Lois Curtis died of pancreatic cancer earlier this month. She was 55 years old. More than two decades have passed since Curtis helped pass legislation that allowed disabled Americans to leave state hospitals and other institutions. The Supreme Court issued the landmark Olmstead v. L.C. decision in June 1999, requiring all states to prohibit unnecessary segregation of individuals with disabilities and to ensure that they receive services in the most integrated setting possible. Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson, two disabled women living in Georgia nursing homes, were involved in this case. Wilson and Curtis petitioned the state to let them live in their own homes in the community.
When the state declined their request, Atlanta Legal Aid’s Susan Jamieson filed a lawsuit on their behalf. After numerous appeals, the Supreme Court heard the case. Services for people with disabilities must be offered “in the most integrated setting possible,” according to the Supreme Court ruling. The inclusion of individuals with disabilities in community settings has dramatically improved due to this decision.
However, many Americans with disabilities still reside unnecessarily in nursing homes and institutions. Unfortunately, abuse and neglect are common in these settings. Perhaps one of the most egregious examples of this occurred in January 2019. An Arizona woman with intellectual disabilities was impregnated by a staff member at the long-term care facility where she lived. There have been many horrific cases of abuse and neglect reported in state-run facilities for decades.
Growing up, I wondered what my adulthood would look like. For a long time, I feared that I would end up living in a long-term care facility, such as a nursing home or an intermediate care facility. Although I knew I didn’t want to live there, I didn’t know much about independent living. Unfortunately, I didn’t know many adults with disabilities while growing up. Looking back now, I wish I had known some adults with disabilities as a child. For me, adulthood has been isolating and confusing.
I am forever grateful for the advocacy of Ms. Curtis and other disability rights advocates. If it weren’t for their work, my life would be very different than it is today. I hope to continue my advocacy work through my blog for years to come. I owe it to future generations of disabled people. They deserve opportunities that generations of us have gone without.
“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/.
Madani, Doha. “Parents of Arizona Woman in Vegetative State Who Gave Birth Say She’s ‘Not in a Coma’.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 23 Jan. 2019, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/parents-arizona-woman-vegetative-state-who-gave-birth-say-she-n961431.
Teegardin, Carrie. “Olmstead Plaintiff Remembered, Work for Disabled Continues.” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Cox Media Group, 29 Nov. 2022, https://www.ajc.com/news/olmstead-plaintiff-remembered-work-for-disabled-continues/3INGJ7BGYJHKFBXTNZJT5IQG6E/.