Olmstead Story Project

The Olmstead Decision

All great social justice movements have their lead plaintiffs. These are people who use the courts to win great victories for themselves and others.

Oliver Brown, on behalf of his daughter, Linda, was the lead plaintiff in the case of Brown v. the Board of Education, in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down racial segregation in public schools. James Obergefell was the plaintiff in Obergefell v. Hodges, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that all states must issue same-sex marriage licenses and recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

When it comes to freedom for people with disabilities to live outside of nursing homes and other institutions, the most monumental court decision was in the case of Olmstead v. L.C. and E.W. The lead plaintiffs were Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson. They were indefinitely institutionalized by the state of Georgia, so they sued in federal courts for their freedom. In 1999, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that such arbitrary institutionalization of people with disabilities who wish to be supported instead living in a community violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. In addition, the majority opinion, written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, recognized that the “unjustified institutional isolation of persons with disabilities is a form of discrimination” and held that services must be provided in integrated, community-based settings when possible.

Now, people all over the country are “getting out” and getting back into their communities.  Some people are moving out of institutions and into the community through the use of advocacy organizations. ADAPT is one of those organizations. As an important disability rights advocacy group, ADAPT pushes hard for implementation of Olmstead.  For some, legal action must be pursued. The United States Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division has an Olmstead implementation campaign, taking on these cases in an effort to enforce the Supreme Court's decision in Olmstead v. L.C. and E.W.

Olmstead Story Project

To educate the community and honor the stories of those impacted by the ruling, ADA Participation Action Research Consortium (ADA PARC) and writer Mike Ervin have created the Olmstead Story Project. Visit the links below for personal stories and resource links from Chicago, IL, Rochester, NY and Topeka, KS.  These stories highlight the action taken by people with disabilities and the community supports they used to move out of nursing homes and live independently.