Bar News - July 6, 2007
Morning Mail: Disabilities Rights Center an Important Legal Service
I am writing to react to the recent (May 2007) newsletter from the Campaign for Legal Services, as a strong supporter of the Campaign and the organizations it benefits. I also am writing as the current President of the Board of Directors of the Disabilities Rights Center (DRC). As the Campaign Newsletter is published only yearly, the Bar News seemed like the appropriate forum.
The Campaign newsletter indicated that there are only “three legal services organizations in New Hampshire (the New Hampshire Pro Bono Referral Program, the Legal Advice and Referral Center, and New Hampshire Legal Assistance).” This comment overlooks the critical work of DRC, another legal services organization in New Hampshire. While DRC was not included in the Campaign, it provides legal services to a population base of approximately the same size as the legal services organizations mentioned in the article and with legal needs every bit as profound. Indeed, one of the three successes reported in the newsletter involved a special education case in which the DRC provided training and support to the pro bono attorney who handled this matter.
The DRC is New Hampshire’s designated protection and advocacy organization for persons with disabilities. Annually, the DRC provides civil legal services, including counsel and advice, brief services and full representation, to approximately 2,000 New Hampshire residents. Nearly 10 percent of the people DRC assists are low-income and receive these services without paying any fees. DRC’s attorneys provide critical legal services in a number of areas to protect and advance the rights of individuals with disabilities. The priority areas are:
- Freedom from Harm: protecting the rights of persons with disabilities to self-determination, freedom from abuse, neglect, inappropriate restraints, seclusion, coercion and other harm;
- Prevention of Discrimination: ensuring access to, and preventing discrimination in housing and public accommodations including: transportation, government, government-funded services, voting and assistive technology;
- Access to Services: Advocacy for access to quality services, including health, community, mental health and vocational services in the least restrictive and most integrated environment;
- Education: Advocacy for access to quality education and services to enable children with disabilities to lead healthy, independent and productive lives;
- Employment: ensuring rights to equal employment opportunities and needed social security benefits.
DRC also provides outreach, community education and training, legislative policy work, and impact litigation benefiting thousands.
Like many non-profit organizations, DRC struggles to meet the needs of its client-base with diminishing funds. Although DRC receives support from several grants from the federal government, these funds have not kept pace with inflation and have become essentially stagnant. While DRC receives some private and foundation contributions, as well as revenue from attorneys’ fees, DRC struggles mightily to properly compensate its staff, sustain its capacity, and to promote equal access and justice for persons with disabilities. For more information about the DRC, please visit our Web site at www. drcnh.org.
Disabilities Rights Center
From John Tobin, Executive Director, NH Legal Assistance:
Joe Dickinson is completely correct in reminding everyone that the Disabilities Rights Center is an important provider of legal services in our state. The DRC is staffed with talented and persistent advocates, and the issues that the DRC addresses are vitally important to people with disabilities in New Hampshire. New Hampshire Legal Assistance collaborates with the DRC both on litigation for clients and joint training for our staff. The DRC works with Pro Bono on special education cases and with the Legal Advice & Referral Center (LARC). The urgent legal needs of low-income New Hampshire residents are enormous in scope and complexity, and the DRC plays a unique and significant role in our system.