CHARLESTON – The Disability Rights of West Virginia Advocates group is no more. And in the end, that could be an even better thing than it’s been for the people of West Virginia.
After four decades of service, the federally mandated protection and advocacy system is now known as Disability Rights of West Virginia. DRWV bills itself as a private, nonprofit wholly committed to protecting and fighting for the rights of West Virginians with disabilities.
Among those the agency is known to serve are individuals burdened with developmental, intellectual and physical disabilities. The organization also works with those afflicted with varying mental health issues.
“We’re sort of following a national trend and moving with other member agencies to have consistency as to who we are and what we do,” DRWV Executive Director Susan Given told The West Virginia Record. “Our name didn’t really speak to what we do. We felt this would more easily make us recognizable.”
And with the name change, Given concedes can actually come some change.
“We definitely want to get into doing more legal work,” she said. “We have a brand-new legal staff that is dedicated to making sure the rights of West Virginians with disabilities are protected. If that means more litigation for us, it means more litigation.”
Currently, DRWV’s staff includes a legal department of a director and four attorneys. There are also 15 advocates on staff that provide direct advocacy services to individuals across the state.
The criteria for becoming a DRWV client ranges from meeting certain disability-related eligibility requirements to simply the depth of resources available to the organization at the time of an inquiry.
“We are dedicated to helping as many people as we absolutely can,” Given added. “Some the changes we’ve undertaken have breed renewed enthusiasm for us, that and the fact we have an outstanding staff that is absolutely dedicated to our missions.”
Among other services, DRWV offers referral services to those with disabilities and their guardians or caretakers, all in an effort to make certain their rights are protected.
The organization also provides education, training and technical assistance to eligible individuals, as well as their families and the additional agencies and professional individuals that work hand and hand with them in assuring the protection of their rights.
Funding for the program comes from a combination of eight federal grants, some state assistance and private contributions.
“Every state is federally mandated to have a disability advocacy program and we are the one in West Virginia recognized by the government. So, that’s where most of funding comes from,” she said.
Given returned to the agency in January 2016; she previously worked there for 10 years, ending in 2009.
“It’s all about helping people in need, which makes the work as gratifying as any I’ve ever done,” she said.