ACL Staff

Community Living for All: ACL Celebrates 20th Anniversary of Olmstead

Date
ACL Administrator Lance Robertson Speaking to Audience
ACL Administrator Lance Robertson Speaking to Audience

Twenty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that separating and isolating people with disabilities from the rest of society is against the law under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The landmark case — Olmstead v. L.C. — has helped make it possible for many older adults and people with disabilities to live and participate in their communities.

On June 25, ACL and the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) hosted an event in Washington, DC, to celebrate the last 20 years of progress and reflect on the work that still lies ahead.

HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan
HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan

OCR Director Roger Severino and HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan kicked off the event. Severino talked about growing up in Los Angeles without much interaction with children with disabilities and how it created a sense of “otherness.” Though this “stigma and separation” was the norm – the unfortunate result of the policies and attitudes of the time, by the time he reached high school, things were beginning to change. Noting that people with and without disabilities have benefited from our society’s shift towards integration and inclusion, he reaffirmed OCR’s commitment to continuing that program.

Severino said, “equal treatment and human dignity, that’s what we fight for everyday at the Office of Civil Rights.”

Deputy Secretary Hargan talked about the impact of the Olmstead ruling, including increased community-based services, shifts in Medicaid spending, more employment opportunities, and advances in technology.

“Today, we recognize that community living should be the expectation for all people, and we are working to make that vision a reality,” Hargan said. “Olmstead wasn’t the first step on the path to where we are today, but Olmstead allowed us to leap forward and accelerate the pace of change.”

While celebrating the progress that has been made, Hargan reminded the audience that options and integration are still not a reality for all Americans. He called for a more complete view of health care based around a “continuum of support and care” that brings together the 'health' and 'human services' sides of HHS.

Amy Hewitt, director of the University of Minnesota’s Institute for Community Integration
Amy Hewitt, Director of the University of Minnesota’s Institute for Community Integration

Amy Hewitt, director of the University of Minnesota’s Institute for Community Integration, an ACL grantee, talked about the state of community living today.

“Olmstead has changed the way we think about community living,” she noted. “It’s no longer enough to be living in the community -- it’s a matter of being of the community.”

She said data shows that more people with disabilities have access to, and are taking advantage of, community living options. She added that policies, such as the “Money Follows the Person” program, have helped. She said we should celebrate the uptick in rates of integrated employment while recognizing that more progress is needed. Looking to the future, she discussed supporting the direct service workforce, ensuring access to services for racial minorities and individuals with limited English proficiency, and addressing disparities in the quality and accessibility of services between states.

A panel of three self-advocates, moderated by ACL's Commissioner for the Administration on Disabilities Julie Hocker, helped to put faces to the policy shifts described by the other speakers. They talked about the impact of Olmstead and the ADA on their lives. They were each asked about what community living has meant to them personally, what they hope the next 20 years hold, and what needs to happen in employment.

Kayla McKeon, manager of grassroots advocacy for the National Down Syndrome Society and the first registered lobbyist with Down syndrome, said community living “is about making your own choice and having a support system at the same time.”  

”Community living works for me because I have a voice that allows me to be independent,” she added.

Panel of self-advocates moderated by ACL Commissioner on Disabilities Julie Hocker with Kayla McKeon, Liz Weintraub, and Kimberly Tissot.
Panel of self-advocates moderated by ACL's Commissioner for the Administration on Disabilities Julie Hocker with Kayla McKeon (Manager of Grassroots Advocacy, National Down Syndrome Society), Liz Weintraub (Senior Advocacy Specialist, Association of University Centers on Disabilities), and Kimberly Tissot (CEO/Executive Director, Able SC).

In the next 20 years, Liz Weintraub, senior advocacy specialist for the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD), wants to see more people with “all kinds of disabilities as leaders in all jobs and careers,” including in elected office and holding leadership positions in business.

Kimberly Tissot, CEO of Able SC, a Center for Independent Living, wants to see more integrated services for people with disabilities. She also wants to see society’s perceptions around employment change from an attitude that people with disabilities cannot work to one where people with disabilities not only having jobs, but careers, working alongside able-bodied peers.

In addition to Severino, the audience also heard from two other federal partners who are playing key roles in implementing and enforcing Olmstead.

Melissa Harris, Acting Deputy Director for the Disabled and Elderly Health Programs Group at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), discussed the latest on the Home and Community-Based Settings rule, efforts to promote person-centered thinking and planning, and federal incentives for states to build the capacity of integrated home and community-based services for people with disabilities.

Eric Dreiband, Assistant Attorney General for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, reiterated that “disability rights are civil rights” as he discussed the department’s recent settlements and litigation to enforce Olmstead. He also highlighted DOJ’s work to promote competitive integrated employment.

“We all know that work can provide so much more than a paycheck,” he said. “It's a sense of purpose, dignity, independence, value, self-worth, and belonging.”

ACL Administrator Lance Robertson closed out the event, thanking everyone for their support and dedication to bettering the lives of people with disabilities.

“We’ve come a long way since the Olmstead decision, but we’re far from done,” said Robertson. “ACL is committed to seeing community living become a reality for every older adult and person with a disability who seeks it.”

View event materials, transcript, speaker bios, Olmstead background, and more.



By clicking “save,” I acknowledge that all fields marked with an asterisk are required. We ask for your email address so we can contact you for additional information if necessary. Your email address will not be published on the public site. Your name and your comment may remain published on this site indefinitely. We will delete any comments that include vulgar language, hate speech or personal attacks, or which do not pertain to the topic at hand. We also may delete comments that include personal information about another person. If a comment is received that contains non-publishable material, we reserve the right to either edit the comment to remove these elements or to delete the comment.

Creating a More Welcoming World for Deaf, Hard of Hearing, and Deaf-Blind Individuals

Date

From smartphones to social media, technology is reshaping our world. For people with disabilities, advancements in technology and engineering have the potential to knock down long-standing barriers to communication, employment, and full community participation. ACL’s National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR) works to translate that potential into real-life solutions that increase choices, opportunities, and accommodations.

HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan participates in technology demonstration simulating a noisy real-world environment at Gallaudet University with David Thornton.
HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan participates in technology demonstration simulating a noisy real-world environment at Gallaudet University with David Thornton.

For more than 30 years, NIDILRR has funded a variety of research projects at Gallaudet University — a pioneer in advancing educational opportunities and research for the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities. On June 25, HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan and ACL Administrator Lance Robertson got an up-close look at the impact of Gallaudet’s NIDILRR-funded work at the university in Washington, DC.

NIDILRR-funded projects at Gallaudet include the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC) on Improving the Accessibility, Usability, and Performance of Technology for Individuals who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing. A key principle behind Gallaudet’s work is that people who are deaf or hard of hearing should be directly involved in developing solutions to address the barriers they experience.

“No one walks in our shoes or has our experience,” said Christian Vogler, Ph.D., Director of Gallaudet’s Technology Access Program. Involving the community in these projects ensures that technologies address real-life needs and situations. Deputy Secretary Hargan, who learned American Sign Language as a child to communicate with a friend, was eager to experience first-hand how some of this technology works. Sitting in the center of an elaborate speaker system, he experienced what it was like for people who are hard of hearing to follow a conversation while driving. Individuals experiencing hearing loss will often test a hearing aid in a clinic, but then grow frustrated when the device does not work as well in the real world. The RERC’s simulation technology helps audiologists adjust hearing aid settings to optimize communication in realistic situations and increase use and usability of hearing aids.

In the lab next door, ACL Administrator Lance Robertson watched as David Bush, a consumer participant in the research project, demonstrated how a RERC-developed tele-rehabilitation program taught him to use his cochlear implant more effectively. Bush lost his hearing as an adult due to a degenerative condition that runs in his family. He first used hearing aids, but in 2016 received a cochlear implant, which has made a “dramatic difference” in his ability to communicate with others.

Graduate student Kate Witham demonstrates technologies to ACL Administrator Lance Robertson and HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan.
Graduate student Kate Witham demonstrates a tele-rehabilitation program for ACL Administrator Lance Robertson and HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan.

Also on hand was Judy Alden, who is part of a train-the-trainer program the RERC is piloting with the Hearing Loss Association of America. The program recruits trainers who are deaf or hard of hearing to train others experiencing hearing loss in using hearing technology. It aims to increase knowledge, skills, and understanding of hearing loss. Alden, who started losing hearing in her 30s and who has used hearing aids for more than 20 years, wants to help prevent the isolation that may come with hearing loss. She has reached more than 175 health professionals, older adults, and family members through formal sessions and many more through informal networking.

Linda Kozma-Spytek captured the idea behind the project with a simple question, “who better to learn from if you're a new hearing aid learner than people who have gone through this experience before?”

Reflecting on the impact of the RERC’s work, Gallaudet University President Roberta (Bobbi) Cordano, J.D. said, “we know that the work that we're doing here is supporting the personal and professional success of deaf and hard of hearing individuals throughout their lifespan.”

“We're creating a world that is more welcoming and more supportive for deaf, hard of hearing, and deaf-blind individuals,” President Cordano added.

 

Learn more about NIDILRR’s RERC Program.

 



By clicking “save,” I acknowledge that all fields marked with an asterisk are required. We ask for your email address so we can contact you for additional information if necessary. Your email address will not be published on the public site. Your name and your comment may remain published on this site indefinitely. We will delete any comments that include vulgar language, hate speech or personal attacks, or which do not pertain to the topic at hand. We also may delete comments that include personal information about another person. If a comment is received that contains non-publishable material, we reserve the right to either edit the comment to remove these elements or to delete the comment.

At Senior Centers, Meals Become Gateways to Activities, Services, and Connections

Date

HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan and ACL Administrator Lance Robertson arrived at the Walter Reed Community and Senior Center in Arlington, VA just before lunch time, and the center was full of activity.

Various activities at the Walter Reed Center
Top: Two older adults play pool at the Walter Reed Center. Middle: HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan and ACL Administrator Lance Robertson meet Blanche Kirchner, 97, who has been teaching art at the center for 40 years. Bottom: Volunteers from the Virginia Cooperative Extension host an "Eat the Rainbow" healthy cooking demonstration.

"Let's do this," a man said as he prepared to take a shot at the pool table. In the gym, the 55-and-over basketball game was gearing up. Down the hall, the intermediate line dancing class practiced a dance choreographed to Alec Benjamin's "Let Me Down Slowly.”  Next door, Blanche Kirchner led a painting class, as she has for 40 years. At 97 years old, Kirchner is Arlington County’s longest-serving employee.

Hargan and Robertson were visiting the center to help kick off National Nutrition Month®. The center is one of thousands of senior centers, churches, schools, and other community spaces serving meals through the congregate meals program established by the Older Americans Act. Together, these programs serve more than 75 million meals a year to over 1.5 million Americans.

As many as half of older Americans are malnourished or at risk of being malnourished, and nearly 5 million Americans lack consistent access to enough food for a healthy life. With food insecurity and malnutrition associated with a variety of negative health outcomes, including more frequent and longer hospitalizations, the congregate meals program plays an important role in helping older adults remain healthy and independent.

In fact, 58% of participants say that the meal they receive through the program provides at least half of their total food for the day. A 2017 evaluation found that participants in the program have better diets and are less likely to face food insecurity compared to similarly-situated older adults not participating in the program.

While nutrition is the most obvious benefit of the meals programs, the older adults at the Walter Reed Center would be the first to tell you they are getting much more than lunch.

"When I'm here, I talk with everybody," said Lem Lem Ekoubegize. "I love it. I don't want to miss it."

She is not the only one. 80% of congregate meal participants surveyed by the National Association of Nutrition and Aging Services Programs said they had more friends after joining the program.

"A big problem that we see is that older Americans often become socially isolated from each other," Hargan said while visiting the Walter Reed Center. "So a center like this, where people come for the food but they stay for the company, is really important."

Like malnutrition, loneliness and social isolation can have grave consequences for older adults' health. For example, social isolation is associated with higher blood pressure and earlier onset of dementia. Older adults who are socially isolated also face a greater risk of being targeted for abuse, neglect, or exploitation.

HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan and ACL Administrator Lance Robertson meet with older adults at the Walter Reed Center
HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan and ACL Administrator Lance Robertson meet with older adults at the Walter Reed Center

The meal programs also often serve as a gateway to other important services and activities. More than two-thirds of congregate meal providers also offer other activities for older adults, with more than half offering at least 25 hours of activities a week. Seniors who drop by for meals often stay for these activities and have the opportunity to learn about services and programs they otherwise may not know about, such as heating assistance or prescription drug assistance programs.

The combination of nutrition, socialization, and connection to other resources and activities may help explain why participating in a congregate meal program leads to better health and a greater likelihood of staying in the community.

The 2017 evaluation of the program found that older adults participating in congregate meal programs are less likely to be admitted to a hospital or nursing home. The gap was particularly stark among lower income older adults. For example, 4.5% of lower income older adults participating in congregate meal programs had been admitted to a hospital after an ER visit in the nine month before they were interviewed, compared to nearly 16% of those not participating in the program.

Ekoubegize participates in Tai Chi and monthly health and wellness sessions led by doctors, nurses, and nutritionists. Recently, her primary care physician told her she was in good health and asked what she was doing to stay healthy.

"I'm listening to the (people at the Walter Reed Center) who come for my health," she recalled telling her doctor. "Whatever they tell me, I do it."

These health improvements can result in a better quality of life for seniors. They also save money for programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.

"(Seniors) want to be able to be in their homes but they also want the opportunity to be able to socialize, to meet other people, to do these activities, and also to have a meal," Hargan says. "It’s a great thing, and it does help with our stewardship of taxpayer dollars as well … It's really a win-win."

"We know that the lonely and sedentary lifestyle is harmful," said Cheng Ping Feng, who participates in the Walter Reed Center's congregate meals program. She says the meals and other activities at the center allow older adults "to choose the active way."

Comments

Carolyn Grove - Fri, 03/15/2019 - 14:47

While Walter Reed Community and Senior Center is flourishing with other benefits to senior meals, this is not the case in many remote rural areas. As a matter of fact, some communities are without accessible senior centers. Even though this article caused me to smile because of its happy members and on point staff and services, I cringe thinking about what I've seen in less "popular" communities. PLEASE don't forget the rural, remote, isolated underserved communities. A lot of things look good on paper but reality is a different picture.



By clicking “save,” I acknowledge that all fields marked with an asterisk are required. We ask for your email address so we can contact you for additional information if necessary. Your email address will not be published on the public site. Your name and your comment may remain published on this site indefinitely. We will delete any comments that include vulgar language, hate speech or personal attacks, or which do not pertain to the topic at hand. We also may delete comments that include personal information about another person. If a comment is received that contains non-publishable material, we reserve the right to either edit the comment to remove these elements or to delete the comment.

Back to Top