Disability Rights Arkansas is the Protection and Advocacy agency, or P&A, for the state of Arkansas.  The “Protection” part of that designation comes through most strongly in our monitoring activities.

Since their creation by the United States Congress, Protection and Advocacy Agencies have been tasked with monitoring facilities for people with disabilities in order to protect their clients from abuse, neglect, and exploitation.  The P&As were created by Congress in 1975 after a news report on the conditions at the Willowbrook State School in New York City shocked the nation.  As a result, the Protection and Advocacy agencies were given broad access authority to enter and monitor almost any facility where individuals with disabilities receive services.

Today, Disability Rights Arkansas monitors all kinds of facilities throughout the state, from juvenile justice facilities to Human Development Centers and sheltered workshops.  We monitor some facilities on a regular basis, but other times we are responding to complaints we have received or information which has been released in the news media.  We take this mandate from Congress to serve as an independent watchdog agency charged with the protection of individuals with disabilities very seriously.  While we work in many different areas, from accessibility to voting, the fact is that the monitoring work is what DRA was originally created to do.

When DRA staff go into a facility for general monitoring, as opposed to investigating a specific complaint, we are trying to observe the day-to-day operation of the facility, how the staff interact with the clients, and the overall conditions there.  In residential facilities, some of the best questions to ask yourself are whether you would feel comfortable eating there, sleeping there, using the restroom, etc.  In a sheltered workshop or employment setting you want to look at whether the individuals are being given the opportunity to engage in work which they enjoy and which provides them with a decent wage, as opposed to just being left to sit in a room for hours every day.  We try to determine if the individuals in these places are receiving necessary therapies or being taught anything resembling life skills.  If we observe something that doesn’t look right or needs to be followed up on, we will speak with facility administrators or, in some situations, the state agencies responsible for licensure and safety.  Sometimes, the information that we gather while monitoring is used as a starting point for us to begin our own investigation, or for legal action.

Fortunately, most of the facilities monitored by DRA are do not result in complaints of abuse or neglect, and the staff at these places are dedicated and hard working.  Even so, we will continue to monitor facilities not only because we have been mandated to do so by Congress, but also because it is in everyone’s interest to ensure that individuals with disabilities are being cared for in an environment that is clean and free of abuse, neglect, or exploitation.

If you have any general questions about DRA’s monitoring activities, or if you would like to report a problem at a facility, please contact us on social media, via email, or by phone at 1-800-482-1174.

Christian Adcock is an advocate with Disability Rights Arkansas. Email him at cadcock@disabilityrightsar.org.