Fifteen years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people with disabilities cannot be unnecessarily segregated and must receive services in the most integrated setting possible. That ruling,known as the Olmstead decision, sparked significant changes in how federal, state, and local agencies support people with disabilities and their families.
The approach our administration put into place in 2009 to help those with disabilities is showing tremendous results, and improving the lives of individuals with disabilities. Fifteen years after the ruling, the Departments of Housing & Urban Development (HUD), Justice, and Health and Human Services (HHS) continue to work together to make the promise of Olmstead real.
For example at HHS, the Administration for Community Living (ACL) was established in April 2012, creating a single agency charged with developing policies and improving support for seniors and people with disabilities. ACL collaborates with entities across the Administration to promote the goals of the Americans with
Disabilities Act: to assure equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities.
All indications are that we are heading in the right direction. We are working to address many of the most imposing barriers facing those who want to live on their own: finding affordable, accessible housing and improving access to quality support and services tailored to each person’s goals.
Thousands of individuals have moved from nursing homes and institutions into affordable, accessible homes in the community. Working together, HHS and HUD have increased the coordination between supportive services and access to housing, as well as the number of accessible homes integrated in the community that are available for persons with disabilities.
Stories of the success of this approach offer great hope. For example, Baltimore native James is a former trucker who found himself in a nursing home after his wife passed away, his diabetes worsened, and he experienced severe medical problems. Thanks to a clergyman who provided a computer, James began to do research. He found a new doctor and identified a federal housing program that helped him move to his own apartment. He reports recovering confidence in making decisions for himself and says that returning to the community was “100%” what he had hoped it to be.
Chrystal lived away from her children in a nursing home for two years and transitioned back home with help from Medicaid. As a mom, her favorite part of the day is meeting her children as they get off the school bus. She’s now taking college classes with the help of adaptive technology, and looks forward to a brighter future.
Thanks to the recent HHS rules on home and community-based settings, states will be better able to define the best places for persons with disabilities to receive services, based on the person’s preferences, quality of life and access to the broader community. This will reduce isolation and segregation as well as protecting individual rights. States will need to consider many things — Can people eat food they like, when they want to? Choose their roommates? Have guests visit when they want? Come and go from their home as they please?
Having appropriate housing and services and supports is critical, but it is not enough. The Olmstead decision requires that individuals receive services in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs — including employment. Recently, the Department of Justice entered into a ground-breaking agreement with the State of Rhode Island. This settlement vindicates the civil rights of individuals with disabilities who have been unnecessarily segregated in sheltered workshops and facility-based day programs. More than 3,000 people will now get the support they need to work in integrated workplaces. That is a big win.
The Olmstead decision and the work we are doing across the administration, reflect our nation’s commitment that all of our citizens have the right to live, work and play among their neighbors, in communities across our country, pursuing their American dream.
Paulette Aniskoff is Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement.