22 Years After Olmstead

Photo of Lois Curtis at her first home after the Olmstead hearing

Photo of Lois Curtis at her first home after the Olmstead hearing
Photo by Tom Olin
  • Lee: Tell me, what do you wish for all the people you’ve helped move out of the institution to live in their communities?
  • Lois: I hope they live long lives and have their own place. I hope they make money. I hope they learn every day. I hope they meet new people, celebrate their birthdays, write letters, clean up, go to friends’ houses and drink coffee. I hope they have a good breakfast every day, call people on the phone, feel safe.
  • Lee: Could someone have the possibility of all these wonderful things in their life if they lived in an institution?
  • Lois: Nah. (Institute on Community Integration)

On this day in 1999, Supreme Court’s decision in Olmstead v. L.C., mandated that segregating people with disabilities into institutions constitutes discrimination and violated Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Olmstead was a case about housing and community living. L.C., Lois Curtis, had received care in a Georgia hospital. Yet, when she was ready to move back to the community, that option was denied. She and Elaine Wilson sued under Title II of the ADA and didn’t just win their right to move into the housing of their choice but laid the foundation for community living for millions of people with disabilities and affirmed the right for housing inclusion for generations to come.

Lois’s story of being stuck in an institution is unfortunately a story that is still a reality today. While the right to live in the community was mandated in Olmstead and reaffirmed many times since, in things like the HCBS Settings Rule and beyond, the commensurate housing investment has not been realized. We know people are living in hospitals right now, who went in for a temporary treatment but then, at discharge, didn’t have accessible housing or adequate supports to move home to. In COVID we saw the deathly consequences of congregate settings. And, we still see that only 12-16% of people with disabilities who use support services live in their own homes. Affirming the right of people with disabilities to receive supports in the home of their choice is step one. Now, 22 years later, we must invest in the housing that makes that right a reality.