The story of the Olmstead case begins with two women, Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson, who had mental illness and developmental disabilities, and were voluntarily admitted to the psychiatric unit in the State-run Georgia Regional Hospital. Following the women's medical treatment there, mental health professionals stated that each was ready to move to a community-based program. However, the women remained confined in the institution, each for several years after the initial treatment was concluded. They filed suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for release from the hospital.
On June 22, 1999, the United States Supreme Court held in Olmstead v. L.C. that unjustified segregation of persons with disabilities constitutes discrimination in violation of title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Court held that public entities must provide community-based services to persons with disabilities when (1) such services are appropriate; (2) the affected persons do not oppose community-based treatment; and (3) community-based services can be reasonably accommodated, taking into account the resources available to the public entity and the needs of others who are receiving disability services from the entity.
The Supreme Court explained that its holding "reflects two evident judgments." First, "institutional placement of persons who can handle and benefit from community settings perpetuates unwarranted assumptions that persons so isolated are incapable of or unworthy of participating in community life." Second, "confinement in an institution severely diminishes the everyday life activities of individuals, including family relations, social contacts, work options, economic independence, educational advancement, and cultural enrichment."
The personal stories of a few of the thousands of people whose lives have been improved by the Olmstead decision and the Department’s Olmstead enforcement work.
Michael, when asked to describe his life now, responded: "I couldn't be any happier than I am now; don't ever see myself going back."
Asked how the Settlement Agreement affected him, Knicoma responded "Matter of respecting somebody – respect is letting others know that you honor him as a human being."
James, a 48-year-old man, is a recovering drug addict who has depression. He now works as a para-transit driver and as a licensed barber.
Community supports have given Michael some stability and with their help he has rebuilt a life for himself. His depression has improved since he now has a job and “a place to call my own.” Michael has a new sense of purpose and looks forward to each day, saying “I want to wake up every morning now.”
“That’s the biggest difference,” said John’s father, Vaughn. “Now, it’s his choice. If he wants to go swimming, he goes swimming. If he wants to go shopping, he goes shopping.”
When asked what it would mean for him to work in supported employment, Steven responded, "it makes me feel good; it's something that I've wanted to achieve for a long time . . . I just never thought things would change."
“It’s great having Cindy so much closer and being able to see her more often. But my biggest concern is her well-being, and I can see that she’s being taking care of. And she just seems really satisfied. That’s important to me.”
“I now have the right to just live and the freedom to open and close doors;”
“I’m no longer invisible-people see you and say hi to you;”
“My son’s life is significant; he has affected the lives of many people that he has encountered in the community.”
“We have seen many improvements in Doug’s functioning, behavior, and lifestyle since he moved to his group home. The group home not only provides for Doug’s medical needs, but it also allows Doug to thrive and do those things which make him happy.”
“I have read the settlement agreement over and over again. In short, it gives people a chance to live independent lives in the community, to thrive in the community, and to give back to the community to whatever degree they can.”
“To be able to remain in the community means all the difference in the world.”
“Olmstead opened up a world for people like me who were trapped. I’m fifty-one years old and I don’t trap well.”