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Disability Rights DC Advocates for the Rights of People With Disabilities


The DC Bar Foundation is proud to fund legal services organizations in DC that help residents during times of crisis.

Disability Rights DC (DRDC) at University Legal Services—a DCBF grantee partner—is a federally designated protection and advocacy program for people with disabilities in the District of Columbia and is the Client Assistance Program under the Rehabilitation Act. DRDC engages in different activities to protect and advocate for the rights of people with disabilities. All services are free to eligible individuals with disabilities.

In this story, we highlight the impact of DRDC's work and how their ongoing support and legal efforts on behalf of their client will help him with his release from a federal prison in North Carolina.

DRDC used a pseudonym in this story to protect the client's identity.

In April 2022, a criminal defense attorney and a federal public defender contacted Disability Rights DC (DRDC) at University Legal Services to represent Robert, a 55-year-old African-American DC resident incarcerated in a federal prison in North Carolina. Robert has an intellectual disability and has been incarcerated since 2006. He had completed his criminal sentence, but the court committed him to prison for an indefinite amount of time. The government was willing to consider releasing him if he had intensive support services in the community, and the court encouraged this discussion. As a result, the Bureau of Prisons applied for services from DC's Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA), which can provide 24-hour intensive community-based services and housing. DDA, however, found him ineligible for services. Robert's federal public defender requested that DRDC represent Robert and appeal DDA's denial of eligibility since DRDC has the expertise and experience to appeal these decisions.

DRDC reviewed the documents submitted with Robert's application and spoke to Robert, his prison social worker, and his prison psychologist. DDA denied Robert eligibility because they found he lacked the requisite adaptive functioning deficits to meet the requirements for an intellectual disability diagnosis under DC law. DRDC sought out a psychologist who knew Robert well, and he found serious flaws with the adaptive functioning testing administered to him. The psychologist wrote a letter supporting the appeal and attesting to his adaptive functioning deficits and his eligibility for services as someone with an intellectual disability.

DRDC used that expert letter and made arguments relying on established case law (including Supreme Court precedent) and guidance from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and the American Association of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities that states that adaptive functioning should not be measured in a prison setting due to the highly structured environment. DRDC drafted a lengthy appeal letter and argued his case in a Level I appeal meeting. DRDC was successful, and DDA reversed the finding of eligibility and found Robert eligible for services in July 2022.

DRDC has since represented Robert at a DDA planning meeting to plan for his services upon release. Robert can receive housing and 24-hour staffing, which will be needed for the court to consider releasing him. DRDC continues to work with Robert's federal public defender to develop a plan so that the court is satisfied with the services that will be provided in the community and will release him so he can finally return home to DC.

University Legal Services is a private, nonprofit, community-based organization that provides housing, counseling, and tenant purchase/asset management to individuals with low and moderate incomes in DC. Through its Disability Rights DC unit, they advance the mission to advocate for the human, civil, and legal rights and protections of people with disabilities.

DCBF is proud to fund organizations like University Legal Services and the DRDC program because it allows DC residents, regardless of their background or prior circumstances, to be treated with dignity and respect and receive the necessary services to help them reenter society with the appropriate resources and support.

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