The federal P & A system started in New York State in the 1970's, as a result of an expose on the deplorable conditions in the Willowbrook State School on Staten Island.  A series of local television news broadcasts, which Geraldo Rivera did for the ABC News affiliate in New York City, exposed abuse, neglect and lack of services and supports at Willowbrook, a state institution for people with intellectual and other disabilities on Staten Island, New York.


In 1975, following the exposure of the deplorable conditions, United State's Senior Senator, Jacob Javits, spearheaded legislation creating the first Protection and Advocacy program. The Protection and Advocacy for People with Developmental Disabilities was created through the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights (DD) Act. The DD Act established the P&A System “to protect the legal and human rights of individuals with developmental disabilities.” 

In 1986, Congress passed the Protection and Advocacy for Mentally Ill Individuals Act (the “PAIMI Act)  after finding that individuals with mental illness were vulnerable to abuse, neglect, and serious injury, and that state systems for monitoring the rights of these individuals varied widely and were frequently inadequate.   The PAIMI Act  established a P&A system to protect and advocate for the rights of individuals with mental illness.  

In 1992, Congress enacted the PAIR Act to ensure protection and advocacy services are available to individuals with disabilities that neither have developmental disabilities as defined by the DD Act nor mental illness as defined by PAIMI Act. As an example, an individual with a physical impairment would be eligible for services under PAIR.

Congress authorized the Protection & Advocacy for Assistive Technology (PAAT) program in 1994. The PAAT program provides legally based advocacy services to individuals with disabilities on assistive technology issues.

Beginning in 1999, an effort was launched by the disability community to pass the Ticket to Work and Work Incentive Implementation Act (TWWIIA), which assists beneficiaries with Social Security.  This legislation authorized the Protection & Advocacy for Beneficiaries of Social Security (PABSS) program, which assists individuals who received SSDI or SSI benefits and wish to work.

Two important additions to the P & A system were included in the Children's Health Act of 2000.  First, the PAIMI program was expanded to cover individuals with mental illness in the community.  Secondly, Congress authorized a new P & A program for people with traumatic brain injury (PATBI).

Most recently, P & A for Voting Access (PAVA) was created in 2002 when Congress enacted the Help America Vote (HAVA).  PAVA enables P & As to secure election access for a wider range of individuals with disabilities, including but not limited to, individuals with mental, sensory and physical disabilities.

Focus of Protection & Advocacy

The focus of the Protection & Advocacy System was to safeguard the well-being of individuals living in institutions. The Protection & Advocacy System monitors, investigates and advocates to remedy adverse conditions in large and small, public and private, facilities that care for people with disabilities.  In order to conduct its investigations and monitor the conditions of these facilities Congress gave a P&A broad authority to access facilities at times when service recipients are present. This authority includes the opportunity: to interview any facility service recipient, employee, or other person, including the person thought to be the victim of such abuse, who might be reasonably believed by the system to have knowledge of the incident under investigation; and to inspect, view and photograph all areas of the facility's premises that might be believed by the system to have been connected with the incident under investigation.

Over the years, the focus of P & A work has broadened to one that secures the rights of persons with all types of disabilities wherever the person may reside.  Protection & Advocacy Systems have the authority and  devote considerable resources to ensuring full access to inclusive educational programs, financial entitlements, healthcare, accessible housing, transportation, and productive employment opportunities, as well as continuing to seek prevention of abuse and neglect.

The Client Assistance Program

Created by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Client Assistance Program (CAP) provides information and assistance to people receiving vocational rehabilitation in order to access employment.  


History of Disability Rights New York

On June 1, 2013, DRNY was designated as New York State's Protection & Advocacy System and Client Assistance Program. This designation is consistent with the requirements of the Protection of People with Special Needs Act which requires the Governor of the State of New York to designate an independent agency to conduct and coordinate the P&A/CAP.  DRNY is a not-for-profit corporation which prior to the designation as New York State's P&A/CAP operated under the name Disability Advocates, Inc since 1989.  DRNY has a long history of solely representing individuals with disabilities and advocating through the Protection & Advocacy System to defend the rights of people with disabilities.

New York State designated DRNY to:

  • Support a more coordinated and consistent statewide P&A/CAP system;
  • Enhance protection and advocacy for persons with disabilities and their families;
  • Eliminate any perceived conflict of interest associated with the former P&A/CAP system in state government;
  • Allow the P&A/CAP to be more flexible with current resources and to explore other program resources;
  • Allow the P&A/CAP greater independence in compliance with federal requirements under the P&A System.

For more information about the re-designation of New York State's Protection and Advocacy and Client Assistance Program, read Notice of Intent to Re-designate.

The History of the Protection & Advocacy System & CLient Assistance Program

The Protection and Advocacy (P & A) System and Client Assistance Program (CAP) is a nationwide network of legally based disability rights agencies mandated by federal law to protect and advocate for individuals with disabilities.  P & A agencies have the authority to investigate abuse and neglect of people with disabilities, provide legal representation to people with disabilities and engage in other advocacy to advance the rights of individuals with disabilities.