Protection and Advocacy Services
How Protection and Advocacy Services May Help You
Protection and Advocacy (P&A) agencies are among the best advocates for individuals with disabilities. They break down barriers, make all aspects of society more accessible, and work to overcome past discrimination. P&A's have the authority to provide legal representation and other services. Where appropriate and available, they may provide training and technical assistance, legal support and legislative advocacy.
The concept of P&A's was first created in 1975 in response to prominently reported abuse and neglect in mental health care in New York. Thus, P&A systems were first incorporated into the renewal of Federal developmental disabilities legislation. Eventually, Congress expanded the role of P&A services from the mental health sector to a variety of other legislative contexts and programs including rehabilitation and assistive technology. For example, just within the past decade, Congress has authorized P&A programs in the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act (TWWIIA), which assists Social Security beneficiaries who wish to return to work, and the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), which secures election access for voters with disabilities. Congressionally mandated P&A systems and related Client Assistance Programs (CAP) have grown into a nationwide network with offices in each of the 50 states. The P&A/CAP system is now the largest provider of advocacy services for persons with disabilities in the country. This network serves a wide variety of purposes guarding against abuses, advocating basic legal rights, and ensuring accountability in health care, education, employment, housing, transportation and criminal justice.
One area of particular need and interest for the disability community is in the administration of Social Security benefits. In 1999, the TWWIIA program was enacted to help beneficiaries of Social Security with an overall goal of returning to work. This legislation, codified at 42 U.S.C. sec. 1320b-21, includes a P&A named PABSS (Program for Beneficiaries of Social Security) that helps persons with disabilities obtain information, advice and advocacy in a variety of areas as long as they are generally related to employment. For example, this P&A is authorized to provide advocacy and related services to individuals with disabilities in the following comprehensive areas: disability benefits and work incentives, rights and conditions of employment, wage and hour issues, vocational rehabilitation and preparation, health care, rights and reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), access to and disputes with community services, special education and transition issues, transportation concerns, and housing problems. Although P&A agencies are not required to take every case, whenever their services are available, they are generally provided free of charge.
There are a number of specific areas where the PABSS agency is not authorized to provide assistance. Such areas include: direct cash assistance; advice or representation with personal injury, malpractice or criminal defense matters; attempts to obtain guardianship; and property and probate issues. In addition, this P&A agency is not permitted to offer advice or advocacy on issues that are not generally related to the disabled beneficiary's employment nor may it assist with an initial Social Security disability determination. Instead, help with Social Security determinations should be sought from agency personnel, legal aid services or private attorneys.
To explore whether a P&A may help you with a Social Security matter or other legal issue, you should consult the National Disability Rights Network:
National Disability Rights Network
900 Second Street NE, Suite 211
Washington, DC 20002
fax: (202) 408-9520
email inquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org