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Advocacy Center Helps Disabled Advocate For Their Rights

Pamela Fisher
Ellen Katz speaks to a client on the phone.

Ellen Katz is a Managing Attorney at the Advocacy Center, a non profit which helps protect the rights of people with mental and physical disabilities — people from all over Louisiana. Other staff members at the Advocacy Center make home visits, but much of Ellen’s work is conducted over the phone. 

“Hi Miss Fisher, how are you today?” Ellen asks a new client.

“I’m sure that’s very frustrating. How old is your child? 7 years old, okay. Do you know the name of the program you were hoping to receive the services from?”

Back in the 1970’s and 80’s when Federal laws were first passed to protect the rights of people with disabilities, the federal government also established centers, like the Advocacy Center. There’s one in every US state and territory 

“Okay, so we’re talking about someone with multiple disabilities,” Ellen repeats back to her client. “I’m assuming that means multiple needs. And you’re very anxious to get some help.”

Ellen Katz’s job is to get her clients the services they’re legally entitled to. Ellen is a pro at cutting through red tape and navigating complicated bureaucracies.

“So your goal is to get the services. I can certainly look into his status, what we can expect, and how we can expedite the process. Was that what you had in mind of what you want me to do?”

Kelly Wright was once a client at the Advocacy Center. Her son Sam is severely disabled. “My son had a stroke in utero, so he’s developmental delayed," she says. "He is visually impaired, hearing impaired, physically impaired. He takes all feedings by a feeding pump, in a wheelchair.”

Because of his disabilities, Sam qualified for a program which would pay for specialized after school care. But somehow, Sam’s name fell off the list for this aftercare, and the waiting list was 8 years. For about 6 months, his mom Kelly tried to get Sam a personal care attendant, but she couldn’t even get her phone calls returned.

“I tried to navigate it myself and I really couldn’t," Wright says. "I couldn’t even get anyone to answer the phone. I’d asked for a manger, and they never called me back. It went on forever, so I finally knew to come here, and they were great.”

Ellen Katz was Kelly and Sam’s attorney. “The law was straightforward," Katz says. "It was just a little tricky in terms of getting the bureaucracy to: one, accept they made a mistake; and then, actually to do something about it.  But I’m glad to say that we were able to resolve that without having to take further legal action.”

Part of why The Advocacy Centerwas able to do it so quickly — Sam started receiving After Care in about six months — is because of the Advocacy Center’s reputation for being strong advocates. If they can’t resolve a client’s issues one way, they’ll try another. Kelly Wright says she was incredibly relieved.

“It’s just a relief that somebody can cut through the bureaucracy and get to somebody who can actually make it happen” Wright says. “That’s a great relief, because they’re your child. You love them. You worry about them. You want the best for them. It’s really frustrating when you can’t get any results.”

“For people who are either having the disabilities themselves and having enough to deal with day to day, or for family members who are doing that, or other caregiver in your social circle, just that someone else can do something for you and make the calls, and just tell you how it’s going —" says Katz — "From the feedback I’ve gotten from clients — makes all the difference to them.”

Lois Simpson is the director of the Advocacy Center. She says their clients run the gamut in terms of age, race and ethnic background, and their disabilities are also diverse. “Without this little agency here, there would be an awful lot of people out there with nowhere to turn. And I think that’s all why we all do what we do.”

Learn more about the Advocacy Center by calling (504) 522-2337.

Eve Abrams first fell in love with stories listening to her grandmother tell them; it’s been an addiction ever since.

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