What Does Disability Rights TN Do?

Disability Rights Tennessee is committed to promoting and preserving the disability rights movement in Tennessee. Due to limited resources, we must target whom we serve and the issues on which we focus.

Each year, DRT seeks input from community members to help us identify areas of work. The Areas of Work help determine the types of direct advocacy and legal cases DRT can accept.

Download Current Areas of Work Card

Areas of Work

DRT focuses its work in the following strategic areas: Freedom from Harm, Freedom from Discrimination, and Freedom to Participate in the Community. Each strategic area promotes the values set forth in the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act (DD Act), which created the Protection & Advocacy System:

  • Disability is a natural part of the human experience
  • Disability does not diminish the right to live independently or to exert control and choice in life

With these guiding values, the current scope of our work includes:

Freedom From Harm

  • Abuse and Neglect in Institutions and Community Settings
  • Appropriate Functional Behavior Assessments (FBA) and Behavior Intervention Plans (BIP)

Freedom from Discrimination

  • Communication barriers in, businesses and government settings
  • Discriminatory policies and/or practices

Freedom to Participate in the Community

  • Appropriate implementation of IEPs and 504 Plans
  • Access to Employment Services (Client Assistance Program, Vocational Rehabilitation, Ticket to Work, etc.)
  • Access to Assistive Technology
  • Access to Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) resources and services
  • Access the voting process

Direct Services

Information & Referral

To agencies and services that can help you with your issue.

Investigation of Abuse & Neglect

In mental health hospitals, group homes, developmental disability centers, nursing homes and other community facilities.

Advocacy Services

For issues that are approved by the Review Team.

Legal Representation

For issues that are approved by the Review Team.

Education & Outreach

On topics related to the legal rights of Tennesseans with disabilities for self-advocates, family members, service providers and other community groups .

Public Policy Advocacy

To educate and inform policy makers about issues that impact people with disabilities .

Systemic Activities

Through numerous collaborations and partnerships, DRT works to advance the Disability Rights Movement in Tennessee. Current projects include:

Legislative Tracking & Education

Tennessee’s legislators file an average of over 1,500 pieces of legislation each year. Many of these bills have the potential to impact Tennesseans with disabilities, their families, and communities. During the legislative session, DRT staff combs through these bills and follow their progress. We pull this information together into a weekly report “DRT Policy Watch” and share it with our staff, partner agencies, and community members.  Join the “watch”! 

Sign Up for DRT's Policy Watch

DRT staff also develops policy statements and collaborates with other disability focused organizations in educating policy makers about the potential impact of proposed legislation on Tennesseans with disabilities. We pride ourselves on being a resource for our community and our state’s policymakers. 


While we collaborate with a broad range of agencies, much of our policy initiatives center around our work with the following groups: 

Disability Policy Alliance of Tennessee 

The Disability Policy Alliance of Tennessee is comprised of Disability Rights Tennessee, The Arc Tennessee, and the Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities. The Alliance is committed to working collectively to advance the values of independence, productivity and community inclusion for all Tennesseans with disabilities.

Disability Coalition on Education (DCE)

The Disability Coalition on Education is a statewide alliance of family members, educators, and advocacy organizations, focused on bringing about positive change in the education of students with and without disabilities. DCE creates partnerships among families, schools and communities to ensure that all students receive quality education, enjoy a high level of quality of school life in all its aspects, and that rules, regulations, policies and practices provide for equal opportunities for all children.

Tennessee Coalition for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services

Since 2000, the Tennessee Coalition for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services has worked to identify and advocate for good behavioral health policy. Last year the Coalition had a major impact on maintaining Level Two Case Management and promoting the benefits of Insure Tennessee. In recent years we have fought against reductions of provider reimbursement, taken a stand for parity, opposed the merger of TDMHSAS into DOH, and submitted white papers on pressing issues. For several consecutive years we have been credited, in part, for protecting funding for Peer Support Centers. Together we stand as a 30-member coalition that is concerned about the continuum of care. All populations deserve to be heard in public policy discussions. It is vital that we speak with one voice.

Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs)

DRT has developed Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) with several state agencies. A way to signify our collaborative working relationships, these documents outline how we will work together to ensure the safety and rights of Tennesseans with disabilities, as well as help us navigate our relationships and enhance our collaborative efforts. The MOUs include areas of collaboration, such as opportunities for cross training and joint program initiatives, the potential to share information, and to identify trends and plan interventions. We currently have MOUs with the following Tennessee state agencies: 

  • Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services
  • Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
  • Department of Children’s Services
  • Department of Health
  • Department of Human Services

Policy Statements

DRT staff develops policy statements to inform policy makers about the needs of Tennesseans with disabilities and potential solutions to these barriers. DRT also collaborates with other disability focused organizations to educate policy makers about the potential impact of proposed legislation on Tennesseans with disabilities.