LSA Blog

Twenty Years Later: Reflecting on the Promises of Olmstead

Blog Date: 
Tuesday, June 25, 2019

By Dania Douglas, Director of Public Policy and Advocacy – Disability Network

This past weekend marked the 20th Anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in the landmark case Olmstead v. L.C. and E.W. in which the Court found that the Americans with Disabilities Act protects people with disabilities from “unjustified segregation.” Instead, the Court found that people with disabilities have the right to work and live in the most integrated setting possible, alongside their nondisabled peers.

At the center of this case were two women, Lois Curtis (L.C.) and Elaine Wilson (E.W.), who had spent decades in and out of institutions and psychiatric hospitals. Before filing suit against the state of Georgia, they had been living at the Georgia Regional Hospital. In 2008, I had the honor of meeting Lois Curtis. Lois is a talented artist who is incredibly funny and extremely gracious. Today she lives in her own home in Stone Mountain Georgia and has a successful art career. Elaine Wilson, her co-plaintiff also moved into a home in the community and worked as a disability rights advocate until her death in 2004. Today, there is little doubt about the nationwide impact of the Lois and Elaine’s case. In a news release last week, the Department of Justice noted that nearly 50,000 Americans had been moved from segregated settings into community-based settings under Olmstead settlements.

The move toward community integration can be seen on a programmatic level. In a legislative victory last week, the House of Representatives passed a 4.5 year extension of the Money Follows the Person Medicaid Demonstration Program, which has helped more than 90,000 seniors and people with disabilities move from institutional settings back into the community. Lutheran Services in America-Disability Network has been in the forefront of advocating for a long-term extension of this critical legislation.

Despite our progress over the last 20 years, much work remains to realize the true promises of Olmstead.  Disability discrimination is alive and real, in educational, residential and employment settings. People with disabilities still struggle for recognition, acceptance and access to critical community-based supports and services. It is critical that we work toward policies that bolster home and community-based services and end the lengthy wait lists for services in many states. It is also vital that we continue to advocate for better access to competitive integrated employment and end the use of restraint and seclusion in schools.

It is important to take the time, to step back, and to celebrate the victories of Olmstead. Yet it also is important to realize how much work remains and to be reminded how critical disability advocacy truly is.

Learn More

To learn more about the Olmstead decision go here.

To join Lutheran Services in America in our advocacy work on Money Follows the Person, please see our action alert here.

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