What is the Protection and Advocacy Network or P&A?

The Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act of 1975 mandated a system to protect and advocate for the rights of persons with developmental disabilities. This system is the Protection & Advocacy (P&A) network. Under this act, the P&A agency has the authority to pursue legal, administrative, and other appropriate remedies to ensure the protection of the rights of persons who have a developmental disability. Subsequent federal legislation created additional grant programs that expanded the agency’s services to include persons with all kinds of disabilities. In Tennessee, Disability Rights Tennessee is the designated P&A.

What are disabilities?

The ADA defines a person with a disability as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity. However, the word “disability” can mean different things to different people. Learn more in this video by Rooted in Rights.

Does DRT help people apply for Social Security Administration (SSA) benefits (SSI or SSDI) or appeal benefits denials?

No. DRT does not help people apply for Social Security Administration benefits (SSI or SSDI) or appeal benefits denials.

If you are interested in applying for benefits, you can apply online, in person, or over the phone 800-772-1213 (TTY 800-325-0778).  For more information, to apply online, and to find your local SSA office, you may visit the SSA website.

After submitting your application, if you are denied SSA benefits, you have the option to appeal.  You can obtain an attorney to assist you with an appeal.  Generally, an attorney will take his/her fee as a percentage of any backpayment you are awarded and, if this is the case, you should not have to pay anything out of pocket.  The National Organization of Social Security Claimant Representatives is an association of over 4,000 attorneys who represent Social Security and Supplemental Security Income Claimants.  You may reach them on the web at or by phone at 1-800-431-2804.  This information is being provided for your convenience and is not an endorsement of any particular attorney.

Where can I get free legal help with issues that are not related to my disability?

There are several places you can reach out to for free legal information including:

  • HELP4TN (Legal Information for Tennesseans) – A web resource to help you find legal and social service resources in Tennessee. By phone, dial 1-844-HELP4TN (1-844-435-7486) to ask a non-criminal question to a licensed Tennessee attorney.
  • Online Tennessee Justice – A private messaging service where volunteer attorneys answer civil legal questions for persons with low income.
  • Justice for All – A Tennessee Supreme Court initiative providing legal information and resources for all Tennesseans.

You might be able to find a pro bono attorney to assist you through the following resource:

  • Legal Clinics – Search for free legal clinics in your area.
  • Legal Aid Offices – Search for your area’s legal aid office and other regional services

How do I file a grievance or complaint about DRT services?

An individual who believes that DRT has violated any of the assurances enumerated in Eligibility Under the Assurance Grievance Procedure may file a written complaint with the Executive Director using DRT’s Assurance Grievance form.

The complaint form should be sent to:

Executive Director
Disability Rights Tennessee
2 International Plaza, Suite 825
Nashville, TN 37217


The Executive Director will issue a written decision regarding the assurance grievance within15 days of receiving the complaint.

In the event that the individual disagrees with the Executive Director’s decision, s/he may request review of that decision by filing a written Request for Review with the Executive Committee of DRT’s Board of Directors.  Within 15 calendar days of the date on the Executive Director’s written decision, the Request for Review form should be sent to the Executive Committee of DRT’s Board of Directors at the same address as above.

The Executive Committee of DRT’s Board of Directors will respond in writing to written complaints timely received from callers/clients.  The Executive Committee will send their written response to the caller/client within 30 calendar days.