Read a summary of the targets.

1. Keep students with disabilities in school


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, for example, 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 2018-19, 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 21% of all long-term suspension and expulsions.

Latinx students and English language learner students experience school exclusion through disproportionately low graduation rates. In 2020, 87.6% of all NC students who entered 9th grade in 2016 graduated from high school. For Latinx students, the graduation rate for that same group was 81.7%, and for English Language Learners, 71.4%.

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.

Exclusion also occurs when students are sent home by a school administrator without the school appropriately recording that exclusion as a suspension. Our casework reveals that this is a common practice, and has a disproportionate effect on Latinx and English Language Learner students, whose parent may be more reluctant to challenge improper exclusions and lack of appropriate services by schools.

Some students with IEPs who go to school every day also are being excluded from the education that their non-disabled peers are receiving, as a result of lack of effective 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.
  • Students with disabilities 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.
  • Students in juvenile detention centers who are not receiving appropriate special education services.

2. 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, PRN (as needed) medications, 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. The work of this target will focus on 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
  • Students with disabilities in self-contained classrooms and separate schools
  • Students with disabilities with significant behavior challenges
  • Students with disabilities who receive PRN or “as needed” medication such as Haldol

3. Advocate for people with disabilities to have fair and integrated jobs


People with disabilities face many barriers to finding work, keeping their jobs, or getting better jobs. Some are unfairly screened out of opportunities, demoted, or even fired. Some cannot receive the accommodations they need. Others are not paid fairly and work in separate settings like sheltered workshops. Still others fear losing benefits if they return to work. We will help make sure people with disabilities have the chance to be trained for fair paying jobs, understand the impact of work on their benefits, and not experience discrimination.

Target Populations:

  • People with disabilities facing employment discrimination or other barriers to employment, |including lack of reasonable accommodations or transition services
  • People with disabilities who lack appropriate training resources to find, maintain, or advance in employment
  • People with disabilities who experience workplace discrimination
  • People with disabilities who lack adequate information about how work may impact their benefits

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


Equal access is a bedrock principle of civil rights and the Americans with Disabilities Act. People are regularly denied the full and equal enjoyment of the services offered by businesses, local municipalities, and the State because of their disabilities. Disability Rights North Carolina will work to eliminate public access inequalities by upholding the rights of people with disabilities to live and participate in their communities as equals.

Target Populations:

There are many ways to deny persons with disabilities equal access to a public place, program, or service, making this target population vast. While not an exhaustive list, the following are some specific examples of issues we have addressed within this target:

  • Healthcare providers that refuse to consider patients with disabilities for organ transplant or other aggressive treatment
  • Summer camps or school extracurricular activities that refuse to modify rules to accommodate campers or students with special medical conditions
  • Businesses that refuse to allow patrons to use service animals
  • Courtrooms that refuse to provide sign language interpreters or braille materials
  • Public streets that are not wheelchair accessible or do not provide audio descriptions for crosswalks
  • Colleges and schools that refuse to permit classroom or testing accommodations
  • Organizers of large, public events that fail to allow aides and companions

5. Reduce North Carolina’s Over-Reliance on PRTFs


On any given day, 700 North Carolina children are in a Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facility (PRTF). About 400 of those children are in NC facilities, and the rest are in other states, as far away as California. These out-of-state facilities are beyond the reach of NC regulations and not monitored by LME/MCOs. These children are far from home with no one to help when things go wrong. We need to bring NC kids home from out-of-state placements and home from PRTFs whenever it is possible. Rather than increase the number of in-state PRTF beds, North Carolina must ensure children are getting the community-based services they need long before crisis arises, in order to avoid residential care altogether.

Studies show that children fare the same or better when receiving services in the community, at a lower cost, than in PRTFs and other large residential settings. In addition to these monetary costs, we know through 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 disadvantages. PRTF placement disproportionately impacts children in the foster care system as well as children of historically oppressed groups. Specifically, in North Carolina, Black children are overrepresented in PRTF populations. 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

6. 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.  2020 further highlighted inadequacies in the healthcare system, especially the provider network, for individuals with mental health needs. The number of involuntary commitments (IVC) continued to increase throughout North Carolina as individuals desperate for services found themselves IVCed as a last-ditch effort to receive needed services lacking in the community. People should not have to be hospitalized or institutionalized to receive medically necessary services. This current system violates the rights of individuals with disabilities to receive services in the least restrictive environment under the Integration Mandate of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Olmstead decision. Additionally, the State fails to deliver medically necessary services provided for under the Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic, and Treatment provisions of Title XIX of the Social Security Act (Medicaid Act) that would allow children and adolescents to remain in the least restrictive community setting.

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 have been denied transition to the community because of a lack of available home and community-based services
  • People with disabilities in the community facing institutionalization or re–institutionalization due to a denial of services or lack of available home and community-based services
  • Children and adolescents dually diagnosed with both mental health and intellectual/developmental disabilities facing increased risk of institutionalization because of a lack of coordinated service and/or inadequate home and community-based services

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


For the past few years, disability discrimination has been the number one source of housing discrimination complaints in North Carolina. Predictably, DRNC has noticed a steady increase in requests for help from individuals experiencing housing discrimination. Callers have been denied reasonable accommodations or modifications to make sure their home is accessible for their needs, thereby denying them access to their homes equal to individuals without disabilities. Others have been subjected to harassment due to their disability and/or threatened with eviction due to their disability-related needs or behaviors.

Many individuals, due to their disabilities, do not understand the eviction or summary ejectment process in North Carolina. They are often unaware of their rights and available defenses to evictions based upon there disabilities and are unable to adequately represent themselves in proceedings. Finding housing post eviction can be especially tough on individuals with disabilities due to stigmas and discrimination that make finding safe, accessible, and affordable housing a challenge. It is an even greater challenge when individuals with disabilities are also people of color, LGBTQ+, and/or indigent.

To make matters worse, North Carolina is on the cusp of a housing crisis. There is currently a 191,000-unit shortage for very-low-income and extremely-low-income families. This shortage disproportionately affects persons with disabilities who make up 20% of individuals receiving federal rental assistance in North Carolina. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has highlighted the importance of a safe and affordable home, North Carolina’s eviction rate is more than twice the national average. Eight cities in North Carolina are among the top 100 cities in the country with the highest eviction rates. Five of those eight cities rank in the top 25 US cities with the highest eviction rate.

DRNC is committed to combating housing discrimination, including discriminatory evictions, to ensure people with disabilities and their households may live independently in accessible homes in the communities of their choice. This goal will be achieved through education and training, individual representation, and systemic advocacy.

Target Populations: 

  • People with disabilities who have been denied equal access to fair housing
  • Persons with disabilities and their households at risk of losing their housing due to discrimination related to their disability or a failure to accommodate their disability-related needs

8. 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. DRNC continues to identify and advocate for improvement in the treatment of people with disabilities in prisons and jails as well as work to make the ADA’s right to access programs and services a reality in these institutions. We recently expanded this target and continue to be a leading advocate for people with disabilities in prisons and jails. This expanded target encompasses 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. The disparities for immigrant individuals with mental health disabilities are even worse. 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

9. 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 disasters, complicating 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 three 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

10. Promote the right of self-determination


Advocating for the right of people with disabilities to self-determination is fundamental to DRNC’s purpose as North Carolina’s Protection & Advocacy organization. People with disabilities have the same right to self-determination as everyone else. They are entitled to be informed, exert control in their lives, receive respectful support from those they choose to turn to for help, make decisions free from coercion, to act on their own behalf, and to direct their healthcare.

Guardianship threatens individuals’ right to self-determination. It 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 results in the loss of some or all decision-making authority belonging to a disabled person.  Although North Carolina’s laws state that guardianship should seek to preserve the rights of individuals to manage their property and personal affairs within their comprehension and judgment, the reality is that the current process does little to achieve the statute’s stated goal. Guardianships, too often, result in the complete removal of person’s right to make decisions about their own life. Guardians fall prey to false notions that adults with disabilities cannot engage in decisions about their life or function in society. As a result, those under guardianship are segregated from their community, isolated, and marginalized and oppressed. People with disabilities that are of color, LGBTQ+, and indigent are multiply marginalized and face additional challenges navigating guardianship proceedings.

Self-determination is one of our most fundamental rights and it does not end with a determination of incompetency. Decision-making is a skill that can be honed with practice, and varies across time, subject matter, and circumstance. DRNC will advocate for alternatives to guardianship that will allow people with disabilities to make their own decisions about their property, personal affairs, and especially their healthcare. We will empower them to surround themselves with people who can help with weighing options and considering likely consequences. We will advocate for equitable guardianship proceedings with strong due process protections. And we will enforce the fundamental right of individuals to direct their own healthcare, fighting against forced treatments and the over–use and misuse of IVC as a means for treatment of mental health.

Target Populations:

  • People with disabilities who would like to restore their competency
  • People with disabilities who have public or corporate guardians who have been denied help from their guardians to transition from institutions to the community with supports
  • People with disabilities who have been denied the opportunity to participate in decisions about their own healthcare, including through the IVC process

11. Enforce the rights of people with disabilities to vote


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. DRNC will emphasize the benefits of voting early and continue to address barriers at poll sites and barriers to absentee voting.

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

DRNC’s Work Outside the Advocacy Targets

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.

Information and Referral

Another important part of the work we do at DRNC is to support self-advocacy among people with disabilities. Throughout the year, we offer information and referral services, conduct outreach, and provide training and self-advocacy tools to help people with disabilities learn about and enforce their rights.

Public Policy Advocacy

DRNC also engages in public policy advocacy with funds we are able to raise outside our grants.