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Disability Rights Iowa Protects and Advocates for the Rights of Iowans with Disabilies

Monday, March 16, 2020



Disability Rights Iowa is a non-profit law center that protects and advocates for the rights of Iowans of all ages with disabilities, including Iowans with mental illness. DRI’s vision is that all Iowans with disabilities or mental illness have the opportunity to live, work and learn in the most integrated settings, with the supports and services they need, free of abuse, neglect, stigma, and discrimination. Below are answers to some questions you might have about DRI:


How did protection and advocacy systems, like Disability Rights Iowa, get started?

In the 1970s, a reporter named Geraldo Rivera exposed severe abuse and neglect of individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities at the state-operated Willowbrook State School in New York. Congress reacted by establishing a system of protection and advocacy agencies in each state and territory to protect and advocate for the rights of individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities in each state and territory. Over the years, Congress expanded the responsibilities of protection and advocacy agencies to include legally-based services for individuals of all ages, with all types of disabilities, including mental illness. Collectively, the network of 57 protection and advocacy systems is the largest provider of legally-based services to individuals with disabilities in the country.

What is Disability Rights Iowa?

The protection and advocacy system in Iowa is called Disability Rights Iowa (formerly Iowa Protection and Advocacy Services). DRI is an independent non-profit organization with a 15-member Board of Directors. DRI is not a federal or state agency. DRI currently has 18 employees, including attorneys, advocates, benefits planners, representative payee reviewers, a communications coordinator, an intake specialist/outreach coordinator, and financial/administrative staff.

How is DRI funded?

Most of DRI’s funding comes from federal grants. DRI currently has 9 federal grants from three federal agencies: the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; the U.S. Department of Education and the Social Security Administration. DRI also receives private donations. There is no charge for DRI’s services.

What services does Disability Rights Iowa provide?

DRI provides information, referrals, training, advocacy, and legal representation. Although the needs of Iowans with disabilities can be unlimited, DRI’s funding is limited. Therefore, DRI’s Board – with the input from Iowans with disabilities, their families and others - decides what the areas are that DRI should focus on each year. DRI’s Areas of Focus generally include:

  • Abuse and neglect investigations and monitoring
  • Accessibility
  • Assistive Technology
  • Benefits Planning
  • Community Living
  • Education
  • Employment
  • Guardianship Alternatives
  • Health Care
  • Housing
  • Juvenile Justice
  • Preventing Abuse, Neglect or Financial Exploitation by Representative Payees
  • Prisons and Jails
  • Voting Participation

Within each of these areas, DRI’s Board directs DRI to work on specific issues each year. For example, in the area of education, DRI focuses on representing students with challenging behaviors who are being expelled, suspended, arrested, restrained, secluded, or placed on a shortened school day for more than ten days. For a complete description of DRI’s areas of focus, go to

Does DRI also investigate abuse and neglect and monitor facilities?

Yes, Congress gave DRI the authority to investigate abuse and neglect if DRI determines there is a probable cause of abuse and neglect. DRI has extensive investigation authority, including conducting announced or unannounced visits to facilities, privately talking to individual residents, obtaining records with consent or under specified other circumstances and inspecting, viewing and photographing all areas of the facility used by residents. DRI also has the authority to monitor facilities with respect to the rights and safety of residents. Each year, DRI conducts 15-20 investigations and monitors 30-40 facilities each year.

Does DRI also work on systemic projects?

Yes. DRI also conducts systemic projects to improve the lives of Iowans with disabilities. Some of DRI’s current projects are:

  • advocating for the caucuses to be accessible;
  • identifying the needs and barriers of Latinx special education students;
  • investigating deaths at the Glenwood Resource Center;
  • identifying and advocating for assistive technology at the Woodward Resource Center;
  • preventing suicides in county jails.

How do I request services from DRI?

To request DRI’s services, call DRI at 1-800-779-2502 extension 12 or 515-278-2502 extension 12 or fill out an online intake form at

Below is a description of DRI’s intake process:

  • An intake specialist, who speaks both English and Spanish, will get basic information about you, your disability and your request for services. If you speak a language other than English or Spanish, the intake specialist will arrange an interpreter for you free of charge. 
  • After the intake specialist gets you information, she meets with an intake team composed of an attorney and an advocate to evaluate your eligibility for services under DRI’s federal grants, the applicable area of focus, the merits of the case and DRI’s available staff and resources.
  • If the intake team decides to take the case, it will be assigned to an attorney or advocate who will send you an agreement about the scope of services that DRI will provide and a release for information.

What are some self-advocacy tips?

  • Always keep copies of record, reports and other communications, including e-mails
  • Remember, you are in charge of defining the direction of your life, and
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions


Please feel free to call of contact DRI if you need information, referrals, training, advocacy or legal representation. We aim to treat everyone requesting services with dignity and respect and respond to requests for services based on eligibility, areas of focus and the merits of the case.