State Bar of Michigan
Volume 3, Issue 3, July 2007

Committee on Justice Initiatives and Equal Access Initiative Disabilities Project

Disabilities Project Newsletter

Michigan Protection and Advocacy
Service Provides Advocacy to People
with Disabilities

by Tom Masseau, Director of Government and Media Relations, Michigan Protection and Advocacy Service, Inc.

The protection and advocacy (P&A) system is a nationwide network of nonprofit corporations and state agencies providing information and advocacy to individuals with disabilities. Under federal law, each state and territory must designate a P&A program. In Michigan, that program is Michigan Protection and Advocacy Service, Inc. (MPAS). MPAS provides information and advocacy to promote, expand, and protect the human and legal rights of people with disabilities.

Congress mandated the protection and advocacy system in response to reports of serious mistreatment of individuals confined in state facilities. In the 1975 Developmental Disabilities Bill of Rights and Assistance Act, Congress recognized that a federally directed system of legal advocacy was necessary “to ensure the humane care, treatment, habilitation, and protection” of individuals with mental retardation and other developmental disabilities. Although MPAS was originally designated to address the advocacy needs of individuals with developmental disabilities, coverage was expanded to include individuals with mental illness under the 1986 Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness Act, and then to all individuals with disabilities under the 1994 Protection and Advocacy of Individual Rights program. MPAS also provides information and advocacy under a number of specialized federal, state, and private grants addressing employment, voting, assistive technology, and issues affecting individuals with traumatic brain injuries.

MPAS provides free, confidential services, including:

  • information and referral to anyone who contacts the agency;
  • technical assistance, including written information and self-advocacy manuals;
  • selected legal representation and systemic advocacy in priority areas; and
  • workshops and seminars on disability-related rights issues.

MPAS is a legal program and operates under legal rules of professional conduct. Federal mandates require that P&A programs have access to a full range of remedies for the individuals they serve. Although most matters are resolved without litigation, MPAS has independent standing to bring legal actions. In addition to bringing litigation in its own name, MPAS also represents individuals and class members in state and federal court.

Federal law gives MPAS access to individuals, their records, and programs when necessary to carry out its mission of investigating and redressing abuse and neglect of people with disabilities. MPAS maintains a presence in facilities that care for people with mental illness, developmental disabilities, and other disabilities, including selected juvenile facilities, adult foster care homes, nursing homes, and psychiatric hospitals, where staff monitor, investigate, and attempt to remedy adverse conditions.

MPAS is accountable to federal funding partners and to community-based boards of directors and advisory committees. Under federal mandates, MPAS sets priorities for direct representation based on community input.

MPAS served over 9,000 people in 2006–2007. We are currently conducting selected casework and systemic advocacy in the following areas:

  • inclusion of children with disabilities in general education settings;
  • preventing “push-out” of children from school and home through expulsion, juvenile justice referral, and other actions, for disability-related conduct;
  • adoption and application of consistent statewide standards to reduce or eliminate the use of seclusion and restraint in schools and facilities and regulate the use of administrative segregation as a substitute for program support;
  • provision of adequate education and mental health services in juvenile justice and youth correctional facilities;
  • prevention and redress of abuse and neglect of adults and children with disabilities in facilities;
  • reform of the state recipient rights system for people with developmental disabilities or mental illness;
  • provision of appropriate discharge planning for people who wish to move from facilities to their communities;
  • assurance of continued procedural safeguards and participation rights in the special education and early intervention planning process;
  • service assurances for people with traumatic brain injuries, including veterans;
  • access to assistive technology devices and services;
  • prevention of evictions or other housing actions for disability-related conduct;
  • prevention of abusive practices in the establishment and administration of guardianships;
  • assurance of access to voting for people with disabilities; and
  • provision of employment supports and accommodations.

For more information about MPAS services, please contact our Lansing office at (800) 288-5923 or (517) 487-1755, or visit our website at www.mpas.org.

Previous editions of this newsletter are online.

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