New Hampshire Disability Rights Center advocates for all

The attorneys at the independent organization can help you with a variety of issues

For those New Hampshire citizens who can’t afford an attorney, but need special education services for their children, face employment discrimination or require community based support services, the Disability Rights Center – New Hampshire can help.

The organization provides information, referrals, advice, legal representation, and advocacy to individuals with disabilities on a wide range of disability-related challenges.

Staffed by attorneys, representatives of the Disability Rights Center are able to pursue legal, administrative, and other remedies on behalf of the individuals they serve. The federally funded statewide organization is independent from state government or other service providers, according to Courtney Lockwood, an intake attorney who joined the DRC in 2005.

“Most people are surprised (we offer these services) because they have never heard of us,” Lockwood said. “Someone might call us to say they are having trouble trying to figure out how to get something. Our intake staff will talk to them and set up an appointment. Then, they can then talk to one of our attorneys for free.”

Most cases don’t lead to litigation.

Instead, depending on the situation, DRC attorneys can help clients complete paperwork, make calls on their behalf, or provide free legal advice, Lockwood said.

The DRC serves New Hampshire residents of all ages and advises on a variety of issues — from barriers to receiving special education accommodations to housing, insurance and Medicaid issues.

Remote learning

“We’ve had plenty of calls on remote learning, which doesn’t work for every child,” she said. “The NH DOE and governor have made it clear to districts that you have to provide an individualized program to service these students.”

Because students with disabilities have been most affected by the pandemic, Lockwood said the DRC has prioritized helping parents navigate remote learning accommodations right now.

While the Concord office is not physically open now due to the pandemic, residents are encouraged to call 603-228-0432 (Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Wednesdays, 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.) or email the office at mail@drcnh.org to schedule an appointment to speak to an attorney.

Assistive technology

One of the key ways in which the DRC can help residents with disabilities is by helping them get the assistive technology (AT) they need to support their success at home, school or work.

AT includes any item, piece of equipment, or product that increases, maintains, or improves the ability of individuals with disabilities to function. It can be useful for people with either physical or cognitive impairments.

As part of the Assistive Technology Act of 1998 (reauthorized in 2004), the DRC receives federal Protection and Advocacy for Assistive Technology (PAAT) Program funding to help residents secure AT and related services. The Board of Directors sets priorities every year, and most cases are settled without litigation, Lockwood said.

“We hear a lot of employment cases, where someone needs AT to access their job — it could be anything from a standing desk to voice-to-text software,” she said.

Some examples of assistive technology devices the DRC can help residents obtain include:

  • voice-activated computers
  • tools to use to reach or pick up things
  • speaker phones and text telephones (TTY)
  • devices that help pull zippers, light switches, turn on/off buttons, etc.
  • wheelchairs
  • braces or hand splints
  • beeping or vibrating prompts and alerts
  • walkers
  • personal computers
  • augmentative communication devices
  • adjustable workstations
  • hearing aids

The DRC encourages residents to contact them to get help rather than wade through the unknown or miss out on access to needed devices, resources, or services. Assistive technology, in particular, is a broad area of focus and it’s likely the DRC will take your case if it has merit, Lockwood said.

“We focus on areas in which we know someone wouldn’t be able to get an attorney otherwise,” she said. “We want to make sure that people get the access to technology and community-based services necessary to deal with their disability.”

Krysten Godfrey Maddocks is a longtime contributor to ParentingNH magazine, Krysten won three awards — gold, silver and bronze — for writing from the Parenting Media Association in 2020.

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