Twenty one years ago today, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Olmstead v L.C. that people with disabilities cannot be unnecessarily segregated into institutions (like nursing homes and other facilities) and must receive services in the most integrated setting possible. Olmstead has transformed the way our nation thinks about, and funds, services for people with disabilities of all ages.
This ruling and the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act and other disability rights legislation mark critical disability rights milestones. Together, they continue to create new opportunities for people with disabilities and older adults to participate fully in their communities.
The principles of nondiscrimination and community inclusion and integration are even more critical as we face a global COVID-19 pandemic and its economic consequences.
Many people with disabilities face greater risk of serious illness from the virus. At the same time, the pandemic has strained many of the home and community-based systems and supports that people with disabilities and older adults rely on to live safely and independently in the community.
Since the pandemic began, we have been working with partners including HHS’ Office for Civil Rights and FEMA to address critical issues such as illegal discrimination in rationing of care and providing the flexibility providers and our networks need to serve older adults and people with disabilities.
Across the country, our networks also have risen to the challenge of this emergency. From developing creative new service delivery models, to supporting transitions back into the community after hospital visits, to ensuring that state and local policies are consistent with Olmstead and the ADA, they are working tirelessly to support the rights and independence of the people they serve.
As we pause to celebrate 21 years of progress, and look forward to celebrating 30 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act, we know that too many people with disabilities and older adults who want to live and fully participate in the community do not have that option. The COVID-19 pandemic only increases the urgency of – and ACL’s commitment to – working to make Olmstead’s promise a reality.