Our History

The Morrison, Merrill & Co. building in 1910, 1944, and 2014

From a humble beginning in 1978, the Disability Law Center looks much different than it once did. We started with just two employees and a budget of just $55,000. Now, with over 30 employees and an annual budget of $1.9 million, we are the disability law authority in Utah. Though our size and our impact have grown, we’re reminded that our principles and mission have stayed the same. So, how did we get here? Our timeline:

1986: The Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness (PAIMI) Act is introduced to help protect the civil and human rights of people with psychiatric disabilities in Utah.

1989: The DLC files the Lisa P. v. Angus lawsuit, requiring the Utah State Developmental Center (USDC) to follow a set of evidenced-based principles to determine the most appropriate, least restrictive, and most enabling environment for each resident. As a result of the case, the USDC population decreases from 450 to 230.

1990: The Americans with Disabilities Act is signed into law and prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability, impacting the lives of more than 53 million Americans.

The Legal Center for People with Disabilities changes its name to the Disability Law Center.

1998: The DLC forces Rosewood Terrace to close its doors by joining a multi-agency investigation and helping to establish the nature and extent of abuse and neglect against residents at the facility.

19**: The “And Justice for All” campaign is established with the DLC’s partner agencies, Utah Legal Services and the Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake to collaboratively raise funds and expand access to legal services for all Utahns.

2000: The DLC wins a “Portability” decision which prohibits the Utah Medicaid agency from indefinitely placing people who live in private institutions on a waiting list for community-based services.

2000: With Hubble vs. Medicaid, the DLC succeeds in overturning the Utah Medicaid agency’s automatic denials of cochlear implants by appealing a series of administrative decisions which denied the technology to people who are Deaf.

20**: The DLC creates the Short-Term Assistance Team to provide quick, responsive answers to the community’s most urgent disability-related questions. This method of service delivery becomes a best-practice model and is replicated by Protection and Advocacy Agencies throughout the country.

2002: The Community Legal Center opens in the historic Morrison, Merrill & Co. building in Salt Lake City, and the DLC embarks on a visionary collaboration with Utah Legal Services and the Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake by opening its doors to the community at the new CLC location.

2003: DLC files the Decker v. Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) lawsuit to ensure that local city governments abide by the provisions in the ADA that make public sidewalks and thoroughfares accessible to people with disabilities.

2008: The ADA Amendments Act is passed by an Act of Congress. The Act modifies the definition of disability to enable a greater number of people to seek legal recourse via the ADA.

2012: The “Let’s Rethink Mental Illness” campaign initiated by the DLC runs for six weeks and is designed to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness.

2013: The DLC receives a Private Enforcement Initiative grant from HUD to create our hallmark Fair Housing Testing Program. The program assesses rental properties and landlords for the presence or absence of housing discrimination.

2014: The DLC publishes the “Utah Transition Today: A 2014 Report of Opportunities and Barriers” report to explore the issues related to student success in competitive and integrated employment.

2015: The DLC files a class action lawsuit alleging that the Utah state hospital system’s failure to provide incompetent criminal defendants with court-ordered mental health restoration treatment within a reasonable time frame violates their due process rights under the 14th Amendment and the Utah Constitution.

2016: The DLC publishes the “Home and Community Based Settings Rule: Evaluating Utah’s Transition Process” report to explore findings resultant of a year-long assessment of the State’s efforts to comply with the new settings rule.

Detailed History

The Protection and Advocacy (P&A) system was created in response to outrage after the horrific conditions at the Willowbrook State School for people with developmental disabilities were uncovered in 1972. The P&A agency in each state and territory was granted broad access rights to institutions and records for purposes of investigating cases of abuse and neglect. Over time, the agencies’ authority has expanded to include community and other settings in which individuals – regardless of disability – reside. Since 1978, the Disability Law (DLC) has been the private, non-profit organization designated by the governor to protect the rights of Utahns with disabilities.

Over the years, the DLC has assisted more than 120 individuals with developmental disabilities to move from the state’s facility for individuals with intellectual and/or other developmental disabilities to the community. In addition, we successfully advocated for the creation of an ongoing program which enables some individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities residing in private facilities to transition to the community.

Along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, the DLC helped ensure inmates at the Utah State Prison receive appropriate medical and mental health treatment. Our legal advocacy also prevents cities and towns from using restrictive zoning or permitting practices to keep group homes for persons with disabilities out of residential neighborhoods and makes sure local streets and sidewalks are accessible to users with disabilities. Recently, the decision in a case brought by the DLC reinforced that Utah Medicaid cannot provide speech communication and other devices or equipment to children, but deny them to adults.

In addition to our legal successes, the DLC is a leader in recognizing issues impacting Utahns with disabilities around the state. With our partners, we organized the largest cross-disability conference in state history. As a consequence, eight disability action teams identified and addressed concerns in their communities. We also shared what we heard from hundreds of people in all 29 counties, during our “Listen and Learn” tour, with stakeholders, policymakers, and the media. Additionally, our efforts to bring over 25 organizations and more than 200 individuals with disabilities and their family members together to advocate for increased home and community-based services results in the Division of Services for People with Disabilities waiting list being the highest profile issue of the legislative session and receiving more funding than it had in a decade. Finally, “Everyone Can” used literature, art, peers, and discussion to teach more than 4,000 elementary and secondary students that disability is a natural part of the human experience and that everyone has unique abilities which make our society stronger.

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