Sunday, June 22nd, 2014 marks the 15th anniversary of the Olmstead decision, the landmark ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court affirming the right of individuals with disabilities to a life within their community. The Olmstead v L.C. (527 U.S. 581) case involved two women, Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson, with psychiatric and developmental disabilities who were living in a state-run hospital in Georgia. Curtis and Wilson’s doctors believed that both women could benefit from living in the community; however, the services they needed were unavailable in the community. The Olmstead decision rests on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the 1990 law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. The Supreme Court found that inappropriate institutionalization is a form of discrimination which reinforces stereotypes about people with disabilities, and denies these individuals important life opportunities such as school, work, friendship, and cultural enrichment.
The Olmstead decision was instrumental in shifting the rehabilitation paradigm from the medical/institutional model to a consumer-based model of care and was influential to the community/consumer-based services movement. While the decision was based on persons with psychiatric and developmental disabilities, it opened the door to persons with other disabilities, such as brain and spinal cord injury, to an opportunity for full participation with services provided within a community setting. Previously, individuals with disabilities had been institutionalized (segregation of people with disabilities in state-run institutions such as the Rosewood Center, and Willowbrook State School, among others) or placed in nursing homes and general hospital facilities because there were no specialty and/or community options available to them.
Many individuals with disabilities have benefited from living within the community and experience all that life has to offer thanks to the influence of The Civil Rights Act of 1964 upon disability legislation such as the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1999 and the Olmstead Decision of 1999.