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Advancing the Human & Civil Rights of People with Disabilities in Illinois



Legal advocacy services

Our legal advocacy program supports people’s access to justice while pursuing systems-change litigation that benefits large numbers of people.  Here’s how:

  • Our Technical assistance in self-advocacy/parent advocacy helps people with disabilities and their families resolve problems themselves.
  • Our Legal representation is provided to people in negotiations, administrative hearings, and in federal and state court, in select cases.
  • Our Class action lawsuits and other systems-change litigation are brought to protect the rights of large numbers of people with disabilities as a group.  These cases are co-counseled on a pro bono basis with a leading law firm.

Legal advocacy services are provided through 3 departments

(1) Civil Rights:

Focuses on removing barriers that prevent people with disabilities from fully participating in community life and pursuing their goals by:

  • Challenging discrimination prohibited by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other civil rights laws.  This includes discrimination in employment, transportation, government programs and services, by businesses and not-for-profit organizations and in housing
  • Promoting community integration
  • Protecting the fundamental right to self-determination, including guardianship defense, restoration of rights, and the right to marry and raise children

(2) Abuse and Neglect and Other Human Rights Violations:

Focuses on protection from abuse and neglect, and other rights related to the quality of care and treatment in institutions and community-based facilities and programs.  We represent people by:

  • Protecting basic human rights so people are free from abuse, neglect, exploitation and use of physical/chemical restraints and seclusion
  • Ensuring the right to receive treatment and care in settings that meet quality standards
  • Ensuring access to services and supports that meet each person’s needs and choice

(3) Special Education

Supports the efforts of parents to ensure that their students have an educational program that enables them to learn and succeed in school.  A cornerstone of our special education services is our toll-free Parent Helpline, which provides advice and strategies to help parents effectively advocate with their schools.  This helps ensure that people have the right to:

  • Be assessed for and receive special educational services that meet each student’s needs
  • Be educated in the least restrictive setting
  • Have a meaningful transition process and services so students are able to move from school to post-secondary education and employment

Public policy and legislation

Our public policy program promotes the rights and quality of life of people with disabilities through legislative and public policy reforms. To accomplish this, we:

  • Work with other advocacy groups to effect change
  • Help elected officials understand the likely impact of proposed legislation on the lives of people with disabilities
  • Advocate for the passage of some bills and the defeat of others
  • Draft, at times, state legislation and advocate for its enactment into law
  • Educate people with disabilities about the policy making process so they can become more actively engaged

Independent monitoring

As the federally mandated Protection & Advocacy System for the state of Illinois, Equip for Equality acts as an independent watchdog over the disability service system.  Our interdisciplinary team of staff has both clinical and legal expertise.  We conduct monitoring visits to public and private institutions and community-based facilities and programs, at times with no notice.

Under federal and state law, we are able to:

  • Enter facilities
  • Talk with people receiving services and the staff
  • Review records and individual case files
  • Examine abuse and neglect investigation reports conducted by state agencies and the facility itself
  • Observe programs and residences
  • Perform select reviews of suspicious deaths

We often share our findings and recommendations from our independent monitoring visits with appropriate government officials so that further action can be taken.  We often conduct exit interviews with the program or facility director.  When the conditions uncovered are very serious, we may share written reports, findings and recommendations with the public through the media.  When we find dangerous patterns, we issue alerts to service providers in collaboration with the state, in an effort to prevent tragedies.  At times, we participate in joint investigations and monitoring with state and federal agencies.

Training on disability rights

Equip for Equality educates people with disabilities about their legal rights and advocacy techniques.  Through our Training Institute on Disability Rights, we train people with disabilities and family members.  Training seminars are co-sponsored by health care and social service agencies; schools; local and state government; and other advocacy groups.  Training seminars are customized to the audience.  Some of our training seminars are available online.  Also, we provide customized training seminars to businesses and staff of not-for-profit organizations on a fee-for-service basis.

Training topics include:

  • Self-advocacy skills building
  • Employment rights and responsibilities, and how to request an accommodation
  • ADA rights and other anti-discrimination protections
  • Rights of special education students to an individualized educational program and parent advocacy strategies
  • A program to prepare students for an active role in the transition process
  • Impact of guardianship on personal decision-making and alternatives
  • Advance directives
  • Transportation rights
  • Right to register to vote and access polling places


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Last updated: December 20, 2014

This website is made possible by funding support from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, both the Administration on Developmental Disabilities and the Center for Mental Health Services of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; and the U.S. Department of Education, the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services. The contents of this website are solely the responsibility of Equip for Equality and do not necessarily represent the official view of any of these agencies.

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