Since Disability Rights Tennessee’s (DRT) founding, its mission has always been guided by the values of inclusion, integration, self-determination, productivity, and independence. It was these values that spurred a small group of parents and professionals to form an organization that would become Tennessee’s Protection & Advocacy System.

In 1978, a group of parents and professionals attended an advocacy training workshop at the International Association for Citizens of Learning Disabilities Convention. Inspired and motivated to create change, the group created an autonomous organization with the primary mission of providing education and resources to parents of children with disabilities. Education Advocacy for Children with Handicaps, E.A.C.H., was incorporated soon after. In July 1983, the organization expanded its mission to include all individuals with disabilities and the name was changed to Effective Advocacy for Citizens with Handicaps, E.A.C.H.

View our 45th Anniversary commemorative timeline.

The P&A Network

It was during this period of expansion that E.A.C.H. was designated as Tennessee’s Protection & Advocacy (P&A) system by Governor Lamar Alexander. This designation came as the result of The Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act of 1975 (DD Act). The DD Act mandated an independent state level system to protect and advocate for persons with developmental disabilities. Since the passing of the DD Act, other federal acts have been passed, allowing the organization to expand its work to include all people with disabilities. Through these federal acts, DRT has the authority to pursue legal, administrative, and other appropriate remedies to ensure the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities.

Watch this video for more information on the P&A System:


From the beginning, DRT has used its authority to protect and create equal opportunities for all Tennesseans with disabilities. Driven by its core values, DRT has focused its work in three strategic areas – freedom from harm, freedom from discrimination, and freedom to participate in the community. DRT has served—at no cost—more than 50,000 Tennesseans by providing legal representation, advocacy, education, and connection to resources.

Landmark Cases

Among DRT’s landmark cases are Lane v. Tennessee and Brown v. Tennessee. Because of the Lane v. Tennessee case, Tennessee’s court system is now more accessible to people with all types of disabilities. The Lane case was brought on behalf of six plaintiffs with mobility disabilities, one of whom used a wheelchair and was forced to crawl up steps in order to reach a courtroom. The 2004 U.S. Supreme court ruling resulted in changes to the policies and practices of Tennessee’s judicial branch. Among other changes, people with disabilities can request disability related modifications such as a continuance or sign language interpreter from Tennessee courts.

The Brown v. Tennessee case, better known as the “waiting list” case, was a class action lawsuit on behalf of over 6,000 people with intellectual disabilities who were on a waiting list to be enrolled in a Medicaid program to pay for services necessary to remain in the community. As a result of this case, more than 3,000 people on the waiting list were enrolled into a Medicaid waiver program.

Expanding Efforts

DRT is rooted in individual advocacy, although over the years DRT has expanded its efforts to include systemic and policy change. The goal is to amplify the victories won at an individual level, as well as to protect significant policy gains made by the disability community. As part of this work, DRT has and continues to collaborate with various Tennessee State Departments in the creation of Memorandums of Understanding. These documents outline ways in which DRT and Tennessee State Departments work together to enhance the lives of Tennesseans with disabilities.