It is hard enough to be disabled but it must make life immeasurably harder if you are marginalised and do not have the support of being integrated in the community. The law has now accepted that this is a form of discrimination, as a direct result of a court ruling in 1999, known as Olmstead v L.C.
This was a case which was filed on behalf of two severely disabled women in Georgia, Elaine Wilson and Lois Curtis, both with serious cognitive and psychiatric problems, who had been institutionalised for a long period of time. They were told that this was due to the fact that there was nowhere for them to live in their communities.
Fortunately for these two women, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), which came into effect in 1990, enabled them to free themselves from this kind of discrimination. They were not however able to leave the institution without taking the matter to the Supreme Court in 1999. This landmark court ruling, which became known as Olmstead v. L.C. , established a precedent in which it legally affirmed the rights of the disabled to live in communities, and set the precedent for freeing others from such institutions.
The lawsuit was filed in 1995, by one of the guardians of the women, against Tommy Oldstead, the Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Human Resources. It was asserted that the two women had been unjustly confined to an institution although they had been ruled as suitable to be placed in the community. The legal guardians in question were concerned that the housing was inappropriate and the treatment given was not suitable for their needs. The case was tried through several courts, until it ended up in the High Court, where the ruling was in favour of the women.
The legal principle at the heart of the matter was the "integration mandate", as stated in the ADA, which in essence states that no one with a disability shall be excluded from public services, programs, resources, etc. Advocates for disability rights argued that this included the right to live in communities, rather than being institutionalised, and the Supreme Court for the most part agreed with them. The precedent set by this case has huge implications for the disabled, since it means that if someone is better served by living in the community, and the individual prefers to live in this setting, rather than a care home, then appropriate accommodation must be found for them. The immediate result was that there was a widescale shift of individuals from homes out into society to live as normal lives as possible. Not only are many disabled people much happier, healthier and less isolated as a result, but huge savings were made for the government care providers. Barack Obama in fact designated 2009 as the Year for Community Living.
The long term result of Olmstead is that many more disabled people are now out in the communities living fulfilled lives, participating in activities and engaging with the public, which helps to remind people that the disabled can contribute much to society and makes disability more socially accepted and less of a stigma. So in essence it has reduced discrimination and created a more just world.
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