In the late 1970s, Massachusetts established the Administering Agency on Developmental Disabilities (AADD) to receive all federal funds under the DD Act, including the protection and advocacy program for people with developmental disabilities (PADD) funds as the governor designated protection and advocacy system (P&A) for Massachusetts. The Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act was passed in 1975.

The Developmental Disability Law Center (DDLC) began operating the Protection and Advocacy for Developmental Disabilities (PADD) program in 1978, shortly after Congress enacted the DD Act, as an AADD contractor. DDLC was a joint project of the Massachusetts Association for Retarded Citizens (MARC) and the Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee (MHLAC).

In 1980 DDLC opens field offices in New Bedford and Springfield. The field offices are joint projects with Southeastern Massachusetts Legal Services and Western Massachusetts Legal Services.

DDLC became incorporated in 1981, forming a new and separate corporation from the original ‘parent’ organizations, MARC and MHLAC. The Board of Directors of DDLC included representatives from MARC and MHLAC. The Disability Benefits Project (DBP) began operation in 1982. In the same year, DDLC partners with Massachusetts Law Reform and the Center for Public Representation (CPR) to form the Massachusetts Disability Law Support Project which is funded by a grant from Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC).

The Discrimination Project began in 1985 with funding from the United Way of Massachusetts Bay. The Discrimination Project allows DDLC to serve individuals without developmental disabilities.

DDLC becomes DLC- the Disability Law Center, Inc in 1986. The Board of Directors decided to change the name of the agency in recognition of an evolving expansion of the agency’s mandate.

In the mid-1980s, Congress began an intensive investigation of the conditions of mental hospitals and other health programs in the Nation. CPR played an important role in the congressional hearings and investigation which led, in 1986, to the enactment of the Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness (PAIMI) Act, which required, among other things, that the federal funds appropriated under the PAIMI Act be awarded to the existing P&A system in each state which was AADD.

From 1986 to 1990, AADD contracted, to the full amount of the respective federal appropriations, with CPR providing PAIMI services and DLC providing PADD services. Although the programs cooperated on a number of matters, each was independently operated.

In 1991, the Governor, based on a federal review, transferred or ‘redesignated’ the P&A from the state agency (AADD) to an independent agency which directly delivered the advocacy services. Only one agency, DLC or CPR, could be the designated P&A agency. There was agreement that DLC and CPR should continue to operate their respective advocacy programs with one of them being the ‘designated’ P&A. In August 1991, the Governor designated DLC as the Massachusetts P&A. DLC agreed to continue with CPR as a contract provider for the PAIMI program.

In a little-known section of the Rehabilitation Act, reference was made to a Protection and Advocacy System for Individual Rights (PAIR). The National Disability Rights Network (NDRN formerly known as NAPAS) convinced the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) to demonstrate the usefulness of P&As receiving funds to provide advocacy services to all people with disabilities not eligible for the other programs (PADD, PAIMI or the Client Assistance Program). In 1993, the Rehabilitation Act was amended to create a new formula grant program (PAIR) modeled after the other programs. Similar to the PAIMI, PAIR had to be administered in each state by the designated P&A. DLC continued to grow.

Also in 1993, Congress reauthorized the Assistive Technology (AT) Act of 1988. The Act set up a series of state AT projects, which had come into existence over the previous five years. Based on reports from the National Council on Disability, the state AT projects were required to fund for subcontracts from the AT projects to each P&A to provide legally based advocacy services to individuals with disabilities on assistive technology issues. This program is known as Protection and Advocacy for Assistive Technology (PAAT). Eventually the AT Act was amended so that the money came directly to DLC.

In 1999, an effort was launched by the disability community to pass the Ticket to Work and Work Incentive Implementation Act (TWWIIA), which assists beneficiaries of Social Security in returning to work and includes the P&A for beneficiaries of social security (PABSS) program. PABSS assists individuals who received SSDI or SSI benefits and wish to return to work.

2000 brought two important provisions for the P&A System were included in the Children’s Health Act of 2000.  First the PAIMI program was expanded to cover individuals with mental illness in the community. Secondly, Congress authorized the new P&A program for people with traumatic brain injury (PATBI).

In 2001, the federal funding agency for the PAIMI program, the Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS) conducted a technical assistance review and issued a report. While the report concluded that the PAIMI program had made a significant and positive impact on services for people with mental illness living in Massachusetts, it raised several concerns about program administration. DLC, after much deliberation, determined that the most efficient way to response to those concerns was to bring the PAIMI program in house. DLC assumed direct responsibility for the PAIMI program in June 2003 when the contract with CPR expired.

The Protection & Advocacy for Voting Access (PAVA) program was created in 2002 when Congress enacted the Help America Vote Act (HAVA).  PAVA enables DLC to secure election access for a wide range of individuals with disabilities.

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