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ULS History

ULS has a long and storied past in Washington . ULS was established in 1967 to provide legal services for people of low and moderate income in the District of Columbia . The founders of ULS, five Catholic priests, two of whom were affiliated with Catholic University in some form, desired to create a community clinical program for law students at the university. The program lost all ties to Catholic University shortly after its first year, but the name remained. ULS began receiving funding from the United Way , the Campaign for Human Development, the DC Bar and the Dominican Order.

During the early part of 1967, ULS staff was working on location with Llewellyn Scott, who ran a shelter for African American men who were homeless on 12th Street, N.E. , in the days of segregated Washington . ULS staff provided advocacy services for the men. In September, 1967 ULS moved across the alley to 123 11th Street, N.E. Initially, a part-time lawyer was hired to supervise the law students. A secretary was hired and then Ms. Barbara Abney, who still runs our housing counseling program today!

When the 1968 riots began, our neighbors caulked in large letters “soul” along the front door, and a large cross was taped to the doors of the pickup truck the priests used. The drug store at the next corner, 11th Street and East Capitol, was torched. All the stores in the area were looted. Martial law was imposed. The Army and police patrolled the streets. The D.C. Department of Human Services contacted ULS to be a food distribution center for the neighborhood and regularly delivered truckloads of food to ULS’ office. ULS attorney, Joseph Cooney , who presently runs one of our disability law programs, was in the process of unloading one of the food trucks after five p.m. when he turned around and found himself surrounded by a police and army patrol! Since the truck driver, his helper and Joseph Cooney were in tee shirts, the police wanted to know where they had gotten the boxes of food. After an explanation was given, the officer radioed ahead to the various roadblocks to let the truck through. Joseph Cooney had been a prison chaplain at Lorton federal prison, and men who had been inmates at Lorton and now lived in the neighborhood knew Joe and helped supervise the distribution of food to neighbors.

Early on, one of the priests, Father Broderick, was interested in civil problems of persons with mental illness.  Initially, he and law students from Catholic University worked with the patients at St. E.’s.  A part-time community worker was hired in the summer of 1968. In January 1969, Jane Malloy, a then recent graduate of CUA law school, was hired as a part- time managing attorney. In January 1970, Mrs. Malloy was succeeded by Ralph Dwan. 

Benjamin P. Lamberton was hired in October of 1970. Joe Cooney worked at ULS part-time while working full-time at the USDA from 1968 through 1969 and then at the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights where he worked until 1973. In 1972, ULS grew to eight persons including  three attorneys, three law students, a secretary and two community workers. Of these, one attorney and one community worker were Vista workers. The Vista workers were increase to three the following year. Ultimately we had six Vista attorneys.

During this time, ULS handled housing, social security, and welfare issues. One such housing case was a federal housing discrimination suit Harvey v. Dunphy Realty which ULS won. ULS staff regularly advocated for people at Sursum Corda and Horace McKenna.

ULS handled many landlord and tenant cases before the existence of the District’s Rental Housing Act of 1985. This Act was built upon cases won in the 1970's which focused on protecting tenant’s rights. One such case was Mendes v. Johnson in which ULS attorneys argued against the landlord’s common law right to self help evictions. Through Mendes, new caselaw was made in the District and as a result, landlords were required to seek court action in pursuing evictions against tenants.

In the 1970s ULS moved to 324 H Street, N.E. , which was recently razed. We came to our present location, 220 I Street, N.E., in 2002. In 1996, ULS opened a second office which is located in Ward 7 at the Penn Branch shopping center on Pennsylvania Avenue, S.E.

Presently, ULS is the Protection and Advocacy (P&A) agency for the District of Columbia . ULS won this designation September 18, 1996 through a competitive bidding process. As the P&A, ULS has the authority and mandate to purse administrative, legal and other appropriate remedies that address complaints of abuse, neglect and rights violations on behalf of people with disabilities. Moreover, ULS is required by law to ensure the enforcement of constitutional and statutory rights of people with disabilities.

The P&A program is funded by grants from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Education. ULS has represented students seeking special education services from DC Public Schools, people with mental retardation who live in city-funded group homes and may be at risk of abuse and neglect, individuals with mobility impairments seeking accessible housing, patients at St. Elizabeths Hospital, people who are homeless and mentally ill, people with disabilities who live on their own in the community, people with disabilities seeking employment and vocational rehabilitation, those who have a traumatic brain injury, and those seeking to exercise their electoral rights at an accessible polling site. In the ten years ULS has been the P&A, a kaleidoscope of some of our efforts are as follows:

  • Served 3,000 individual clients
  • Responded to 2,404 calls for information and referral
  • Engaged in non-litigation, group advocacy which benefited literally thousands of people
  • ULS efforts in the Evans v. Williams litigation funded the establishment of the Quality Trust for Individuals with Disabilities (QT). The QT expands the availability of services for people with developmental disabilities
  • Established a special needs trust for persons with developmental disabilities
  • Secured an agreement with the DC Housing Authority for the completion of 565 accessible public housing and Section 8 units
  • Initiated and oversaw the relocation of several dozen clients from nursing homes
  • Secured policy changes from the Social Security Administration about the personal needs allowance paid to DC citizens in nursing homes and secured refunds for people deprived of these funds.
  • Authored 3 reports on the quality of care of our clients
  • Commissioned a rights training manual for mental health consumers, empowering consumers to protect their rights, and self-advocate
  • Created a directory of services in the Washington , D.C. metropolitan area for people with disabilities
  • Negotiated access agreements with public and private psychiatric facilities providing P&A access to our clients and their records
  • Initiated voter registration of over 200 people with disabilities
  • Surveyed DC polling sites for conformity to accessibility requirements
  • ULS P&A staff have been quoted in print media 136 times
  • ULS P&A staff have been interviewed on radio news programs 22 times
  • ULS P&A staff have been interviewed on local network television news 5 times
  • ULS P&A staff have testified before the DC City Council more than 20 times

ULS administers an assistive technology demonstration center at 810 First Street, NE . The center is equipped with assistive technology available for loan or demonstration to people with disabilities or those who have clients with disabilities and seek equipment for their use. The center displays technology for use at home, at work, and has toys for children with disabilities as well. Assistive technology describes equipment used by people with disabilities which assists them with routine life activities. ULS also administers an equipment recycling program located at 1301 Belmont Street, NW , through which assistive technology, such as wheelchairs, walkers, computers, and software, is donated to ULS and refurbished to be given to needy members of our community. ULS also administers an equipment loan program which provides low interest rate loans through City First Bank, to persons seeking to purchase assistive technology. Each year, the ULS P&A programs serve approximately 600 individuals, and provides group advocacy for literally thousands more.

ULS has a staff of forty and an eleven member Board of Directors. ULS has a multi-disciplinary staff comprised of attorneys, social workers, a nurse/attorney, advocates, housing counselors, and technical assistance providers to tenant associations seeking to buy their buildings. On the ULS Board of Directors sit two housing attorneys, the director of a community development corporation, several family members of people with disabilities, the president of a Latino tenant association, a corporate attorney, a retired community activist, and a construction manager who oversees the development of affordable, accessible housing projects for a local non-profit housing developer.

ULS has three advisory councils each focused on a distinct group. The Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness (PAIMI) Advisory Council is comprised of consumers of mental health services, their family members and professionals in the field. The chairperson of the PAIMI Advisory Council is also a ULS Board member. The Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities (PADD) Advisory Council is comprised of people with a developmental disability and their family members and professionals in the field of disability. And the Assistive Technology (AT) Advisory Council is comprised of people with disabilities who are users of assistive technology, health care providers familiar with disability, and DC government officials.

The purpose of each advisory council is to inform ULS’ work in the community by advising direction for our advocacy efforts, and to make known ULS’ work to advisory council members’ spheres of influence, clients and communities.

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