“Working towards justice for all.”
In 1972, the Legal Aid Society filed a lawsuit, Welsch v. Likins, to secure appropriate treatment and community placement for people with developmental disabilities living in large state hospitals. The following year the federal government funded a tiny pilot project at Legal Aid to continue this work, staffed by one attorney and a legal assistant. As Congress became aware that people with intellectual disabilities were living in dreadful conditions throughout the nation, in 1975 it created the Protection and Advocacy system to fund advocacy in every state. Legal Aid was designated as the Protection and Advocacy system for Minnesota.
Over the next thirty-two years the disability rights movement gained power, people with disabilities moved from institutions into the community and public awareness of disability issues increased. Congress gradually expanded the scope of Protection and Advocacy responsibilities to include civil advocacy for people with all types of disability living in any type of setting. Today Legal Aid carries out its Protection and Advocacy work through the Minnesota Disability Law Center, with a dedicated staff of 14 attorneys and 7 advocates located in six branch offices throughout the state.
Our work this year reflected the broad scope of our clients’ needs. The abuse, neglect and community placement issues that led to our creation so many years ago remain at the core of our mission, although now our clients have a range of disabilities and often live in nursing facilities since most large state institutions have been closed. We have continued our successful battle to ensure access for people with disabilities in a wide range of community settings, including hospitals, courts, and commercial environments, litigating when necessary. Our younger clients have included many students with special education needs across the state, including students in rural Minnesota who have the benefit of a Northern Advocates Network lead by MDLC staff. Our voting rights project has continued to ensure that citizens with disabilities are enfranchised and informed. We look forward to continuing this work on behalf of Minnesotans with disabilities in the coming year.