In June 1999, I was a ten-year old sweating it out in the fields of an Oklahoma summer. Little did I know what a Supreme Court decision that month would mean for my future. On June 22, 1999, the Supreme Court ruled “that under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) unjustifiable institutionalization of a person with a disability who, with proper support, can live in the community is discrimination.” In its ruling, the Court said that” institutionalization severely limits the person's ability to interact with family and friends, to work and to make a life for him or herself.” (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families website)
For those of us who don’t remember, the Olmstead case was brought to court by two women from Georgia who were developmentally challenged. Even though the women, L.C. and E.W., were told by health professionals that they could be cared for in a community based program, they were receiving no such thing. Rather, L.C. and E.W. were receiving treatment at a state-run institution at Georgia Regional Hospital, Atlanta. L.C. filed a suit against the state alleging that it failed to place her in a community based program once her “treating professionals determined that such placement was appropriate.” (law.cornell.edu)
In the end, “the Supreme Court found that unjustified isolation is properly regarded as discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and required that the women be served “in the most integrated setting appropriate to [their] needs.””(Olmstead v. L.C., June 1999, p.6) In the Olmstead decision, the Supreme Court established specific conditions when community-based services were required for persons with disabilities: the State’s treatment professionals have determined that community placement is appropriate, the transfer from institutional care to a less restrictive setting is not opposed by the affected individual, and the placement can be reasonably accommodated, taking into account the resources available to the state and the needs of others. (Olmstead v. L.C., June 1999, p.1)” (http://www.hcbs.org/glossary.php#)
Now 22 years old and living with the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS), I see the remarkable achievements made by those living with MS, mental illness, paralysis, etc. The Olmstead anniversary is one to remember the importance of community integration, celebrate the great strides made by people with disabilities, and strengthen rather than weaken important programs like Medicaid that support home and community-based care. Along with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Olmstead case gives advocates like us hope that we will achieve more in the coming years for all with disabilities. Join the Movement!