Twenty years ago this week, the Supreme Court issued the groundbreaking decision in Olmstead v. L.C., holding that unjustified segregation of people with disabilities in institutions is a form of unlawful discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This decision led to the development of new opportunities for individuals with disabilities to live and work in their communities. To enforce the holding of Olmstead, the Department of Justice has addressed the unnecessary segregation of people with physical, mental health, or intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) in various residential and non-residential settings, nationwide. Nearly 50,000 people benefit from statewide settlements giving them the opportunity to receive health, residential, employment, and day services in their communities and, where appropriate and consistent with their informed decision, to leave, or avoid entering, segregated institutions.
Last month, the Department of Justice reached an agreement with the State of West Virginia to improve its children’s mental health system. The Department’s investigation revealed that West Virginia routinely sent numerous children with serious emotional or behavioral disorders to institutions — often hours away from their homes and families — because it offered insufficient community-based mental health services to meet their needs. The agreement requires West Virginia to expand and improve in-home and community-based mental health services throughout the State to better meet children’s needs. The agreement also requires the State to eliminate the unnecessary placement of children in residential mental health treatment facilities. The Department of Justice is also enforcing 10 other statewide Olmstead settlements protecting the rights of persons with mental illness or I/DD.
Likewise, the Department continues to work to expand opportunities for individuals with disabilities to work in competitive integrated employment. Work can empower economic self-sufficiency, independence, personal growth, and self-esteem. The Department’s settlement agreements with the State of Rhode Island and the City of Providence offer individuals with I/DD opportunities to receive services designed to prepare them for competitive integrated employment. To date, 786 individuals have obtained competitive, integrated employment over the course of these agreements. In Oregon, another agreement has produced similar results. According to Oregon’s data, over 5,000 persons have received new employment services, and over 600 former sheltered workshop workers have newly obtained competitive integrated employment.
The Department is also currently engaged in active litigation, including in two statewide Olmstead cases. The first challenges Texas’s alleged unnecessary institutionalization of people with I/DD in nursing facilities. The second case challenges Mississippi’s alleged unnecessary segregation of adults with serious mental illness in state hospitals.
The Department of Justice will continue our ADA Olmstead enforcement to ensure that individuals with disabilities can experience their daily lives free from discrimination. For additional information about the Civil Rights Division, please visit www.justice.gov/crt. Those interested in finding out more about the ADA may visit www.ada.gov.
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