• Molly Lee

The Struggle for Equality

Bob Joondeph, Executive Director of Disability Rights Oregon, speaks about the group's wo

We’re grateful that you included respecting people with disabilities among the values that you seek to uphold. The fight for disability rights is part of the larger struggle for equality. People with disabilities strive to achieve the same goals as other minority groups: full participation in society and the opportunity to pursue their dreams.

Disability rights and other civil rights laws are rooted in a fundamental American ideal: that every person, irrespective of their inherent differences, is equal - regardless of where we come from, how we worship, how we look, or whether we are disabled. Honoring our common humanity is a foundation for our vision of the world.

What We Do Disability Rights Oregon upholds the civil rights of people with disabilities to live, work, and engage in the community. We’re a non-profit organization that works to transform systems, policies, and practices to give more people the opportunity to reach their fullest potential.

Our legal advocacy spans all types of disabilities – including intellectual and developmental, physical, and psychiatric.

For the past 40 years, we have gone into places that other organizations can’t. We monitor and shine a light on conditions in jails, prisons, hospitals, schools, and facilities to look out for people with disabilities who are housed or served in them. We do this using our access authority that Congress granted us and the other Protection and Advocacy systems like ours across the country.

We also challenge deeply entrenched stereotypes about disabilities and people who experience them, and strive to undermine stigmas that prevent people from fully participating in community life.

The services that we provide include: legal advice and representation, intake and referral, outreach, training, and public policy advocacy. More than two dozen staff members--a mix of attorneys, advocates, intake specialists, administrators, and support personnel--work together to ensure people with disabilities have equality of opportunity, full participation, and the ability to exercise meaningful choice.

To give you a sense of our impact, I’ll mention a few historic cases that we’ve worked on:

Lane v. Brown

In the landmark employment case Lane v. Brown, we filed a lawsuit on behalf of Oregonians with intellectual and developmental disabilities who can and want to work in typical employment settings in the community. The settlement agreement calls for 1,115 people in sheltered workshops to receive jobs in the community at competitive wages. In addition, 7,000 people will receive employment services that will afford them the opportunity to work in the community, including at least 4,900 youth ages 14 to 24 years old, who are exiting school.

Making Street Crossings Safer for All Oregonians Last fall, the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) agreed to make the largest commitment to an accessible transportation system in state history as a result of our advocacy.

We had joined with the Association of Centers for Independent Living and eight individuals with mobility and visual impairments to file a lawsuit charging that ODOT had failed to build and maintain accessible curb ramps and pedestrian signals across the state.

As part of the settlement agreement, the agency promised to install missing curb ramps, fix substandard ones, and upgrade crossing signals on the entire state highway system. These improvements will connect parts of communities that have been difficult or unsafe to access for Oregonians with physical disabilities, and enhance safety along highways. How Protection & Advocacy Systems Began

The creation of the Protection & Advocacy systems was sparked by a 1975 series of investigative reports by Geraldo Rivera (then, a local television news reporter). The series exposed egregious abuse and neglect at Willowbrook, a state institution for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities on Staten Island. A New York Senator pushed Congress to mandate that each state and territory receiving funding under the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act of 1975 establish a Protection & Advocacy system to protect the rights of people with developmental disabilities.

From that foundation, the Protection and Advocacy system grew to encompass other disabilities, including people with psychiatric disabilities or traumatic brain injury (TBI), and individuals with disabilities who need to access assistive technology. We also help Oregonians with disabilities secure election access by providing them services to ensure full participation in the election process.

The mandate further expanded to include: addressing barriers people with disabilities face in trying to return to work by providing information and advocacy services to beneficiaries of Social Security with disabilities; and assisting recipients of Social Security Disability Income or Supplemental Security Income with benefits planning to help them determine how their benefits might be impacted by going to work.

We also provide information, referral, and advocacy services for Oregonians who are having a disability-related legal problem related to employment and licensing for employment. We can provide assistance to people requiring reasonable accommodations to maintain their jobs, and administer Oregon’s Client Assistance Program, which helps people who are having difficulty seeking or receiving vocational rehabilitation services from Oregon’s Office of Vocational Rehabilitation Services , Independent Living centers, Oregon’s Commission for the Blind, and tribal programs.


This year we turn 40! We’re proud that our four decades of work lifting barriers has made it possible for thousands of Oregonians with disabilities to contribute to their workplaces, schools, and communities. Your generous support will help us to build a foundation for the next 40 years of advocacy. Thank you for supporting our work and for helping to advance the cause of equality.


Bob Joondeph is the Executive Director of Disability Rights Oregon


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