2021: Year in Review

December 3, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has adjusted the context of DRT’s work but not our core mission. Throughout 2021 our commitment to protecting the rights of Tennesseans has not wavered. Each of DRT’s programs continued to work diligently to advance our vision to keep Tennesseans free from harm, free to participate in the community, and free from discrimination. 

Freedom from Harm

Since the creation of the Protection & Advocacy System (P&A), preventing abuse and neglect has been a cornerstone of DRT’s mission. Learn more about the creation of the P&A. This is seen most clearly in our work with adults and children with disabilities in facilities. This year, our efforts addressing abuse and neglect in youth residential facilities was featured in the National Disability Rights Network’s report Desperation without Dignity. Read Desperation without Dignity. Additionally, our work in schools to interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline was highlighted in a three-part series in the Leaf Chronical. Read more about the school-to-prison pipeline

Freedom to Participate in the Community

Freedom to participate in the community is key to living a full life. For Tennessee’s children with disabilities, the pandemic disproportionally impacted them physically and mentally, and disrupted their access to education. As schools returned to in-person learning, it was important that students with disabilities were also able to attend school with their peers safely. This year, DRT’s Mask Up For Students With Disabilities campaign brought attention to the benefits of universal masking in schools. Read about our mask campaign. We also shared resources for accommodating students with disabilities who could not wear masks. Read about mask accommodations in school.

Access to inclusive competitive employment is also a key part of community participation. Each year we raise awareness in Disability Employment Awareness Month. This year we took our main event – the Disability Employment Awareness Luncheon (DEAL) – virtual for the first time ever. We also hosted two free webinars for employers and employees. These events helped businesses learn to Maximize their Workforce, and for community members to learn about DRT’s employment programs.

Freedom from Discrimination

Discrimination is found in interconnected systems throughout our communities. From barriers to accessing transportation to limited accessible housing, discrimination is a rights violation that prevents people from living full and engaged lives. One of the areas of discrimination DRT addressed this year was access to effective communication. For many people with disabilities who are Deaf, American Sign Language (ASL), not English, is their first language. Receiving public services in your first language is effective communication and legally mandated in many situations like medical appointments and court. For example, this year DRT advocated for effective communication for people with disabilities who have been denied access to their loved ones during the pandemic while incarcerated. Read about Trivette v TDOC

Thank you for your Support

As we close out this year, DRT wants to thank our board members, community members, donors, and staff for all they do to support the work of our organization. We could not serve our community without their encouragement and engagement. 

Additionally, we want to recognize two staff members who are leaving DRT at the end of this year. Brian Keller is leaving DRT to work with the TN Council on Developmental Disabilities. We are sad to see him go, but we are grateful that we will be able to continue to collaborate with him in his new position. And after almost 22 years of service, we wish Andrea (Cookie) Johnson a happy retirement! Ms. Cookie has meant the world to our organization for many years. While we are happy for her next chapter to begin, we will miss her very much. Read more about Ms. Cookie.