Today is the anniversary of the decision in Olmstead v. L.C., a landmark case for the disabled brought under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). In some ways, the Olmstead decision is similar to the 1954 case, Brown v the Board of Education, that required public schools to racially integrate. Under Olmstead and the ADA, disabled individuals receiving benefits funded by public money have the right to receive those benefits in the community and not in institutions if they can and want to be integrated and if such community based care can be reasonably accommodated, taking into account the resources available and the needs of those so served.
While the case in Olmstead involved disabled women who were institutionalized in a psychiatric hospital long after they were found capable of living in a community based setting, subsequent cases over the years have expanded the protections granted in Olmstead to pretty much any publicly funded and Medicaid funded institutions, including nursing homes and day programs.
Since 2009 when the US Justice Department made enforcement of the mandate in Olmstead a priority of its Civil Rights Division, the impact of the Olmstead decision has spread. Recent actions by the Justice Department have targeted programs in South Dakota and West Virginia that have the effect of forcing individuals to live in nursing homes or other types of institutions in order to receive state funded health care and other day-to-day assistance. Also targeted have been programs for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities who are unnecessarily segregated into sheltered workshops. Oregon entered into a settlement agreement in 2015 to move away from sheltered workshops, as did Rhode Island in 2014.
Sadly, seventeen years from the initial decision, no State can credibly make the case that it is in compliance with Olmstead. Bringing the disabled into integrated settings within their communities has not been easy, and there is much work to be done.
For more information on the Olmstead case, see http://www.olmsteadrights.org/about-olmstead/.
For more information on actions by the Justice Department in connection with the Olmstead decision, see https://www.ada.gov/olmstead/olmstead_cases_list2.htm.
For true stories of individuals benefited by the Olmstead decision, see https://www.ada.gov/olmstead/olmstead_about.htm.
For an outline of civil rights issues facing the disabled, http://www.thearc.org/what-we-do/public-policy/policy-issues/civil-rights.
Image Description: Image of a forest with the white text, “Community Living … It’s the Law. Unjustified segregation of disabled people from the community violates the ADA. Individuals who can and want to live in the community must be reasonably accommodated. Olmstead v L.C., June 22, 1999”