The Protection and Advocacy concept was initially triggered by a series of local television news broadcasts, which Geraldo Rivera did for the ABC News affiliate in New York City. Rivera’s investigative reporting exposed abuse, neglect and lack of programming at Willowbrook, a state institution for people with mental retardation on Staten Island.
These broadcasts galvanized the state’s senior senator, Jacob Javitts, to action, incorporating P&A Systems in the renewal of the federal developmental disabilities legislation enacted in 1975. While their mandate was drawn more broadly in the statute, P&A Systems were originally intended to protect people in mental retardation facilities from abuse and neglect.
The National Disability Rights Network – previously the National Association of Protection and Advocacy Systems (NAPAS) – was first established in 1980 after several Executive Directors saw the need for representation in Washington on behalf of their programs.
In 1984, NAPAS worked successfully to expand the Client Assistance Program (CAP), which provides advocacy services to clients of state Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agencies. As a result, such programs were mandated in all states, with more than half of the state P&A Systems designated to provide CAP services, as well.
That same year, Congress again renewed the developmental disabilities statute, strengthening their authority to intercede in matters of inappropriate institutional care.
Two years later, Congress designated P&A Systems to provide advocacy services to people who were disabled as a result of mental illness, as well. In the course of only ten years, federal support for advocacy on behalf of people with disabilities expanded from a narrow initial focus on the institutional care provided to people in mental retardation facilities to include advocacy services for people with mental illnesses and clients of vocational rehabilitation agencies. In a number of states, this federally funded program has attracted additional state, local, and private support to extend its services to all people with disabilities regardless of the nature or severity of those disabilities. Over the decade, NDRN has become a force for positive change in the national disability community, playing a major role in the expansion of Protection and Advocacy Services by conveying the collective concerns to the Office of Developmental Disabilities, as well as to the contractors themselves.
The yearly national P&A conferences were central to this development of the Network, as it was at these meetings that administrators first discovered the extent to which they shared common problems and learned to value the expertise they had collectively developed in meeting them. Continuing to use the subsequent reauthorizations of its programs, NDRN continued to find new opportunities to expand the eligibility and resources of the program. In a little-known section of the Rehabilitation Act, reference was made to a Protection and Advocacy System for Individual Rights. NDRN convinced RSA to demonstrate the usefulness of P&As receiving funds to provide advocacy services to all people with disabilities not eligible for the other programs ( DD, MI and CAP). After the three-year demonstration, the Rehabilitation Act was amended to create a new formula grant program (PAIR) modeled after the other programs.
In 1993, Congress reauthorized the Assistive Technology (AT) Act of 1988. The Act set up a series of state AT projects, which had come into existence over the previous five years. Based on reports from the National Council on Disability, NDRN was able to secure funding for subcontracts from the AT projects to each P&A to provide legally based advocacy services to individuals with disabilities on assistive technology issues.
In 1999, an effort was launched by the disability community to pass the Ticket to Work and Work Incentive Implementation Act (TWWIIA), which assists beneficiaries of Social Security in returning to work and includes a P&A program to assist individuals who received SSDI or SSI benefits and wish to return to work.
Two important provisions for the P&A System were included in the Children’s Health Act of 2000. First the PAIMI program was expanded to cover individuals with mental illness in the community. Secondly, Congress authorized the new P&A program for people with traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Most recently, the Protection & Advocacy for Voting Access (PAVA) program was created in 2002 when Congress enacted the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). PAVA enables P&As to secure election access for a wide range of individuals with disabilities – including, but not limited to, in dividuals with mental, sensory, and physical disabilities – pursuant to Congress’ broad mandate to “ensure the full participation in the electoral process for individuals with disabilities, including registering to vote, casting a vote and accessing polling places”