Remembering Olmstead: 17 Years of Community Participation and Independence for People with Disabilities

Seventeen years ago, on June 22nd, 1999, the US Supreme Court ruled in Olmstead v. L.C. that the unjustified institutional isolation of people with disabilities is a form of unlawful discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  What is now known as the Olmstead decision began with two women, Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson, with psychiatric and development disabilities living in a state-run hospital in the state of Georgia.

Ms. Curtis and Ms. Wilson’s medical team believed that both women were capable of and would benefit from living in the community with the appropriate supports; unfortunately, the services and supports that the women needed were unavailable in the community and it would take years for such community-based supports to be set up.  Both women remained institutionalized for several years after initial psychiatric treatment concluded and ultimately filed a suit under the ADA to be released from the hospital.

While the Olmstead decision was based on persons with psychiatric and intellectual disabilities and involved only one type of institution, a psychiatric hospital, the ruling expanded to state- and Medicaid-funded institutions, as well as nursing facilities.  The ruling offered persons with other disabilities, such as brain injury and spinal cord injury, an opportunity for full participation with services provided in a community setting. Previously, persons who had suffered a traumatic brain injury or spinal cord injury were often placed in nursing homes and general hospital facilities because there were no specialty and/or community options available to them.

Additionally, the Olmstead decision was influential for the community/consumer-based services movement.  Community-based services enforce the idea of consumer choice. The consumer must want community-based services, and the treatment team must deem what services are appropriate based on the person’s disability and personal preferences.  Personal choice and equal opportunity are extremely important parts of community-based services.  Independent living centers and personal assistance services to assist persons with disabilities were created with the goal to provide persons with all types of disabilities the opportunity for community integration.

The Olmstead decision is at the core of the Administration for Community Living (ACL) mission to maximize the independence, well-being, and health of older adults and people with disabilities across the lifespan.  To celebrate 17 years of Olmstead in action, ACL is asking individuals and stakeholders to share stories of transition into the community, and/or how organizations promote independent and community living for older adults and people with disabilities through social media by using #OlmsteadAction.

Read more about the Olmstead decision at ADA.gov and at OlmsteadRights.org.

Check our previous issue of reSearch on Olmstead and Community-Based Services for Persons with Psychiatric and Intellectual Disabilities!  See what we have in our collection on Olmstead, independent living, and community integration; and search for NIDILRR-funded research related to Olmstead, independent living, community integration, psychiatric disabilities, and much more!

About cgraves34

Media Specialist for the National Rehabilitation Information Center (NARIC) funded by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR) through Administration for Community Living (ACL) under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
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