Celebrating 40 Years of Advancing an Inclusive and Barrier-free California
For 40 years, Disability Rights California has advanced and protected the rights of Californians with disabilities. We have stopped abuse, obtained critical benefits and prevented the state from cutting important services. Our advocacy and litigation has directly helped almost a million individuals while having beneficial outcomes for millions more. Last year alone, our advocacy resulted in over $5 million dollars in services and benefits to Californians with disabilities.
To celebrate DRC’s 40th anniversary, each week we will feature the moving story of an individual or group that DRC has helped over its 40 years. After each story is released, it will be archived below in chronologically order of when it occurred in our 40 year history.
Join us in our celebration by making a donation and sharing the stories about your work with your network and in your community.
Thank you for your years of support and for helping us advance and protect the rights of Californians with disabilities.
DRC reaches largest settlement of its kind with BART
Ann Cupolo was dressed for an evening at the theater with her husband. When she rolled her wheelchair onto an elevator at a San Francisco BART station, she had to go through urine and feces. This was a common experience for people with disabilities. There were other problems with BART. BART often had broken elevators and escalators with no advanced notice for riders, leaving them stranded upon arrival at their destination stations. Riders could not enter turnstiles and had to wait for station agents to help them.
Disability Rights California has been a state and national leader in investigating and highlighting the risks of behavioral restraint and championing legislation to prohibit dangerous practices.
The Office of Clients’ Rights Advocacy (OCRA) provides advocacy services to regional center consumers who have intellectual and developmental disabilities.
In 1999, Disability Rights California, then known as Protection and Advocacy Inc. (PAI), was awarded the contract by the Department of Developmental Services to provide clients’ rights advocacy services to consumers of California’s 21 regional centers. Soon, OCRA would become PAI’s largest unit with 65 employees.
The California Office of Patients’ Rights (COPR) was created in 1993 to advocate for the rights of residents at California’s state psychiatric hospitals. COPR also provides technical assistance and training to county patients’ rights advocates. Before Disability Rights California was awarded the contract to provide these services, state hospital advocates were employees of the state of California.
On January 19, 1993, before a packed San Francisco Superior court, Judge Stuart Pollak approved the settlement agreement in Coffelt v. Department of Developmental Services (DDS). The Settlement in this class action lawsuit – to move more people from institutions into the community – was the largest of its kind in the country. Protection and Advocacy Incorporated (PAI), (now Disability Rights California) filed the suit in February 1990 on behalf of 950 class members, 14 individual plaintiffs and six organizations.
Ellen Goldblatt was a senior PAI attorney and a lead on the case.
We work to make sure people with disabilities can live wherever they choose. Our Civil Rights Practice Group advocates for increasing the stock of affordable and accessible housing through complex litigation and systemic advocacy.
In 1999, the US Supreme Court’s Olmstead decision required states provide people with disabilities the opportunity to live in a home or community-based setting, rather than in an institution. DRC has worked to find supportive homes in the community for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities previously isolated in institutions. Many are enjoying full and happy lives. Here are the stories of three Disability Rights California clients who are proof of that.
In the spring of 2010, Sacramento County released plans for drastic mental health budget cuts that threatened the County’s highly effective system of outpatient mental health clinics. Leslie Napper and other clients became alarmed and asked Disability Rights California for help. DRC attorneys investigated and found out the county budget cuts would eliminate services to 5000 clients and force some nonprofit clinics to close their doors.
DRC fights for the rights of young adults and children to receive the appropriate mental health treatment so they can live in the community.
Disability Rights California believes people have the right to express their sexuality, gender, and sexual orientation free from discrimination, harassment, interference, and retaliation whether they live in the community or in institutions.
People with developmental disabilities are at a higher risk of being abused, neglected and victims of crime than others. The rate of sexual assault is two to 10 times higher for people with disabilities compared to people without. DRC’s Investigations Unit has investigated horrendous incidents of sexual abuse and pushed for reform to ensure these assaults are promptly reported and investigated.
From the beginning, Disability Rights California has passionately advocated for the rights of Californians with disabilities through litigation, legislation, investigations, education, and representation of clients.
We are part of the protection and advocacy system created by Congress in 1975 after an investigation exposed horrid conditions, abuse, and neglect at an overcrowded state-run institution for children and adults with intellectual disabilities in New York.
Army veteran Charles Guerra, who has a physical disability, struggles to get to classes and other school activities at West Los Angeles College. In 2016, the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD), the largest in the country, abruptly stopped providing the shuttle service used by students with disabilities.
DRC has been at the forefront of advocating for people with mental health disabilities to refuse psychiatric medication absent an emergency.
This week Disability Rights California is proud to celebrate the leadership of Catherine Blakemore. She has led DRC from a fledgling protection and advocacy agency to the largest disability civil rights organization in the country.
Disability Rights California investigates conditions in jails, juvenile facilities, immigration detention centers and other facilities that detain people. We started this project in 2015 because we have significant concerns about how people with disabilities are treated behind bars and out of the public's view. For example, people with mental health conditions often end up in solitary confinement for long periods, causing enormous harm to their mental and physical well-being.
Going to the Yolo Adult Day Health Center in Woodland was the highlight of 74-year-old Esther Darling’s day. She had been going there five days a week for more than a decade and the program was the one thing that kept her from ending up in a nursing home. Little did she know she would be at the center of a legal battle to save her program (Darling v Douglas).
Disability Rights California (DRC) has worked for decades to further the personal autonomy rights of all people with disabilities, including the right to equal access to health care and the right to make decisions about one’s own life and body, even when those decisions are not ones others would make.