10th anniversary of freedom for people with disabilities
June 22 marks the 10th anniversary of a landmark ruling for people with disabilities.
The case, which reinforced the Americans with Disabilities Act, was called Olmstead v. LC and EW.
LC was Lois Curtis and EW was Elaine Wilson. These two women had spent most of their lives in state mental institutions.
They wanted to live in more integrated community settings, and their doctors said they didn?t need to be institutionalized. But their home state of Georgia provided no community options for them, and so they languished in the institutions.
In 1995, lawyers sued the state on their behalf under the ADA, which requires states to provide services for people with disabilities in the most integrated setting appropriate. The case worked its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that such needless, unending institutionalization did indeed violate the very core of the ADA.
Curtis and Wilson finally moved into smaller group community homes, where they flourished. Wilson died in 2005 but Curtis continues to live in the community and travel the country. She serves as an ambassador for freedom and choice for people with disabilities, especially those in institutions.
The Olmstead decision said that states must show steady progress in providing alternatives to institutions or they would be open to similar litigation.
Lawyers and activists all over the country have used the Olmstead precedent to challenge cruel and unfair state policies. As a result, people with disabilities have expanded their options, and some of the worst institutions have been closed.
But many states, such as Florida, Illinois and Tennessee, have spent a lot of taxpayer money fighting against Olmstead lawsuits long after the Supreme Court spoke. Earlier this year, Illinois finally reached agreement with plaintiffs in an Olmstead lawsuit that has dragged on for years.
Curtis and Wilson and the lawyers that guided them are heroes. Because of them, the ADA is the strong law it was intended to be.
This June 22, many people with disabilities should be celebrating the 10th anniversary of our independence day.
Mike Ervin is a Chicago-based writer and a disability-rights activist with ADAPT (www.adapt.org). He can be reached at pmproj [at] progressive [dot] org.
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