Selecting Our Priorities
Disability Rights Texas, like many nonprofit and legal service organizations, has a big job to do with limited funds and staff positions. To be successful and achieve our mission, we must use every dollar and employee in the most effective way we can.
So every four years, our Board of Directors goes through a 6-month process to decide which priorities will direct our work. We start by asking people in the disability community about what is important to them. We get as much feedback from as many people and groups in Texas as we can through paper and electronic surveys, focus groups, and listening sessions. And every year, our staff and Board review our priorities to make sure we are addressing any new issues.
In setting priorities, the Board considers the biggest problems identified by the disability community along with the activities that are most related to our mission. Federal law and our other funders’ requirements play a role in our priorities, too. We are required to serve a wide range of disability populations and offer many types of services. Our priorities come from many hours of serious thinking and hard work to find ways to offer the best services possible to the most people with disabilities we can—with the funding and staff we have.
Our strategic priorities are:
- Living in the Community
- Civil Rights
- Safety, Protection, and Support in Texas Institutions
- Health Care
- Going to Public School
- Disaster Planning and Recovery
- Protection and Support in Foster Care
For detailed information on what we focus on in each of the above areas, please refer to either of the following documents:
Responding to emerging issues or unexpected challenges
Sometimes, unexpected things come up that have a big impact on people with disabilities and so it has an impact on our current service priorities. For example, as Hurricane Harvey came ashore in 2017, we saw once again, individuals with disabilities are especially vulnerable in disasters and face unique legal challenges rebuilding their lives.
With limited resources and the use of some new restricted funding for this purpose, we were able to respond and assist families with legal needs related to housing, avoiding inappropriate institutionalization, accessing appropriate accommodations in services, and legally mandated educational services.
Another example of an unexpected demand for our resources is the separation of immigrant children from their parents and placement in detention facilities. With news showing some of the conditions in detention facilities, our staff utilized our P&A access authority to monitor these facilities and represent individual youth who experienced issues related to mental health, medical care, and special education.
Both examples are about issues that fall within our service priorities but the demand for our immediate help when these situations arise, may exceed our current resources. Because unknown issues and challenges may arise in the next four years, DRTx seeks to be ready to address the changing social, cultural, financial, institutional or legal climate. The Board reviews the priorities at least once every year—to make sure we’re putting our money and our work where it’s most needed, and is committed to considering emerging issues and unexpected challenges as they arise and will make changes in our priorities as needed..
Mental Illness Advocacy is One of Our Priorities
In 1986, Congress authorized the Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness (PAIMI) program in the Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness Act. The PAIMI program is funded through the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
The PAIMI program was originally established to provide protection and advocacy services to individuals with significant mental illness or emotional impairment who were or had recently resided in institutional settings. In 2000, Congress expanded the PAIMI program to individuals living in both institutional and community settings, including their own homes, which complements the intent of the United States Supreme Court ruling in the Olmstead v. L.C. (527 U.S. 581).
Under the PAIMI program, P&As like Disability Rights Texas are authorized to investigate abuse and neglect and rights violations in all public and private facilities and community settings, including hospitals, nursing facilities and group homes – and to oversee the effectiveness of state agencies that license and regulate these programs.
PAIMI program staff also play a critical role in ensuring that people with mental illness have access to education, housing, employment and other necessary supports and services in the community so they can remain in their communities and be economically self-sufficient. In addition, program staff work to reduce discrimination in employment and housing.
Additionally, PAIMI program staff play an increasingly critical role in juvenile justice and adult correctional facilities where people with mental illness, who are not receiving the supports and services they need in the community, often end up incarcerated.
The United States Department of Health and Human Services has also mandated that the P&A System receive investigation reports of deaths and serious injuries related to restraint and seclusion practices in hospitals and psychiatric facilities.
Finally, in 2002 and 2003, Congress affirmed that the P&A System has a significant role in addressing the community integration needs of individuals with mental illness.