Legislative Mandates of the Georgia Advocacy Office
The Georgia Advocacy Office is a private, non-profit organization that protects and advocates for the human, civil, and legal rights of Georgians with all types of disabilities. We have been doing this work in Georgia since 1977.
Although we are a private, non-profit organization, we are mandated to exist by federal legislation, we receive federal funding that comes with that mandate, and we are designated by the Governor to protect and advocate for individuals with disabilities. The Georgia Advocacy Office has five different programs, each begun when a different piece of federal legislation was passed. Each of the programs uses a combination of staff advocacy and legal advocacy to protect and advocate for the rights of Georgians with disabilities. We also focus on community building and the training of self advocates to widen the network of support that is available in Georgia for people with disabilities and those that care about them.
The Georgia Advocacy Office was founded in 1977 when Congress passed the Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities Act. The DD Act said that each state would have a protection and advocacy agency for people with developmental disabilities. That is, people who become disabled before the age of 22, whose disability is likely to last their entire life, and whose disability affects at least three major life activities such as mobility, learning, ability to feed and dress oneself, decision making skills, ability to live alone, and other such things. Each state sent out a request for proposals and had their own selection process, but in the end, each Governor selected one group, in Georgia’s case the Georgia Advocacy Office, to designate as the Protection and Advocacy agency for individuals with developmental disabilities and to receive those federal funds.
Since 1977 we have been serving Georgians with developmental disabilities by working with them to secure free, inclusive, and appropriate educational placements; safe community living arrangements; and to address most any other situation that is related to discrimination based on their disability. One of our goals is to help people become stronger self-advocates and stronger community advocates. Once we help a person through a situation, we like to see them able to help themselves and their neighbors through the next situation, with our backup.
Then in 1986, Congress passed the Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness Act which extended our services to individuals labeled as mentally ill and being held in the state psychiatric hospitals. We concentrate our efforts there on issues of abuse and neglect, and also work hard to reconnect people to their home communities so that when they are released from the hospital to the community they have some support in the community to help them remain out of the hospital.
In 1994 two pieces of legislation were passed. The Protection and Advocacy for Individual Rights Act covers all of the people who were not covered by the Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities Act or the Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness Act. It covers people who became disabled after the age of 22, people who have a severe disability that is temporary in nature, and people whose disability began in childhood, but is less severe. This program addresses any issue of discrimination that is directly related to the fact that a person has a disability, such as free, inclusive, appropriate educational placements; community living options; guardianship issues; and physical accessibility issues.
The other program that began in 1994 is Protection and Advocacy for Assistive Technology. This program focuses exclusively on helping people obtain payment for assistive technology devices. Assistive technology can range from something as simple as velcro on a stick to help a person pick up things, to something as complex as a communication board. Often there is a question over whether or not something is necessary for school, for work, or if it is medically necessary. Often a device is a combination of things and funding can be worked out from a variety of sources. Our office tries to work out the best solution for the person with the disability so that they can get the technology they need.
Our newest program began in 2001. It is Protection and Advocacy for Beneficiaries of Social Security and is designed to help people figure out how they can work and earn income without losing their benefits. This program serves Georgians with disabilities between the ages of 14 and 65 who are receiving Social Security benefits.