Protection & Advocacy (P&A) Systems: An Overview

In the early 1970s, investigative reporter Geraldo Rivera exposed horrific abuse of people with disabilities who resided at Willowbrook State School, a New York state institution on Staten Island.   Public outrage about conditions at Willowbrook and other institutions prompted Congress to act.  In 1975, Congress passed a law called the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act (DD Act).

This law led to the creation of a nationwide system of state-level, Protection & Advocacy (P&A) organizations. Under the DD Act, every state and US territory must have a P&A agency.  Since 2012, Disability Rights Ohio has been the P&A for Ohio.  The official P&A agency for every state and territory can be found here

P&A agencies are selected by the governor of each state or territory.  They can be state or private agencies.  Most, like Disability Rights Ohio are private, not-for-profit organizations.   The mission of the P&A agencies is to advocate for the human, civil and legal rights of people with disabilities within the state.

Although the first program established by the state P&As was focused on advocating for individuals with developmental disabilities, there are now many P&A programs aimed at ensuring rights for people with all types of disabilities.  The 8 major P&A Programs operating today by the state P&A agencies include:

  • PADD – Protection and Advocacy for the Developmentally Disabled

  • PAIMI – Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness

  • PAIR – Protection and Advocacy for Individual Rights

  • CAP – the Client Assistance Program

  • PATBI – Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Traumatic Brain Injury

  • PAAT – Protection and Advocacy for Assistive Technology

  • PAVA – Protection and Advocacy for Voting Access

  • PABSS – Protection and Advocacy for Beneficiaries of Social Security

For more information about these 8 programs, click here.

State P&A agencies can be a great resource for individuals with disabilities and their families.  They have broad authority to advocate for and legislate on behalf of people with disabilities.  They can investigate allegations of abuse, neglect, and discrimination.  The P&A agencies can also help disabled people with obtaining information and making referrals and they do outreach work in the community to educate.  They can help you with issues related to living in the community, living in a residential facility, the criminal justice system, special education, employment and more.  Best of all, they provide services to people free of charge.  Get to know your state P&A to see how they can help you.


This guide was developed as part of a project made possible by a grant from the Ohio State Bar Foundation. The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent those of the Ohio State Bar Foundation.

Lead researcher/author: Helen Livingston Rapp, Esq., RedTreehouse.org Volunteer