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


Federally-Mandated Protection and Advocacy System for Illinois

In 1985, Governor Thompson designated Equip for Equality, a newly incorporated nonprofit advocacy organization, to administer the federally-mandated Protection & Advocacy System for the State of Illinois.


Congress created the unique nationwide network of state P&A Systems in the mid-1970s following a series of exposes on national television of horrific conditions and tragic deaths and abuse and neglect at a state-operated developmental center in New York.


Under federal law, each governor was given the authority to designate a public or private organization/agency to serve in the role of independent legal advocate; however, once selected, the governor could only de-designate and transfer the function to another entity for good cause.


In this way, Congress gave the state P&A Systems the independence and stability they required to pursue their mission vigorously.  Over the years the governors in all but a handful of states have transferred their P&A Systems to nonprofits.


The scope of the mission of state P&A Systems has significantly expanded over time.  In the beginning in the mid-1970s, state P&As were authorized to advocate for people with developmental disabilities.


Then in the mid-1980s, following a series of Congressional public hearings held around the country about horrific conditions and abuse and neglect in state-operated psychiatric hospitals and nursing homes, Congress added protection of the rights and safety of individuals with serious mental illness living in institutions to the state P&A System’s mandate.


In the early 1990s, after passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the role of the state P&A Systems once again expanded to cover all people with disabilities under that Act.


Over the following 30 years, Congress has continued to add new P&A System programs to address specific populations or issues so Equip for Equality now has eight P&A System Programs.


Once designated as the state P&A System for the State of Illinois, Equip for Equality gained comprehensive federal statutory powers.  In addition, the state enacted laws to facilitate implementation of the state P&A System.  Equip for Equality has broad powers and authority under these federal and state laws, including:


  • The right to enter for general purposes—on an announced or unannounced basis—all public and private programs and community-based and institutional residences that serve people with disabilities, including schools.


  • The right to talk with service recipients and staff, to secure contact information for legal guardians, and to observe programs and activities.


  • The right to access the clinical records of wards of state government and of individuals who have walked away from facilities or are dead.


  • The authority to review complete files of investigations of abuse and neglect prepared by facilities and state investigators, and letters to state directors prepared by the State Police or law enforcement about their investigations.


  • The authority to conduct direct investigations of abuse and neglect.


  • Access to individuals’ clinical records and select facility records for the purpose of addressing a potential systemic problem facing people with disabilities.


These broad statutory powers under federal and state law enable Equip for Equality to carry out critical functions to ensure safety, quality care, and rights enforcement for children and adults with all types of disabilities, an authority that goes well beyond that of most governmental agencies but is complimentary.


Last updated: September 09, 2021

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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