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Celebrating the Legacy of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Olmstead Decision

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George H.W. Bush signing ADA - Families as AlliesSunday, July 26, was the 30 year anniversary of President George H.W. Bush signing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law. The ADA requires that people with disabilities have reasonable accommodations to be able to do the same things in the community that other people do. No other law has done more to support people with disabilities than the ADA.

Nine years later, in 1999, the landmark ADA-related Supreme Court case, Olmstead v L.C., recognized that putting people with disabilities in institutions, including in state-run psychiatric facilities when they don’t need to be there, is a form of discrimination. The Supreme Court ruled that services must be provided in integrated, community-based settings when possible.

The Olmstead lawsuit was brought by two women, Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson, who were hospitalized in a Georgia state hospital but wanted to live in the community. They knew, and the United States Supreme Court agreed with them, that they could do the same things that other people did if they had the right kinds of services and supports.

Barack Obama and Lois Curtis - Families as AlliesSeveral years after moving to the community, Lois Curtis met with President Barack Obama, who prioritized Olmstead investigations during his presidency. Ms. Curtis, an artist, presented President Obama with one of her paintings. You can read more about their meeting here.

The photos in this article bring home two important points: 1) The civil rights of people with disabilities go beyond political party, and 2) The course of history is transformed when policymakers partner with people with disabilities and their families to change systems.

In 2016, seven years after issuing a letter of Olmstead findings about Mississippi’s mental health system, the United States Department of Justice sued Mississippi over its mental health system. The State lost this suit in September 2019 . Judge Carlton Reeves than appointed Michael Hogan as a Special Master to help the two sides craft a remedy to address the issues identified in the suit.

The next steps in this lawsuit present a unique opportunity for Mississippi policymakers and state systems to show their commitment to working together with people with mental illness and their families to create the kinds of services and supports that are most needed.

We encourage everyone to join us in taking these steps to honor the legacy of the ADA:

  • Get to know the policymakers who represent you and ask them what they believe about the civil rights of people with mental health disabilities. You can find your state and federal policymakers here.
  • Learn about the mental health lawsuit, along with if and how it can be used to make things better for people with mental illness and their families. You can learn more from this update from the Mississippi Department of Mental Health and this recently released document from the United States Department of Justice.  This blog post describes the latest publicly available information about the lawsuit.
  • Talk to mental health providers in your community about how they plan to work together or are working together with people receiving services and their families to design services and supports to help people with mental illness live and work in the community.

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