On June 22 we recognize the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Olmstead v LC. & E.W. which established that individuals with disabilities that are in institutions have the right to received community based care instead of being institutionalized. Still not yet 20 years old, the Olmstead decision is considered by some to be the most important decision to affect individuals with disabilities. On its 19th Anniversary we are taking a moment to consider the uniqueness of the decision and some of the details around the Decision that continue to make it a mainstay of access and inclusion.
The Style at the Time
Though the Olmstead Decision came after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 the national attitude toward individuals with disabilities was still very much in flux. Though the landmark ADA legislation had been passed, requiring accessibility and accommodations in public spaces, 1999 was also a year where the Courts were seen to be chipping away at the protections of the ADA. The same year that the Supreme Court made the Olmstead decision is also the year of the Sutton v. United Airlines Case which through its decision gave rise to the idea that a person with a disability lost their disability identity if they were using an accommodation (such as a prosthetic, or wheelchair) they could not be discriminated against for having a disability. Even with these attitudes, SCOTUS chose to make a decision that became an extension of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and further adding to the protections and access that was being demanded from the disability community.In, “25 Years after the Vision, Fulfilling the Americans with Disabilities Act’s Promise,” Lex Frieden sums up the importance of the Olmstead Decision saying, “I believe the progress we have made may actually have exceeded our vision and expectations. I doubt anyone could have predicted how the Supreme Court would rule in a case like Olmstead v. L.C., which determined whether people with disabilities had the right to live in their communities instead of in institutions. In many respects, Olmstead epitomizes the broad impact of the law. By applying the edict of equal opportunity and inclusion as otherwise stated in the ADA, the Court reinforced the principal of full participation. For this to have happened, the law had to have been crafted well and clear in its intent.
Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson (Part 1)
Originally Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson’s names were kept anonymous – only acknowledged through the use of their initials at the end of the case name. Even today, an internet search will find many
references to the Olmstead Decision and at times the Olmstead v. LC decision, but a generic search alone is not enough to find these brave women’s names, and that is an unfortunate oversight in our recollection of disability history. Take a moment to visit our colleagues at OlmsteadRights.org and read about how Lois’s and Elaine’s personal experiences led to greater freedom for us all.
L.C. and E.W. were originally admitted to the psychiatric unit on account of their developmental disabilities, as well as their individual cases of schizophrenia and personality disorder, respectively. After years in the institution, they were each assessed to be ready and fit for a life in the community by their psychiatrists. Yet when they requested the discharge, the State of Georgia failed to find them any sort of community placement, forcing them to remain in the institution despite their assessment. – From the Olmstead v LC Quiz from – Rooted in Rights.
Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson (Part 2)
There is often a belief in advocacy and protest that when beginning a political campaign or a request for a significant change in policy, one must find candidates that appear familiar and sympathetic to the mainstream. Perhaps most famously is the participation of Rosa Parks in the Montgomery Bus Boycott who was no accidental tourist on the bus, but the tip of the spear of a movement toward freedom that had been planned and would soon be executed. The personal identities of Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson are an important part of the story of Olmstead, as their individual identities as women – one Bering a person of color as well as having mental health related disabilities. In a time where there is still a significant stigma around mental health, as well as a growing call to make disability stories and advocacy more inclusive of communities of color, the Olmstead Decision is a reminder that all of these details can be a part of the disability narrative AND can still result in successful outcomes for individuals with disabilities.
Olmstead at 16
In a 2015 Interview we spoke with Kelly Buckland, Executive Director of the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) about the importance of the Olmstead v L.C. Decision as it reached its 16th birthday. Join us as we go back to that examination of Olmstead and the Independent Living Movement, and consider our progress toward the goals of 2015 or even 1999 when the Decision was made.
Not about where you want to Live, but Finding the Place where You Belong
In his recollections of working on the Olmstead case and knowing Elaine Wilson and Lois Curtis, Charlie Bliss hits on one of the most important outcomes of Olmstead and how choosing to live in your community in the way you see fit leads to healthy outcomes.
“I think that the most striking part of the whole case to me is [meeting] the Elaine Wilson that lived in the psychiatric hospital and didn’t get decent treatment, and the woman that I met five years later who was very pleasant and well-ordered… and gave a talk at the presentation that would have seemed inconceivable to me before…It wasn’t until I saw her… that I realized the import of this [case]. You know it’s not an ideological thing about where people want to live, it’s really about giving them the best chance to lead meaningful lives to the best of their abilities