Additional highlights from FY 2023

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Thank you for reading our Fiscal Year 2023 Impact Report (PDF) and coming here to learn about other important advocacy work we are doing because of your support. Here are a few more highlights from the past year.

Fighting for justice for Texans with disabilities trapped in jail

For nearly two decades, Texans deemed incompetent to stand trial have suffered prolonged stays in jail, spanning months or even years, while waiting for admission to mental health facilities for competency restoration treatment. Without this treatment, their right to a fair trial remains elusive.

In response to this egregious practice, Disability Rights Texas took action in 2016 by filing a class action lawsuit, Ward v. Young (formerly Ward v. Hellerstedt), on behalf of affected Texans, asserting that this prolonged confinement violates their constitutional right to due process under the 14th Amendment.

Today, their plight continues. Due to lack of staff and space at facilities, close to 2,000 people are languishing in jails, enduring an average wait time of 1.2 years for transfer to mental health facilities. Tragically, during these extended waits, some have suffered irreversible harm, including death, severe medical complications, and physical injuries.

Since the lawsuit’s inception, significant milestones have been achieved, including defeating a motion to dismiss and obtaining class certification. With the parties currently submitting cross motions for summary judgment, DRTx is optimistic that a resolution is within reach.

Helping justice-involved youth stay in school

Anywhere from 65 to 85 percent of students in the juvenile justice system have a disability and may require special services to be successful in school, yet many are not receiving those services. To address this critical issue, Disability Rights Texas formed a partnership with the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department in 2016 to provide educational advocacy services for youth involved in the county’s justice system.

Since the program’s inception, we’ve been able to help nearly 3,000 youth to get the educational services they need. More than 90 percent of the youth we have served have not re-offended.

One major barrier youth face after exiting the system is re-entry into their local public school. That’s why in 2023 we collaborated with multiple agencies and professionals to provide training at area conferences on best practices and legal requirements for school re-entry. To accompany the training, DRTx helped produce “Back on Track,” a short video that explains the issue and includes testimonials from school administrators on the critical role they have in helping youth return to school.

Advocating for the needs of children in foster care

As many as half of the 28,000 plus children in Texas foster care have a disability.

Many of those kids are not getting the medical care, education and other services they need. Also, they are half as likely to be reunited with their family or adopted and are more susceptible than their peers to experience homelessness, incarceration, and dropping out of high school.

In 2023, we provided legal representation to more than 80 children in foster care.

One of our clients was a terminally ill child who was experiencing fraud and medical neglect by his care provider. We ensured he was moved to a safe and caring home for the remainder of his life.

We also helped a client finally qualify for a Medicaid waiver program she had been turned down for multiple times, ensuring that she will be able to remain with her long-term caregiver and receive supports for the rest of her life.

Since forming this specialized team in 2010, DRTx has represented youth in numerous court hearings, special education ARD meetings, treatment team meetings, and more. Because of our innovative approach, we have witnessed children’s lives transform in tangible ways. Caseworkers, lawyers, and judges from around Texas request our involvement in cases due to our innovative approaches and expertise.

Counting the cost of a proposed school voucher bill

In the 2023 Texas legislative session, a proposed bill for school vouchers sparked heated debate. With an already under-funded state public school system, many feared that the bill would be detrimental for children needing special education services, especially those who live in lower income school districts. That’s why our policy staff joined with other advocacy groups in a full-on effort to educate legislators through the regular session and four special sessions about how the bill would negatively impact Texas children with disabilities.

The bill did not pass.

Rounding up a more accessible Houston Rodeo

Sometimes our legal advocacy for one person benefits many others. In 2023 we filed a Department of Justice (DOJ) complaint on behalf of one client because of inaccessibility of the Houston Rodeo. We later learned that the DOJ received additional similar complaints and investigated. The Houston Rodeo has since made their parking, bathrooms, seating and other parts of the event accessible.

Fiscal Year 2023 Impact Report