Disability Law Project: Independence and Dignity for People with Disabilities

“My caretaker’s abuse started with using my medications to control my movement and alertness. Over the next three years, he repeatedly raped me and threatened to kill me if I ever told anyone. My daughter assisted me with contacting Adult Protective Services who put me in touch with API Legal Outreach. With the help of my attorney, I was able to obtain a 3-year restraining order against my abuser. Thank you, API Legal Outreach, for helping me to feel safe again.” – Client of API Legal Outreach

API Legal Outreach’s Disability Law Project was designed to reach the most underserved communities throughout the city. With this expansion of our legal services, API Legal Outreach is furthering its mission of serving the most marginalized segments of the community by providing legal and social services to adults aged 18-59 living with disabilities. People with disabilities (PWD) make up the world’s largest minority, and more than 25% of PWDs in the United States live in poverty. Over 75% are unemployed. Additionally, people of color with disabilities experience disparities in discrimination, economic barriers, and accessing health and legal services.

Advocating for the Rights of People with Disabilities

API Legal Outreach is committed to promoting the dignity and independence of adults with disabilities through the utilization of legal representation to secure rights, protections, and entitlements. The project’s target population includes clients who are low-income, non- or limited-English speaking, people of color, and LGBT individuals.

Over the past year, we have assisted more than 130 individuals resolve legal issues relating to their disabilities, including, but not limited to:

  • Public Benefits Maintenance and Appeals
  • Eviction Assistance and Prevention
  • Abuse Prevention and Intervention
  • Immigration and Naturalization
  • Wills and Trusts
  • Family law

“My abuser often threatened to use my disability against me in court and take my daughter from me. I was really afraid that I would lose my baby, even though he was the one that was abusing us, because he’s smart and knows how to use the system against me. I am grateful to API Legal Outreach for representing me during my restraining order and child custody hearing and making sure that me and my child are safe.” -Client of API Legal Outreach

Protecting the Rights of Parents with Disabilities and Their Children

There are about 4.1 million parents with disabilities in the United States, around 6.2% of all parents with minor children in the United States. People with disabilities face pervasive discrimination in the family law system and often don’t get the legal protection or support they need to retain custody of their children. Parents with disabilities who are low-income and/or speak limited English face additional barriers when attempting to exercise the fundamental right to maintain their families. People with diverse disabilities face discrimination in custody cases: removal rates where parents have a psychiatric disability have been reported to be as high as 80%, with similar rates of removal for parents with intellectual disabilities, and 13% of parents with physical disabilities have reported discriminatory treatment in custody cases. API Legal Outreach is committed to advocating for the rights of these parents by providing free legal representation in family law matters and partnering with community-based organizations to meet their social service needs.

Violence and Abuse Against People with Disabilities

Individuals with disabilities are not only at greater risk of abuse, they also face additional barriers in accessing culturally competent resources and support. API Legal Outreach’s disability rights program has partnered with the API Elder Abuse Task Force to expand our work in improving the quality of services and advocacy available to victims of abuse and neglect by providing technical assistance, education, and training to consumers and community-based groups so that they may better identify abuse and adequately address the needs of individuals with disabilities facing abuse. Abuse of people with disabilities continues to be under reported due to misunderstanding of the issue within the general public, lack of accessibility to services and support, and, particularly in cases where the abuser is the caretaker, victims’ inability to contact law enforcement or other help due to isolation and control by the abuser.