Our History

Disability Rights California Through the Years 1978 - 2017

1978: In 1972, a New York television station produced an investigative series exposing abuses at Willowbrook, a state-run institution for children with intellectual disabilities. As a result, Congress passed the Developmental Disabilities and Bill of Rights (DD) Act in 1975. It created the protection and advocacy system, designating an organization within each state and territory to advocate for the rights of people with disabilities. In 1978, the governor designated us as California’s statewide organization under the name Protection & Advocacy, Inc. (PAI).

1979 – 1985: We help stop deregulation of Education of All Handicapped Children Act. It requires all public schools receiving federal funds to provide equal access to education; through litigation, we successfully oppose cuts to regional center services without going through the Individualized Program Plan (IPP) process; Lopez v. Heckler stops the Social Security Administration from terminating benefits if a person doesn’t show substantial evidence of medical improvement.

1986 – 1990: The Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness (PAIMI) program is established. It offers services to people with mental health disabilities; we file Coffelt class action lawsuit to speed pace of individuals leaving state developmental centers; the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is signed into law. Riese v St Mary’s Hospital finds people on short-term involuntary commitments have a right to make informed decisions about medications. A hearing is required before someone is involuntarily medicated.

1991 – 1995: Created California Office of Patients’ Rights (COPR) to serve state hospital residents; Coffelt suit settles, affecting 2300 living in state institutions; Legislature passes our bills to conform state law to the Americans with Disabilities Act and our bill on Fair Housing for People with Disabilities. The Protection and Advocacy for Individual Rights (PAIR) is enacted. It expands the organization to be cross disability, including sensory, learning and physical disabilities.

1996- 2000: We reach a settlement in the Chanda Smith case that improves services for 80,000 students with disabilities in Los Angeles; set up Office of Clients’ Rights Advocacy (OCRA) to help people with developmental disabilities receive services. We settle a class action lawsuit against Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) over access violations, including broken elevators and inaccessible turnstiles. Settlement affects 40,000 passengers. We reach a settlement in a class action lawsuit against the state requiring community mental health services focus on individual needs rather than availability of services.

2001 – 2005: Emily Q case results in 1000 young people receiving intensive behavioral health support; we sponsor SB 130 providing safeguards to minimize the harm caused by using behavioral restraints (particularly the prone restraint technique) or seclusion in facilities.

2006 – 2010: Judge stops cuts to In-Home Supportive Services hours for recipients in response to our Oster class action lawsuit. We release report, “Restraint and Seclusion in California Schools: A Failing Grade”, it addresses concerns about these traumatic and dangerous practices. The report also outlines alternatives to protect children. We change our name from PAI to Disability Rights California; in Darling v. Douglas, we reach a settlement in a class action lawsuit restoring Adult Day health Care as a Medi-Cal optional benefit; create the California Memorial Project (CMP) to honor individuals who died in state institutions without acknowledgment.

2011 – 2013: We reach a settlement in the Napper class action lawsuit that keeps community mental health clinics open in Sacramento. Legislature passes several bills, including requiring state institutions to report all abuse and unexplained deaths to police; regional centers must provide documents in a client’s native language; and regional center consumers and families are given more flexibility to determine what services and supports they need. We intervene after a state hospital throws away residents’ ballots. County elections office brings substitute ballots to the hospital so people can vote.

2014 – 2017: We reach settlements in two jail cases, Johnson and Mimms, to make facilities more physically accessible. The agreements ensure access to mental health and health care services; we settle ILCSC vs. the City of Los Angeles, a landmark agreement mandating the city create 4000 units of affordable, accessible housing; Legislature passes bill requiring Department of Developmental Services to publicly report data it collects about the use of physical or chemical restraints in facilities used by regional centers.