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Free legal help for special-needs families in California

Posted Jul 11 2008 12:00am
Struggling to obtain services or an appropriate educational placement for your special needs child? If so, you can now obtain legal help free of cost.The Protection & Advocacy (PAI) office of Sacramento has opened a new location in Fresno. It serves the seven-county area – Tulare, Kings, Fresno, Madera, Mariposa, Merced, and Tuolumne.

PAI helps inform people with disabilities about their legal, civil and service rights. They ensure that Californians with disabilities have access to what the law entitles them. Among other services, they also provide community outreach and advocacy.

“We’ve struggled for years and years. There wasn’t local special ed legal representation until now. This is very significant for families with children who have special education,” said Jennifer Eachus, a member of the Autism Society of Central California.

“Up until this point it’s been business done as usual. The end result is because they know there is no legal support here and that you have to go outside the area – not everyone can do that. This is a viable entity to fill that void.

“If the family or parent member is real aggressive, or just not wanting to take no for an answer, they could possibly get legal advice or support.”

The PAI shares an office with the Office of Clients Rights Advocacy (ORCA), formerly located at the Central Valley Regional Center (CVRC). ORCA also provides advocacy assistance for children and adults with disabilities.

“I think it’s going to be fabulous. Just like everything else it’s going to have to go word of mouth. The schools aren’t going to want to tell anyone about this. If they’re not doing the right thing, they’re going to want anyone else to come in there and tell them anything,” said Patricia Granillo, parent of a special needs child. “It’s never bad to have someone standing with you that know what they’re doing. Some people are afraid to. … Everybody needs to know their rights.”

Both the PAI and OCRA offices are located at 567 W. Shaw, Suite C-3, Fresno, CA. They can be reached by phone at 559-476-2000 or 1-800-776-5746, or by email at legalmail@pai-ca.org.

PAI will be up to full staff and host an open house sometime in September or October.

California residents living outside the Fresno area can visit PAI’s website to find a regional office near them.

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