Disability Rights MS opens satellite office on Coast

By Danielle Thomas – bio | email

D'IBERVILLE, MS (WLOX) - For nearly 25 years a Jackson-based non-profit agency has taken a stand on behalf of the disabled. Now the agency is making a second home here on the Coast. Disability Rights Mississippi recently opened a satellite office in D'Iberville. Staff members told WLOX they were convinced they needed a stronger presence in our area.

Angela Rogers is the proud parent of a teenaged honors student.  However, 12 years ago, Barnes said she was a mother desperate to get someone to listen.

"The first frustration was that I knew something was wrong and nobody was willing to do the testing," said Rogers. "The hospitals weren't willing to do the testing.  The schools wanted to extend the testing and I wanted to get something started immediately."

Rogers said her daughter was diagnosed with autism and able to get the help she needed thanks to the people at Disability Rights Mississippi.  Rogers' experience led her to go to work for the agency as an education advocate. She goes into the schools and stands with parents who feel their disabled children are not getting the services they need.

"When you go in to these meetings a lot of times, people will tell you the way things are and they are not always necessarily that way,"said Rogers. "We like to go in and educate the parents and make sure they know their rights."

After Hurricane Katrina, Disability Rights Mississippi sent case workers to South Mississippi to help with recovery.  The staff soon realized the Coast needed their services on a greater scale.

"Seeing a lot of discrimination issues as far as people with disabilities and housing,"said Amelia Puffer, community advocate. "Employment issues with persons with disabilities.  Not understanding that they have the right to vote.  Saw some possible abuse and neglect of people with disabilities whether it be in a state-run facility or in a private situation. "

Staff members at the new D'Iberville office said their job is to speak up for those who can't speak for themselves.  They represent the mentally ill, the developmentally disabled and people with traumatic brain injuries.

"Our agency is really about having people with disabilities be inclusive into their communities,"said Puffer. "If that's where they want to live, and that's where they choose to live then they should have the same services and the same rights in their community as anybody else."

Rogers said when people know their rights they're more empowered to make better decisions for themselves and for their families.

"It's very rewarding for me because I struggled to get assistance when my daughter was little,"said Rogers. "So it's great to be able to get in there and speak for them and give them their own voice."

Disability Rights Mississippi, formerly known as Mississippi Protection Advocacy, also deals with concerns about transportation and equipment needs. People needing assistance must call the Jackson office at 1-800-722-4057 for a referral before they can visit the D'Iberville site.

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