Lois Curtis died in Georgia on Thursday. The cause of her death was pancreatic cancer. She was 55 years old. Lois impacted the lives of millions of Americans living with disabilities, including mine.
In June 1999, the Supreme Court handed down the historic Olmstead v. L.C. decision, which required all states to end the unnecessary segregation of people with disabilities and ensure that they receive services in the most integrated environment possible. Two disabled women living in nursing homes in Georgia, Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson, were involved in this case. Curtis and Wilson asked state officials to allow them to live in the community in their own homes.
Susan Jamieson of Atlanta Legal Aid filed a lawsuit on their behalf when the state denied their request. The Supreme Court heard the case after several appeals. Services for people with disabilities must be offered “in the most integrated setting possible,” according to the Supreme Court ruling. The participation of individuals with disabilities in community settings has significantly improved due to this decision. However, many Americans with disabilities still reside unnecessarily in nursing homes and institutions.
Without cases like Olmstead v. L.C., people with disabilities may be unable to live in their communities. I am thankful that the institutionalization of disabled people was found to be discriminatory. If I were in a nursing home, my quality of life would be much worse. I wouldn’t be able to make my own decisions or go out whenever I wanted. Decisions that most people take for granted would be made for me. I wouldn’t get to choose what I ate for dinner or when I went to bed. I couldn’t watch TV whenever I wanted or have visitors at night.
Lois’s work has impacted my life significantly. I am 23 years old, and I have Cerebral Palsy. For a long time, I feared that I might end up in a nursing home as an adult. However, I’ve lived independently for the past two years. I live with my best friend, and there’s no place I would rather be.
Thank you for your advocacy, Ms. Curtis. I am forever grateful to you. Your impact on the disability community was invaluable. Millions of Americans with disabilities live in the community because of your work.
“How Two Women Changed Thousands of Lives.” Disability Rights Texas, Disability Rights Texas, 17 June 2019, http://www.disabilityrightstx.org/en/2019/06/17/olmstead20th/.
Shapiro, Joseph. “Lois Curtis, Who Won a Landmark Civil Rights Case for People with Disabilities, Died.” NPR, NPR, 5 Nov. 2022, https://www.npr.org/2022/11/05/1134426128/lois-curtis-who-won-a-landmark-civil-rights-case-for-people-with-disabilities-di.