What We Do

At DRSD, our focus is squarely on the people we serve and the positive impact we can make in their lives. We’re not just an organization—we’re a community of advocates, allies, and champions for disability rights. Our mission is to create a world where everyone, regardless of ability, feels welcome, valued, and included. Through our comprehensive advocacy services, we work tirelessly to break down barriers, challenge discrimination, and promote inclusivity. From providing legal assistance to offering educational resources, we’re dedicated to empowering individuals with disabilities to realize their full potential and live life on their own terms. Whether you need support navigating the education system, accessing essential services, or advocating for your rights, DRSD is here to lend a helping hand and amplify your voice. Together, we can build a brighter, more inclusive future for all.

Our Programming

As designated by the Governor, DRSD is entrusted with providing protection and advocacy services to eligible individuals with disabilities in South Dakota. Our comprehensive services range from providing information and referrals to offering case advocacy and legal representation. With nine component programs, each tailored to serve distinct populations based on federal mandates and program priorities, we adapt to evolving needs. While the areas listed below within each program are common examples, please note that priorities may vary annually based on current fiscal considerations.

Our assistance extends to individuals with developmental disabilities across various crucial areas, such as special education, addressing abuse and neglect, navigating services and support programs, and combating discrimination.

Residents of South Dakota are welcome to reach out to the PADD Program for support with issues related to developmental disabilities. Our services are provided at no out of pocket cost to our clients. Though, DRSD may collect attorney’s fees or awards allowable by law or ordered by the court as part of litigation.


  • Information and referral to appropriate agencies
  • Response to complaints of abuse and neglect
  • Negotiation with appropriate agencies to obtain benefits and/or services
  • Legal representation
  • Presentations on rights and services


The Developmental Disabilities Act, P.L. 106-402, defines the term “developmental disability” to mean a severe, chronic disability of an individual that –

(A) is attributable to a mental or physical impairment or combination of mental and physical impairment;

(B) is manifested before the individual attains age 22;

(C) is likely to continue indefinitely;

(D) results in substantial functional limitations in 3 or more of the following areas of major life activity:

(i) self-care;

(ii) receptive and expressive language;

(iii) learning;

(iv) mobility;

(v) self-direction;

(vi) capacity for independent living; and

(vii) economic self-sufficiency; and

(E) reflects the individual’s need for a combination and sequence of special, interdisciplinary, or generic services, individualized supports, or other forms of assistance that are of lifelong or extended duration and are individually planned and coordinated.

An individual from birth to age 9, inclusive, who has a substantial developmental delay or specific congenital or acquired condition, may be considered to have a developmental disability without meeting 3 or more of the criteria described above in (A) through (E) if the individual, without services and supports, has a high probability of meeting those criteria later in life.

We’re here to support individuals with disabilities who may not qualify for programs like PADD, PAIMI, or other DRSD initiatives. This includes clients under CAP seeking assistance beyond its scope, covering vital areas such as transportation, housing, education, entitlement programs, addressing abuse and neglect, and ensuring access to public accommodations.

Under the PAIR Program, we provide assistance in critical areas such as:

  • Transportation
  • Housing
  • Education
  • Entitlement programs
  • Addressing abuse and neglect
  • Ensuring access to public accommodations


The PAIMI Program pursues a variety of rights protection and advocacy intervention strategies to assist individuals with a significant mental illness or emotional impairment. Learn more about our services below or by downloading our brochure.

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We operate as a federally-funded, independent program dedicated to upholding and advocating for the rights of individuals with a significant mental illness or emotional impairment in South Dakota. Our mandate extends to investigating reported or suspected instances of abuse and neglect within community-based or facility-based settings.


We are the light in the storm.

  • We protect your rights.
  • We advocate for appropriate services.
  • We investigate abuse and neglect.

See the lists below for some examples of abuse, neglect, and rights violations.


  • Rape or sexual assault
  • Physical violence
  • Excessive force during restraint
  • Involuntary medication
  • Verbal abuse


  • Inappropriate admission to a residential treatment facility
  • Inappropriate discharge planning or release from a facility
  • Lack of essential care such as food, clothing, or healthcare
  • Unsafe living environments

Rights Violation:

  • Right to an individualized, written treatment plan or discharge plan
  • Right to contact Disability Rights South Dakota for assistance
  • Right to mail and phone privacy
  • Right to access your records and to keep them confidential


The PAIMI Program pursues a variety of rights protection and advocacy intervention strategies to assist individuals with a significant mental illness or emotional impairment who meet the following case acceptance criteria:

  1. You must currently have a significant mental illness or emotional impairment as determined by a qualified mental health professional in the state; AND
  2. You are in the process of being transported or admitted to a facility providing care or treatment; OR
    You currently are receiving services in a facility providing care or treatment; OR
    You are involuntarily confined in a municipal detention facility for reasons other than serving a sentence for a criminal offense; OR
    You live in a community setting including your own home.

If you don’t meet these criteria, we’ll still provide information and referrals.


The PAIMI Program seeks public input annually and evaluates requests for assistance to inform the priorities set by staff, Advisory Council members, and the DRSD Governing Board. The following areas are prioritized by the PAIMI Program:

  1. Case Services: Addressing abuse, neglect, and rights violations.
  2. Systems Advocacy: Advocating for improved mental health services.
  3. Outreach and Training: Educating communities about mental health rights.
  4. Monitoring Mental Health Facilities: Ensuring standards of care are met.

PAIMI Program staff utilize administrative, legal, and other appropriate remedies to address issues. Additionally, the program offers information and referral assistance.

Assisting individuals who are clients or applicants of any program, project, or community rehabilitation program authorized under the Rehabilitation Act, and providing information regarding Title I of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

The Client Assistance Program (CAP) is available to aid applicants and clients of South Dakota Vocational Rehabilitation, Tribal Vocational Rehabilitation programs, and the Independent Living Centers.

Contact us to discuss:

  • Eligibility
  • Questions about rules and regulations governing VR and Independent Living Programs
  • Protecting your rights under the law
  • How CAP can advocate on your behalf

Assisting recipients of Social Security Administration benefits (SSI/SSDI) by providing information and guidance on vocational rehabilitation and related services to secure, maintain, or regain employment.


The Protection and Advocacy for Beneficiaries of Social Security (PABSS) is a federally funded initiative supporting Social Security beneficiaries who have decided to begin or return or work, or continue working, but who have run into issues in being able to do so. Staffed by licensed attorneys and advocates, this project offers legal and advocacy assistance on barriers to employment.


PABSS serves individuals with disabilities receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), or both. PABSS can provide information, referral, guidance, and/or legal advocacy or representation to assist individuals. These services are provided at no cost.


PABSS can assist in a number or areas when the issue is impacting the ability to gain, maintain, or regain employment:

  • Discrimination in all phases of employment
  • Appropriate Services from an Employment Network/Vocational Rehabilitation
  • School-to-Work Transition Services
  • Postsecondary Education
  • Social Security wage reporting Overpayments
  • SSA Work-Related Decisions
  • Housing
  • Transportation
  • Representative Payee issues affecting work
  • PASS writing


If you’re considering returning to work but worry about losing state and federal benefits, contact Disability Rights South Dakota. We’ll provide information on “Work Incentives,” such as maintaining Medicaid or Medicare benefits while employed, empowering you to make informed decisions about employment.

The Protection and Advocacy Assistive Technology Program (PAAT) offers services to individuals with assistive technology needs, employing various strategies tailored to individuals and delivery systems. Collaborative efforts are coordinated with the DakotaLink Project and the state Division of Rehabilitation Services.

PAAT provides comprehensive assistance, including information dissemination, referral services, research, and analysis, to help overcome legal, administrative, and other obstacles to obtaining assistive technology. Legal representation is also available to address unique issues related to assistive technology. Additionally, education and training initiatives are offered to empower individuals with the skills needed to navigate and overcome barriers in accessing assistive technology. PAAT also conducts outreach programs targeting traditionally underrepresented and rural populations of all ages in South Dakota, including those residing on Native American tribal reservations.


  • Individuals with disabilities, including those residing in facilities, who require assistive technology.
  • Individuals and entities seeking information or training related to assistive technology issues.

Providing assistance to individuals who have suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI).

  • Information, referrals, and advice
  • Individual and family advocacy
  • Legal representation

In 1996, Congress authorized the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Maternal and Child Health Bureau to implement state grant programs aimed at improving access to health and other services for individuals with traumatic brain injury (TBI) and their families. The Children’s Health Act of 2000 reauthorized this program. In South Dakota, the program is known as the Protection and Advocacy Traumatic Brain Injury (PATBI) and is a part of Disability Rights South Dakota.


Anyone who has been diagnosed as suffering a traumatic brain injury by a physician as a result of blunt force or penetrating trauma or acceleration-deceleration forces.

  • Decreased level of consciousness
  • Amnesia
  • Other neurologic or neuropsychologic abnormalities
  • Skull fracture

The term TBI excludes congenital, degenerative, or birth-induced brain injuries. TBI also does not include deficits related to stroke or oxygen deprivation (i.e. drowning)


  • Information, referrals, and advice
  • Assistance in self-advocacy for individuals with TBI and their families
  • Individual and family advocacy
  • Representation


PATBI offers assistance and/or representation in areas such as:

  • Employment discrimination
  • Housing
  • Community-based and health services
  • Abuse and neglect
  • Rights violations
  • Educational services, including transition services
  • Guardianship issues


  • Provide education, training, and outreach to potential clients, collaborating entities, interested groups, and public and private providers, including the Veterans’ Administration Health Systems.
  • Offer information and referral services on disability-related issues to eligible individuals and their families.
  • Provide advice, consultation, self-advocacy, and skill development training on disability-related issues to eligible individuals and their families to help address disability-related issues.
  • Provide representation in disability-related issues to protect the rights of eligible individuals and their families.
  • Establish professional linkage and collaboration with key agencies to increase and enhance access to appropriate TBI services.

Assisting individuals with disabilities by providing education, training, and other support, including assistance, to enable full participation in the electoral process and contribute to the development of a knowledgeable group of individuals responsible for planning and conducting voting in South Dakota.


Any person in South Dakota may reach out to the Protection and Advocacy Vote Act (PAVA) Program regarding voting questions or issues directly related to or arising from a disability. All services provided by the PAVA Program are offered free of charge.

The PAVA Program aims to ensure full participation of South Dakotans with disabilities in the electoral process. This includes providing information on voting eligibility, voter registration, and access to polling places.

PAVA actively engages in the state planning committee, contributes to the development of training materials, and conducts training sessions for election officials, poll workers, volunteers, individuals with disabilities and support service agencies. Additionally, PAVA offers assistance to entities regarding the physical accessibility of polling places and provides education and training on the voting process, including eligibility, registration, and access to polling places. Furthermore, PAVA offers representation and support to individuals with disabilities to facilitate their involvement in the electoral process.


Since August 2018, the Protection and Advocacy (P&A) Network has received funding to conduct reviews of representative payee performance on behalf of the Social Security Administration (SSA). This program offers oversight to representative payees and their services to beneficiaries, while also providing support to help them better understand their roles and responsibilities.


This program assists both beneficiaries and representative payees. Beneficiaries are individuals who receive Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, while representative payees are individuals or organizations who manage Social Security benefits on behalf of the beneficiary. SSA assesses the need for a representative payee on a case-by-case basis, and they automatically assign a payee to most child beneficiaries and individuals deemed legally incompetent by a court.



Beneficiaries and others are empowered to more easily report potential misuse.

Cost Effectiveness

P&A monitoring efforts become more efficient, providing tailored support to payees and beneficiaries, reaching larger numbers of people. Previous efforts were costly and provided little administrative oversight to payees.

Centralized System

Reviews are centralized through collaborative efforts between SSA, NDRN, and the P&As.

Relationship Building

Beneficiaries will establish relationships with their local P&As and gain access to additional resources.

Needs Reassessment

Beneficiaries can be reassessed to determine if they still require a representative payee, which is particularly crucial for youth aging out of foster care.


SSA, the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN), and the P&As collaborate to conduct reviews and educational visits. Congress selected the P&As for reviews and educational visits due to their involvement and local community knowledge. NDRN serves as the National Association Grantee for its extensive experience in providing training, technical assistance, and administrative oversight to the P&A network. SSA oversees Social Security benefits and offers additional support as needed.


  • Periodic Onsite Reviews
    • Continuation of reviews previously conducted by SSA, including reviews of organizational and Fee for Service representative payees.
  • Predictive Model Reviews
    • SSA-selected review cases for representative payees serving fewer than 50 beneficiaries (organizational) or fewer than 5 beneficiaries (individual).
  • P&A Initiated Reviews
    • Cases identified by P&As suspected of potential misuse.
  • State Mental Institutions
    • State mental institutions serving as representative payees for beneficiaries living in their facilities are eligible for review.
  • Quick Response Check
    • SSA may request a Quick Response Check outside of a payee’s regular review schedule if misuse is suspected.
  • Educational Visits
    • P&As conduct check-ins with new Fee for Service representative payees and others identified by SSA.


  1. P&A schedules a review appointment with the representative payee.
  2. P&A interviews the payee and conducts a financial record review.
  3. P&A conducts separate interviews with each beneficiary, legal guardians, or third parties.
  4. P&A provides the payee with a Corrective Action Plan if needed.
  5. P&A closes the case.

Please click the button below for more Social Security Payee information.

Learn More

External Referral Services

Federal guidelines limit areas where we can open cases. If you are in need of help with the following issues, you are encouraged to call DRSD at 1-800-658-4782 or 605-224-8294 for information or an external referral to other resources appropriate for assistance.

  • Social Security applications or appeals
  • Food stamp applications/claims
  • Criminal proceedings of any kind
  • Divorce, custody, or child support
  • Wills, trusts, or estate planning
  • Workers compensation
  • Product liability cases
  • Bankruptcy
  • Personal injury
  • Consumer protection
  • Tax law
  • Property law
  • Commitment proceedings
  • Obtaining Guardianship for a person with a disability