A Milestone for Community Living: Reflecting on 19 Years of Olmstead

June 22, 2018
Lance Robertson, ACL Administrator and Assistant Secretary for Aging

The right to live independently, integrated into the community, is a cornerstone of the disability rights movement. It’s also the core of the mission for the Administration for Community Living — it’s even built into our name. ACL was created around the fundamental principle that all people, regardless of age or disability, should be able to live independently and fully participate in their communities.

For decades, people with disabilities have worked to turn this principle into a reality. Looking at this history, certain moments stand out as turning points. For example, the passage and implementation of landmark legislation including the Americans with Disabilities Act, Rehabilitation Act, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act have each helped make community living possible for more Americans.

Today, we celebrate the anniversary of another important milestone. Nineteen years ago, the 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.

The Olmstead decision opened the door to innovations and programs that make services and supports more available, allowing people to live the lives they choose, in the communities they choose, with family and friends. It also has given the aging and disability networks a new tool to advance community living. I am proud of the work ACL, the predecessor organizations it brought together in 2012, and the many organizations we fund have done to fulfill Olmstead’s promise and make a difference in peoples’ lives.

For example, across the country Protection and Advocacy Systems are working to translate Olmstead’s charge into more integrated schools and workplaces, as well as more services and supports in the community. Centers for Independent Living offer the peer support, tools, and resources many need to live in the community, including helping those living in institutions transition to the community.

This year we are also proud to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the creation of ACL’s National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR) and the Title VII Independent Living Programs, both established by the Rehabilitation Act. Each has been a catalyst for progress and continue to spur innovation, training, technology, and other services that promote independence, community participation, and employment.

People of all ages have benefited from Olmstead. ACL’s programs for older adults are doing their part to make community living possible by providing critical services, including meals and caregiver support.

ACL, our networks, and partners are demonstrating that expanding community living options is both the right thing to do and it’s often the fiscally responsible thing to do. Skilled nursing and residential living can cost upwards of $225,000 a year. Services and supports provided in the community are usually far less expensive. The potential for cost savings can be seen in a demonstration program known as Money Follows the Person (MFP). The program eliminates barriers to home- and community-based services and allows people to transition out of institutional settings and receive long-term services and supports at home. A report released by HHS in December looking at eight years of MFP data estimated that, in the first year after transitioning into the community, MFP participants saved Medicaid and Medicare $978 million in medical and long-term support and services costs.

We’ve come a long way since the Olmstead decision, but we’re far from done. As important as our successes are—especially to the people who now live independently in communities—we still have a lot of work to do to make the vision of Olmstead and the Americans with Disabilities Act a reality.

ACL is committed to seeing community living become a reality for every older adult and person with a disability who seeks it.

I’m honored to work with you towards this important goal.

After all, while the Olmstead decision may have particular significance for older adults and people with disabilities, ultimately, it benefits all of us. Our communities and our lives are richer with a diversity of people, abilities, and perspectives. Older adults offer a critical link to our history and culture in our neighborhoods, congregations, and gatherings. People with different life experiences advance new ideas and spark innovation in business and the community.

We all miss out when community living is out of reach.




Wanda Willis - Mon, 06/25/2018 - 07:35

Asst. Sec'y Robertson- TN joins you in recognizing the important milestones of Olmstead and the ADA. The landmark Developmental Disabilities Act, 55 years old, created 3 critical programs in every state and territory of the U.S. - Councils on Developmental Disabilities that bring the voice of citizens to the policy table in each state, Protection and Advocacy systems that protect the rights of citizens with disabilities, and University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities that provide research and training in the disability field. ACL is home to a network of programs and services that are vital to older adults and people with disabilities and to our communities at large. We are so appreciative of your leadership and support!

Last modified on 05/07/2020

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