Client Rights

women with down syndrome painting at community center

Individuals who receive any treatment or service for mental illness, substance use disorder, or developmental disability in Wisconsin have rights under state law. These rights are intended to assure that treatment will be provided in the least restrictive setting appropriate for an individual’s needs. Furthermore, individuals should be treated with dignity and respect, free from abuse or neglect, advised about alternative options, and encouraged to participate in treatment planning. Treatment or service providers should inform individuals about these rights, how to file a grievance if rights are violated, and should designate a trained Client Rights Specialist. All provider staff should understand these rights and the grievance process. Individuals should never be threated or punished for asking about their rights or filing a grievance.  The rights are contained in Section 51.61 of the Wisconsin Statutes and Wisconsin Administrative Code, section DHS 94.

There are other state and federal laws that protect patient rights including those receiving care for a physical condition. These laws differ based on the type of facility (hospitals, nursing homes, residential facilities).  All individuals can ask about their specific rights and how to file a complaint. The patient/client rights process described here applies to services for mental illness, developmental disability, or substance use in Wisconsin.

Do you think that your client rights have been violated?  Here are steps you can take:

Clients have the right to:

  • Information
  • Appropriate treatment and services
  • Freedom from seclusion and restraints
  • Give informed consent prior to receiving treatment
  • Refuse work benefiting the facility
  • Confidentiality of records
  • Manage funds and property
  • Communicate with non-residents
  • Privacy
  • Present complaints
  • Protection during discharge and transfer


We advocate for the implementation of client-directed treatments and services, as well as for community service systems that implement consumer empowerment and choice by providing a full range of community services, thereby removing incentives for institutional care. Disability Rights Wisconsin provides information, referral, advice, investigation, and, in select cases, legal representation to people with disabilities in Wisconsin who are having difficulty accessing appropriate, quality services and supports necessary to sustain community living.

Self-Advocacy Resources

Our self-advocacy resources have helpful guidance and further information on issues related to this topic. Learn more below:


Other places that may be able to help you:

  • ADA Information Line

    The Department of Justice operates a toll-free ADA Information Line to provide information and materials to the public about the Americans with Disabilities Act, including information on how to file an ADA complaint.

  • ADRC of Central Wisconsin

    We are the first place to go with your aging and disability questions. Anyone can contact us, regardless of their financial status, to receive accurate, unbiased information on all aspects of life related to aging or living with a disability.

  • Consumer’s Guide to Legal Help is provided as a public service by the American Bar Association’s Division for Legal Services. While the information on this site is about legal issues, it is not legal advice or legal representation.

  • Economic Justice Institute

    Programs are dedicated to serving low-income and other under-represented clients in matters designed to enhance access to justice and economic security.

  • Free Legal Answers

    American Bar Association

  • Great Lakes ADA Center

    The Great Lakes ADA Center’s mission is to increase awareness and knowledge with the ultimate goal of achieving voluntary compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

  • State Bar Lawyer Referral Modest Means Program

    The Modest Means Program of the State Bar of Wisconsin assists people whose income is too high to qualify for free legal services, but too low to pay a lawyer’s standard rate.

  • Wisconsin Judicare Inc.

    Serves low-income people in 33 northern counties of WI. Handles cases involving bankruptcy, social security and SSI, family law, health, housing, income maintenance, wills, and Indian law.

Learn More

You can find more information on this topic from these websites and publications:


Want to do more to help protect individuals with disabilities? Please visit our Take Action Page for some ideas and to sign up for news and other alerts from our website. Or Donate Now to help protect and advocate for the rights and futures of all Wisconsin citizens. We'd love to have you join us.

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