National Association for Rights Protection and Advocacy

From Privileges to Rights:
People Labeled with Psychiatric Disabilities Speak for Themselves

National Council on Disability
January 20, 2000
Washington, DC  20004

Core Recommendations

. . .  NCD has developed 10 core recommendations in this report. These policy recommendations should be viewed from the context of the larger report, which follows. These deeply held core beliefs form, however, a dynamic backdrop to highlight the human and civil rights of people who have experienced the mental health system, people who should be viewed as the true experts on their experiences, beliefs, and values, which should be used as a guiding force for changing public policy related to these issues in America.

1. Laws that allow the use of involuntary treatments such as forced drugging and inpatient and outpatient commitment should be viewed as inherently suspect, because they are incompatible with the principle of self-determination. Public policy needs to move in the direction of a totally voluntary community-based mental health system that safeguards human dignity and respects individual autonomy.

2. People labeled with psychiatric disabilities should have a major role in the direction and control of programs and services designed for their benefit. This central role must be played by people labeled with psychiatric disabilities themselves, and should not be confused with the roles that family members, professional advocates, and others often play when "consumer" input is sought.

3. Mental health treatment should be about healing, not punishment. Accordingly, the use of aversive treatments, including physical and chemical restraints, seclusion, and similar techniques that restrict freedom of movement, should be banned. Also, public policy should move toward the elimination of electro-convulsive therapy and psycho surgery as unproven and inherently inhumane procedures. Effective humane alternatives to these techniques exist now and should be promoted.

4. Federal research and demonstration resources should place a higher priority on the development of culturally appropriate alternatives to the medical and biochemical approaches to treatment of people labeled with psychiatric disabilities, including self-help, peer support, and other consumer/survivor-driven alternatives to the traditional mental health system.

5. Eligibility for services in the community should never be contingent on participation in treatment programs. People labeled with psychiatric disabilities should be able to select from a menu of independently available services and programs, including mental health services, housing, vocational training, and job placement, and should be free to reject any service or program. Moreover, in part in response to the Supreme Court's decision in Olmstead v. L C., State and federal governments should work with people labeled with psychiatric disabilities and others receiving publicly-funded care in institutions to expand culturally appropriate home- and community-based supports so that people are able to leave institutional care and, if they choose, access an effective, flexible, consumer/survivor-driven system of supports and services in the community.

6. Employment and training and vocational rehabilitation programs must account for the wide range of abilities, skills, knowledge, and experience of people labeled with psychiatric disabilities by administering programs that are highly individualized and responsive to the abilities, preferences, and personal goals of program participants.

7. Federal income support programs like Supplemental Security Income and Social Security Disability Insurance should provide flexible and work-friendly support options so that people with episodic or unpredictable disabilities are not required to participate in the current "all or nothing" federal disability benefit system, often at the expense of pursuing their employment goals.

8. To assure that parity laws do not make it easier to force people into accepting "treatments" they do not want, it is critical that these laws define parity only in terms of voluntary treatments and services.

9. Government civil rights enforcement agencies and publicly-funded advocacy organizations should work more closely together and with adequate funding to implement effectively critical existing laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act, Fair Housing Act, Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness Act, and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, giving people labeled with psychiatric disabilities a central role in setting the priorities for enforcement and implementation of these laws.

10. Federal, state, and local governments, including education, health care, social services, juvenile justice, and civil rights enforcement agencies, must work together to reduce the placement of children and young adults with disabilities, particularly those labeled seriously emotionally disturbed, in correctional facilities and other segregated settings. These placements are often harmful, inconsistent with the federally-protected right to a free and appropriate public education, and unnecessary if timely, coordinated, family-centered supports and services are made available in mainstream settings.

Link to the full NCD Report

The National Council on Disability (NCD) is an independent federal agency making recommendations to the President and Congress on issues affecting 54 million Americans with disabilities. NCD is composed of 15 members appointed by the President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
For additional information about the NCD, see the Council's web site at

To order the printed version of the full report (also available in braille and large print, on diskette and audiocassette), contact NCD:

National Council on Disability
1331 F Street, NW, Suite 1050
Washington, DC  20004
202-272-2004 Voice     202-272-2074 TTY      202-272-2022 Fax


Last updated August 9, 2021, by NARPA.