Twenty-three years ago today, the Supreme Court decided Olmstead v. L.C., a landmark case interpreting the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In Olmstead, the Court ruled that the ADA prohibits unnecessary segregation of people with disabilities, who have a right to live and receive services in the most integrated setting appropriate. Enforcement of this “integration mandate” has enabled many thousands of people with disabilities to live in their homes and communities instead of in institutions, and to have greater independence, autonomy, and opportunities to participate fully in their communities.
The ongoing public health emergency underscores the urgency of providing meaningful alternatives to institutional care for people with disabilities. Since the onset of the pandemic, more than 200,000 long-term care facility residents and staff have lost their lives to COVID. The integration mandate has been crucial not just to afford people with disabilities independence, dignity, and self-determination; it has been important in protecting against danger. As we emerge from the pandemic, Olmstead enforcement remains a high priority for the department. For example, during the last six months, the department’s Olmstead enforcement included the following:
- This month, the department concluded an investigation into complaints of discrimination from Maine, finding that the State unnecessarily institutionalizes children with mental health disabilities and intellectual and developmental disabilities in psychiatric hospitals, residential treatment facilities, and a juvenile justice facility instead of providing them with community-based services.
- In May, the department opened an investigation into whether Kentucky unnecessarily segregates people with serious mental illness in the Louisville/Jefferson County Metro area in psychiatric hospitals and places them at risk of law enforcement encounters by failing to provide integrated community-based mental health services needed to avoid these results.
- In May, the department entered a settlement agreement with Rhode Island requiring the state to modify its policies so that children with intellectual and developmental disabilities will receive community-based services that they are authorized to receive. The state will require that families of such children receive a family care plan, allow families to receive services from different provider agencies, and provide oversight to ensure that children receive needed services. The state will also create an ombudsman program. This matter began with a complaint that the State failed to provide a child with autism with appropriate community-based services, causing him to be unnecessarily segregated in an out-of-state residential facility.
- In March, the department concluded an investigation into complaints from Colorodans, finding that Colorado unnecessarily segregates adults with physical disabilities—including older adults—in nursing homes.
- The department vigorously opposed Florida’s efforts to put on hold our Olmstead litigation on behalf of hundreds of children with disabilities who are needlessly segregated in nursing homes instead of receiving services at home with their families or in family-based settings. In March, the court granted our motion to proceed with litigation.
- In January, the department opened an investigation into whether the State of South Carolina subjects adults with psychiatric disabilities to unnecessary institutionalization, and risk of institutionalization, in adult care homes by failing to provide integrated community-based mental health services.
- In December, the department concluded its investigation into a complaint from Iowa, determining that the State unnecessarily relies on State Resource Centers to house people with intellectual and developmental disabilities instead of serving them in the community.
- Also in December, the department resolved a complaint by reaching a settlement agreement with Frederick County, Maryland public schools to end disciplinary seclusion of students with disabilities, prompting statewide legislation in Maryland to bar seclusion in public schools.
- The department has been working to resolve allegations in its 2021 findings letter that, by failing to provide community-based services, Alameda County subjects adults with serious mental illness to needless institutionalization and risk of institutionalization in its psychiatric hospital and in sub-acute facilities, and also places them at risk of incarceration.
In each of these matters, the department is working to ensure that people with disabilities have meaningful opportunities to live and receive services at home and in their communities. We are also continuing our work to ensure implementation of Olmstead settlement agreements in states across the country providing opportunities for people with disabilities to transition from or avoid placement in institutions, segregated work settings, and segregated education settings.
To learn more about the ADA, call the toll-free ADA Information Line at 1-800-514-0301 or 1-800-514-0383 (TDD), or access the department’s ADA website at http://ada.gov. To learn more about the department’s Olmstead work, visit http://www.ada.gov/olmstead.