Until the 1970′s there was no unified legal movement to guarantee people with disabilities the legal and human rights all other Americans enjoy. Parents of children with disabilities had to fight for acceptance in their home communities and change prejudicial attitudes exhibited towards their children. Accessing service delivery systems was difficult in most areas since little appropriate programming existed. Adults with disabilities were often placed in large institutions isolated from their home communities. There was inadequate protection from abuse and neglect.

In 1973, Louise Ravenel and others formed an advocacy program in Charleston. This organization was a first for the state of South Carolina. It was named Advocacy for the Legal and Human Rights of Mentally Retarded Citizens and it served individuals in Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties. One of the purposes of this organization was to improve communication, services and living standards for residents of the Coastal Center, a SC Department of Disabilities and Special Needs facility for individuals with developmental disabilities located in Ladson, SC. Developmental disabilities include intellectual disabilities such as Down syndrome, as well as other related disabilities.

The program gained momentum and in 1976, the organization’s name became Advocacy for Handicapped Citizens (AHC). Members of this organization anticipated a time when resources would be available to provide advocacy services to individuals with other disabilities.

Under the federal Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act of 1975 (Public Law 94-103), each state was required to have a statewide protection and advocacy system in place by October 1, 1977. It was to safeguard the rights of people with developmental disabilities. It had to be independent of any state agency that provided residential or other services to people with developmental disabilities. The system was to provide legal and other advocacy to (1) protect people with developmental disabilities from abuse and neglect and (2) advocate for them when they had been denied disability rights. Federal funding was provided to operate these new organizations. The program is now known as Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities (PAIDD).

In September 1977, Governor James Edwards designated AHC as the organization to implement statewide protection and advocacy services in South Carolina. In 1979, the state legislature passed a bill that recognized AHC as the protection and advocacy organization in South Carolina. At that time the name of the organization became South Carolina Protection and Advocacy System for the Handicapped, Inc. (SCP&A) to reflect it provided services statewide. In 1996, SCP&A changed its name to Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities, Inc. (P&A). This makes it clear that P&A serves people with disabilities and that it is not a state agency.

Since the Developmental Disabilities Act in 1975, Congress has created a series of laws expanding the authority of state protection and advocacy systems. The following programs gave additional authority to P&A in South Carolina as well as protection and advocacy organizations throughout the country. In 2020, P&A changed its name to Disability Rights South Carolina.