During undergrad, I had to deal with two different disability related incidents that required legal assistance. I was incredibly grateful to have help from the Disability Law Center of Virginia (DLCV), which is a quasi-government agency that helps disabled residents with issues related to discrimination, abuse, and neglect. Every state has a Protection and Advocacy organization like this one, but a lot of people don’t know that they exist. Here is more information on my experience with Disability Law Center of Virginia, and how I used their services in college.
How to find your state’s protection and advocacy organization
Disability Law Center of Virginia only serves residents of Virginia, but there are Protection and Advocacy organizations for each US state and US territory. While I don’t have any personal experience with organizations outside of Virginia, I’ve linked a list of organizations below as well as the DLCV website.
- NDRN Member Agencies – P&A – CAP | NDRN
- disAbility Law Center of Virginia (dLCV) | Protecting Your Rights
Costs and fees for Disability Law Center of Virginia
Like other Protection and Advocacy organizations, Disability Law Center of Virginia provides services free of charge/pro bono for cases that are accepted. The exact timeline for getting a case accepted varies, however in my experience I was able to have cases opened within an hour of my first phone call.
Meeting with DLCV
Staff members at DLCV and other Protection and Advocacy organizations are licensed lawyers/attorneys that are part of the state bar, or are professional advocates and staff members that can share state resources and other information. The person managing my case was a lawyer.
Since I was dealing with time sensitive situations in both instances, all of my meetings with DLCV staff were conducted over the phone, and I sent and received paperwork over email or used digital signature tools. I communicated with staff at least once a day, and both of my cases were resolved within two weeks. Neither case required going to court.
How my cases were resolved
When I first wrote this post in 2017, I was skeptical to share exactly what had happened, since these cases were still fairly recent and I worried about getting in trouble. It’s now been more than 5 years since each incident, so I’ve updated this post with a few more details.
In the first instance, I had an issue related to housing discrimination and getting accessible housing in college. I signed a document releasing information to the lawyer who made several phone calls on my behalf and sent a letter to the housing organization. The situation was resolved very quickly once the organization learned that I had retained a lawyer.
For the second instance, I had another issue related to denial of services and not receiving notifications in a timely or accessible manner. Again, I signed a document giving them permission to speak on my behalf and sent a letter on my own with my lawyer’s name and contact information. The lawyer had a conversation with the staff members involved in the situation, and it was resolved within three days.
In both instances, I had two different lawyers, and the two cases were not connected in any way.
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Examples of situations DLCV can assist with
Outside of the examples I gave above, some examples of situations DLCV can assist with include (but are not limited to):
- IEP and 504 plan violations- I wish I knew about this in high school!
- Issues with state departments for visual impairment, vocational rehabilitation, or rehabilitation services
- Employment discrimination based on disability
- Issues with adult institutions/nursing homes/care homes
- Problems with Social Security disability benefits
- Services Provided By State Department/State Unit for Visual Impairment
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- US Government Programs For Blind/Low Vision Residents
Other information about my experience with the Disability Law Center of Virginia
- In both instances, actions were taken by the organizations that I had originally filed a complaint about to make sure that these situations were not repeated in the future
- DLCV can send advocates and/or lawyers to IEP or 504 plan meetings that can serve as a guest or help with advocating for services
- Users do not need to be registered with the state unit for visual impairment or similar departments, though priority may be given to people who are registered for services in certain states. I was registered with the Virginia DBVI at the time