting them. We will advocate individually and systemically to reduce the overuse and misuse of IVC, and enforce the fundamental right of individuals to direct their own health. 

Target Populations:

  • People with disabilities who would like to restore their competency 
  • Disabled people who have public or corporate guardians and have asked to transition to the community with supports but have not received help from their guardian to move 
  • People with disabilities who have been denied their right to participate in decisions about their health, or forced to undergo a particular treatment

Enforce the rights of people with disabilities to vote.


Fiscal Year 2021 will begin just before a major general election that includes Presidential, Congressional, Senate, Gubernatorial, and many downballot races. These years of high-profile elections present an opportunity to substantially increase the participation of voters with disabilities. Despite significant investment from many directions in increasing voter turnout, voters with disabilities still vote at disproportionately lower rates than their non-disabled peers. There are multiple reasons why this is true, including significant structural and procedural barriers faced by voters with disabilities and a lack of focus on the needs of disabled voters by voter engagement funders. We are maximizing our PAVA funding impact by ensuring that coalition partners who work in voter engagement and mobilization are making their information accessible and explicitly considering the needs of voters with disabilities in their planning. Following up on our first ever voting internship program, October and November will see interns completing voter engagement plans on their campuses and in their communities. DRNC will emphasize the benefits of voting early, and continue to address barriers at poll sites and barriers to absentee voting. Activity may slow after November 2020. 

Target Populations:

  • Voters with disabilities 
  • Notable subgroups include: blind voters, voters living in facilities, and voters living alone in the community but with little support or connection to others

    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. This has been and always will be a critical part of DRNC’s efforts. Within our resources and priorities, we will:

    • Monitor various types of facilities to identify, prevent and remedy instances of abuse and neglect against people with disabilities, and keep them safe;
    • Ensure legal compliance, safe conditions, and appropriate services;
    • Identify individuals who could live in the community with supports;
    • Investigate deaths and allegations of abuse or neglect in facilities;
    • Advocate for systemic reforms.