Disability Rights Tennessee
2 International Plaza
Suite 825
Nashville TN 37217
Mission Statement
Disability Rights Tennessee (DRT) protects the rights of Tennesseans with disabilities. 
CEO/Executive Director Ms. Lisa Primm
Board Chair David Kowalski
Board Chair Company Affiliation Aerial Development Group
History & Background
Year of Incorporation 1979
Former Names
Tennessee Protection & Advocacy
Disability Law & Advocacy Center of Tennessee
Organization's type of tax exempt status 501-C3
Financial Summary
Graph: Expense Breakdown Graph - All Years
Projected Expenses $2,509,648.00
Projected Annual Revenue 2766342 (2018)
Mission Disability Rights Tennessee (DRT) protects the rights of Tennesseans with disabilities. 
Background For forty years, inclusion, integration, self-determination, productivity, and independence, have been the guiding principles behind Disability Rights Tennessee's (DRT) mission. We have served more than 40,000 people since our founding.

In 1978, a group of parents and professionals created an organization with its primary mission to provide education and advocacy for parents of children with disabilities regarding their children’s needs, rights, and resources. E.A.C.H.--Education Advocacy for Children with Handicaps—as it was then called, was incorporated soon after. In 1983, the acronym was changed to "Effective Advocacy for Citizens with Handicaps" when services were expanded to serve adults with disabilities.

During this period of growth EACH was designated TN’s Protection & Advocacy (P&A) system. The Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act of 1975 mandated a system to protect and advocate for the rights of persons with developmental disabilities. The Act gives the agency the authority to pursue legal, administrative, and other appropriate remedies to insure the protection of persons who have a developmental disability. Subsequent federal legislation expanded DRT’s services to include persons with all kinds of disabilities.

Disability Rights Tennessee concentrates its work in three strategic areas: freedom from harm, freedom from discrimination, and freedom to participate in the community. In the last ten years legal representation has been provided—at no cost—to more than 25,000 clients, with issues ranging from lack of community based services or a student being locked up in a school closet to being denied a sign language interpreter in a hospital.

Among DRT's landmark cases are Lane v. Tennessee and Brown v. Tennessee. The Lane case was on behalf of six plaintiffs with mobility disabilities, one of whom was forced to crawl up steps in order to reach a courtroom. Settlement of that case has increased accessibility of TN's court system to people with all types of disabilities. The Brown case was a class action on behalf of over 6,000 people with intellectual disabilities who were on a waiting list to be enrolled in a Medicaid program to pay for services necessary to live in the community. The settlement in Brown allowed more than 3,000 people to enroll into a Medicaid waiver program .

We have expanded our individual advocacy and legal work to include Policy Advocacy to support and extend our victories won at an individual level, and to help prevent legislative attempts to undermine gains made by the disability community.
Impact In 2017, organizational accomplishments through advocacy and legal services included:
Providing free advocacy and legal services to 2,439 Tennesseans with disabilities. DRT served 369 more individuals in FY2017 in comparison to FY2016.Hosting DRT's fourth annual Disability Employment Awareness Luncheon with keynote speaker, Megan Lawrence.Honoring Governor Bill Haslam with the Freedom Award for his role in the Employment First Initiative in Tennessee. Hiring Legal Director, Susan Mee.Successfully advocating with community partners for reinstatement of Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) services to help Tennesseans with disabilities gain competitive and gainful employment. Experiencing an increase in requests for services related to abuse, neglect and educational supports through our legal advocacy, investigation, and technical assistance work. DRT also experienced an increase in requests for assistance with access issues in FY2017. These show that our advocacy, outreach, and communications work are having an impact and reaching the people who need our help. 

Goals to further Disability Rights Tennessee's mission in 2018 include:
Celebrate and share the impact of Disability Rights Tennessee and our protection and advocacy work over the last 40 years. Host our fifth annual Disability Employment Awareness Lunch.Continue to provide advocacy and legal services to Tennesseans with disabilities to allow them to fully participate in the community.Increase individual advocacy assistance to ensure students with disabilities receive a Free and Appropriate Public Education, while collaborating with partner agencies to address systemic issues related to special education in the state.Develop systemic training curriculum, in addition to current legal remedies, for medical providers to improve the quality of healthcare received by those who are deaf and hard of hearing.Work with partner agencies to ensure that Tennesseans with disabilities have access to competitive employment through additional training and education on reasonable accommodations and employment discrimination.Diversify funding for disability rights programs to allow the agency to better respond to shifts in federal funding.

Needs Funding to expand Special Education advocacy services.Funding to update interagency technology to allow for more efficient delivery of service to our clients. Pro Bono Attorneys to assist with advocacy and legal work. Volunteers to assist with back office duties: recycling, filing, surveys, etc.
Other ways to donate, support, or volunteer You can also support DRT's mission by mailing a check, making an in-kind donation, or providing office support. Call 615.298.1080, ext. 126 to find out how you can help. 
Service Categories
Primary Organization Category Human Services / Alliances & Advocacy
Secondary Organization Category Civil Rights, Social Action, Advocacy / Disabled Persons' Rights
Areas of Service
Areas Served
DRT is a statewide organization with offices in Nashville, Memphis and Knoxville.
CEO Statement Disability Rights Tennessee celebrates 40 years of services to Tennesseans with disabilities in 2018. We have come a long way in this time but there is still so much more work to be done to make sure that people with disabilities can live life fully, free from harm and discrimination. We continue to work to make connections with partner organizations throughout the state to raise awareness and to increase access to our services, referral network, and information available to accomplish our goals and meet our stated mission. We welcome the public's involvement in our work as we celebrate our 40th year.
At the cornerstone of DRT's mission is our mandate to ensure that Tennesseans with disabilities live safely in the community. As part of this goal, DRT advocates monitor residential facilities including mental health institutions, supportive living facilities, and nursing homes to ensure the safety of the residents. DRT also responds to calls from families reporting abuse and neglect of loved ones in the community. As part of this program, DRT also holds regular trainings to educate community members about their rights.
Budget 15,000
Category Civil Rights, Social Action & Advocacy, General/Other Disabled Persons' Rights
Population Served People/Families with of People with Psychological Disabilities, People/Families with People of Developmental Disabilities, People/Families with of People with Disabilities
Short Term Success
A focus of this program is to educate people with mental illness residing in a board and care homes about their rights and actions to take if their rights are violated. Working with the Community Living Enhancement (CLE) Taskforce, DRT will provide regular trainings to educate residents and board & care home operators about their rights and responsibilities. A component of this training the discharge checklist--an overview of rights that case workers can review with patients at discharge. The checklist is regularly used during discharge from mental health institutions. DRT will also work with the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and other stakeholders to ensure that licensed homes are providing necessary supports and services. The goal for this year is to train 125 board & care home operators on their responsibility to provide supports and services for residents with a mental illness.
Long term Success
The goal of this program is to ensure that all Tennesseans with disabilities reside safely in the community. Regardless of their disability, DRT aims to ensure that persons with disabilities receive the supports and services necessary for them to live as independently as possible.
Program Success Monitored By
Program success is monitored by number of investigations/monitorings conducted--comparing findings with previous year to track improvements, resolution of open advocacy cases and client interviews, number of trainings, survey for participants in training sessions, reduction of repeat offenders.
Examples of Program Success
Disability Rights Tennessee helped ensure the safety of a 14-year-old youth after he was sexually assaulted by a guard at a youth detention center. The investigation process consisted of review of records, collaboration with the special victims unit at department of children services and law enforcement. During the course of the investigation it was reported by facility staff that they had removed the accused officer from duty and that they were not allowing our client to have contact with anyone outside the jail and staff had to interact with him in twos. DRTvoiced its concerns about limiting our clients contact with family, however was advised that the local judge had made this recommendation. DNA evidence came back positive and the accused guard was arrested and is now facing charges. As a result of this investigation DRT issued the following recommendations: The facility should develop a policy that will address steps to be taken if a youth reports any kind of abuse by staff. This policy should include how visits/contact with non-staff personnel should be conducted. No youth who reports an allegation of abuse by staff at this facility should be barred from having contact with family and other cleared persons.

The Exceptional Education program provides legal and advocacy services to a) ensure students with disabilities have access to free and appropriate public school education; b) eliminate the use of restraint/isolation.
To meet these objectives, DLAC provides direct advocacy and legal services to families. To promote systemic change DLAC also as provides technical assistance to non-profit organizations and state officials, which includes training and education. These same services are also provided to families, students, teachers, and other stakeholders.
Category Civil Rights, Social Action & Advocacy, General/Other Children's Rights
Population Served Children and Youth (0 - 19 years), Families, Minorities
Long term Success
Implementation: Reports of failure to implement IEP will be reduced by 25% by 2018.
Restraint/Isolation: There will be a 50% reduction in restraint/isolation of students with disabilities. 100% of school districts will conduct training on proper techniques for restraint/isolation. The use of prone restraint will no longer be allowed in Tennessee public schools.
Program Success Monitored By
Program success is monitored by case outcomes (positive resolutions), client satisfaction surveys, number of trainings, survey for training participants, reduction of repeat complaints against a school, TN Department of Education reports.
Examples of Program Success
  • A 13-year-old student with Autism and bipolar disorder is now demonstrating academic and behavioral success in his school, after DRT intervened to remove him from the segregated classroom. DRT worked with the school and family to ensure student was receiving necessary behavior supports and services to help him succeed in school.
  • A 9-year-old student with Autism now enjoys classes with his non-disabled peers and is thriving in his new educational environment. DRT responded to his mother's concerns that he was being inappropriately restrained at school. Student was placed in a behavior class that she felt was unsuitable for him and would come home frequently with marks on his body. DRT staff reviewed records, interviewed parent, client and staff and advocated for student to be placed in his school of zone and for the school to provide a one-on-one Educational Assistant to support him throughout the day.
  • A 9-year-old student with Autism is now receiving educational services in a therapeutic setting with appropriate supports. The student is excited about school in this unique setting with a smaller student to teacher ratio.

DRT is leading the way to ensure that people with communication disabilities are able to access programs and services including medical care, legal services, disaster assistance and voting. We are educating people with disabilities and service providers about the Americans with Disabilities Act’s (ADA) effective communication requirement. As part of that education, we are increasing awareness of how alternate accessible formats and auxiliary aids/services such as sign language interpreters are necessary to achieve effective communication for people with communication disabilities.

Category Civil Rights, Social Action & Advocacy, General/Other Disabled Persons' Rights
Population Served People/Families with of People with Disabilities, Other Health/Disability, Elderly and/or Disabled
Short Term Success
During this fiscal year, DRT has created educational videos and materials to educate medical providers and other businesses on how to provide effective communication. These materials also serve as educational tools for self-advocates to request accommodations.
We have assisted multiple clients in obtaining effective communication from private businesses and government programs. Most of those positive resolutions have come as a result of informal advocacy. In addition, we represented clients with hearing and vision disabilities in one effective communication lawsuit against a hospital which has resolved to the satisfaction of the parties. We are currently representing a deaf gentleman in a similar lawsuit against another hospital which failed to provide sign language interpreters to our client after he was admitted with stroke symptoms.
Long term Success

Our goal is to ensure that private businesses and government programs regularly provide effective communication to people with disabilities as part of their programs and services. People with communication disabilities will be able to access services including medical care, legal services, disaster assistance and voting with ease.

Program Success Monitored By
Program success is monitored by case outcomes (positive resolutions), client satisfaction surveys, number of trainings, survey for training participants, reduction of repeat complaints against a business/provider.
DRT received the CNM/Baptist Healing Trust Access to Care Award in 2013 for its work to ensure equal access to health care information for Tennesseans with communication disabilities.
Examples of Program Success


  • A jail now has appropriate policies in place for providing deaf inmates with access to a TTY and sign language interpreters.
  • An individual with a visual disability received a large print exam from the College Board during an AP English exam.
  • People who are deaf or hard of hearing are being provided effective communication during classes at computer retail stores that are operated by a national chain.
  • A child with autism is receiving voice-output assistive technology to facilitate communication.
  • A major medical provider in East Tennessee now has an appropriate plan for providing effective communication to patients and family members. In addition, the system has taken steps to make their entire patient care continuum more sensitive to the disability related needs of patients with disabilities.
  • Students at a state university will be provided sign language interpreters for tests and online courses when necessary to ensure effective communication. As a result, students who are deaf and hard of hearing have equal access to online classes.
  • People who are deaf are now able to participate in all terrain vehicle (ATV) recreational tours at Bluff Mountain Ventures in Pigeon Forge Tennessee. After a deaf individual complained that he was not allowed to drive an ATV, DLAC and Bluff Mountain worked together on a policy that ensures deaf people can fully enjoy this recreational opportunity.


People with disabilities can, and do, work in all areas of the American workforce. They thrive when they fully participate in their communities, and in turn, the nation thrives. However, statistics show that many people with disabilities remain unemployed or under-employed. In addition, thousands of people with disabilities are being paid less than the minimum wage and/or work in isolation and segregation in programs which lead them nowhere.
DRT's employment advocacy services working to change these outcomes by helping people with disabilities navigate the vocational rehabilitation system, understand what help is available to get or keep a job, resolve discrimination issues at work, and understand how benefits might change by working.
Category Civil Rights, Social Action & Advocacy, General/Other Disabled Persons' Rights
Population Served Elderly and/or Disabled, Adults, General/Unspecified
Program Success Monitored By
Program success is monitored by case outcomes (positive resolutions), client satisfaction surveys, number of trainings, survey for training participants
Examples of Program Success
  • An 18-year-old female with cerebral palsy is successfully enrolled in community college coursework, and with DRT's help, will immediately begin receiving VR assistance to obtain appropriate services to continue pursuit of her goal to become a library technician.
  • DRT assisted a 58-year-old male with PTSD with removing financial barriers to his enrolling in the necessary class to become a taxi driver.
Board Chair
Board Chair David Kowalski
Company Affiliation Aerial Development Group
Term Oct 2016 to Sept 2018
Email david@aerialdevelopmentgroup.com
Board Members
Shara Biggs Mental Health CoorperativeVoting
Brittany Carter The Arc MidSouthVoting
Stephanie Cook City of KnoxvilleVoting
Dr. Debra Hanna UT Health Sciences CenterVoting
Tim Hughes Tennessee Alliance for Legal ServicesVoting
Pablo Juarez Vanderbilt Kennedy CenterVoting
David Kowalksi Avenue BankVoting
Lacey Lyons Belmont UniversityVoting
Shuntea Price Support and Training for Exceptional Parents (STEP)Voting
Tina Prochaska TN School for the DeafVoting
Barbara Simmons Morristown Hamblen County Central Services, Inc.Voting
Misty Vetter Parsley Lipscomb UniversityVoting
Alysia Williams Tennessee Association of Mental Health OrganizationsVoting
Wanda Willis TN Council on Developmental DisabilitiesVoting
Barbara Zipperian Community VolunteerVoting
Board Demographics - Ethnicity
African American/Black 2
Asian American/Pacific Islander 0
Caucasian 11
Hispanic/Latino 2
Native American/American Indian 0
Other 0
Board Demographics - Gender
Male 3
Female 12
Unspecified 0
Board Term Lengths 2
Board Term Limits 2
Board Meeting Attendance % 72%
Does the organization have written Board Selection Criteria? Under Development
Does the organization have a written Conflict of Interest Policy? Yes
Percentage of Board Members making Monetary Contributions 90%
Percentage of Board Members making In-Kind Contributions 100%
Does the Board include Client Representation? Yes
Number of Full Board Meetings Annually 4
Standing Committees
Advisory Board / Advisory Council
Board Governance
Strategic Planning / Strategic Direction
Executive Director/CEO
Executive Director Ms. Lisa Primm
Term Start Dec 2012
Email lisap@disabilityrightstn.org
Former CEOs
Shirley Shea Sept 1995 - Dec 2012
Full Time Staff 27
Part Time Staff 3
Volunteers 5
Contractors 1
Retention Rate 79%
Plans & Policies
Does the organization have a documented Fundraising Plan? Yes
Does the organization have an approved Strategic Plan? Yes
Number of years Strategic Plan Considers 3
When was Strategic Plan adopted? Oct 2014
In case of a change in leadership, is a Management Succession plan in place? Yes
Does the organization have a Policies and Procedures Plan? Yes
Does the organization have a Nondiscrimination Policy? Yes
Baptist Healing Trust Access to Care AwardCenter for Nonprofit Management2013
TASC Advocacy AwardNational Disability Rights Network2015
Senior Staff
Title Director of Finance & Human Resources
Title Director of Disability Rights Advocacy, East
Title Intake Director & Attorney
Title Director of Advocacy, Middle TN
Title Director of Advocacy, West
Title Legal Director
Title Director of Community Relations
CEO Comments
Fiscal Year
Fiscal Year Start Oct 01 2017
Fiscal Year End Sept 30 2018
Projected Revenue $2,766,342.00
Projected Expenses $2,509,648.00
Detailed Financials
Revenue and ExpensesHelpFinancial data for prior years is entered by foundation staff based on the documents submitted by nonprofit organizations.Foundation staff members enter this information to assure consistency in the presentation of financial data across all organizations.
Fiscal Year201720162015
Total Revenue$2,409,934$2,526,651$2,308,243
Total Expenses$2,446,099$2,428,966$2,327,210
Revenue Less Expenses($36,165)$97,685($18,967)
Revenue SourcesHelpThe financial analysis involves a comparison of the IRS Form 990 and the audit report (when available) and revenue sources may not sum to total based on reconciliation differences. Revenue from foundations and corporations may include individual contributions when not itemized separately.
Fiscal Year201720162015
Foundation and
Corporation Contributions
Government Contributions$2,136,032$2,182,410$2,201,265
Individual Contributions$6,416$3,422$8,506
Investment Income, Net of Losses$509$930$2,416
Membership Dues$0$0$0
Special Events$64,221$72,701$29,309
Revenue In-Kind$0$0$0
Expense Allocation
Fiscal Year201720162015
Program Expense$2,120,047$2,413,695$2,011,005
Administration Expense$317,627$283,694$307,790
Fundraising Expense$8,425$1,577$8,415
Payments to Affiliates--$0$0
Total Revenue/Total Expenses0.991.040.99
Program Expense/Total Expenses87%99%86%
Fundraising Expense/Contributed Revenue0%0%0%
Assets and Liabilities
Fiscal Year201720162015
Total Assets$1,236,656$1,269,751$1,173,338
Current Assets$1,201,616$1,213,223$1,103,312
Long-Term Liabilities$0$0$0
Current Liabilities$159,474$156,404$157,676
Total Net Assets$1,077,182$1,113,347$1,015,662
Short Term Solvency
Fiscal Year201720162015
Current Ratio: Current Assets/Current Liabilities7.537.767.00
Long Term Solvency
Fiscal Year201720162015
Long-Term Liabilities/Total Assets0%0%0%
Top Funding Sources
Fiscal Year201720162015
Top Funding Source & Dollar AmountFederal Government Grants $2,136,032Government Grants $2,182,410Federal Government Grants $2,201,265
Second Highest Funding Source & Dollar AmountOther Revenue $205,137Other Revenue $267,529Other Revenue $67,077
Third Highest Funding Source & Dollar AmountFundraising Events $64,221Fundraising Events $72,701Fundraising Events $29,309
IRS Letter of Exemption
Capital Campaign
Is the organization currently conducting a Capital Campaign for an endowment or the purchase of a major asset? No
Capital Campaign Anticipated in Next 5 Years? No
State Charitable Solicitations Permit
TN Charitable Solicitations Registration Yes - Expires Mar 2019
GivingMatters.com Financial Comments
Financial figures taken from the 990.
Financial documents were prepared by Cherry Bekaert, LLP. 
Comments provided by Nicole Rose 06/29/2018. 
Nonprofit Disability Rights Tennessee
Address 2 International Plaza
Suite 825
Nashville, TN 37217
Primary Phone (615) 298-1080
CEO/Executive Director Ms. Lisa Primm
Board Chair David Kowalski
Board Chair Company Affiliation Aerial Development Group
Year of Incorporation 1979
Former Names
Tennessee Protection & Advocacy
Disability Law & Advocacy Center of Tennessee