Olmstead Decision

What is "The Olmstead Decision?"

Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson, two women with disabilities who lived in Georgia nursing homes, asked State officials to allow them to move into their own homes in the community. After the State refused, Atlanta Legal Aid attorney, Susan Jamieson filed a lawsuit on their behalf. After appeals, the case was heard by the U. S. Supreme Court. In July 1999, the Supreme Court issued the Olmstead v. L.C. decision.

In Olmstead, the Court ruled that Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits the unnecessary institutionalization of persons with disabilities. In the words of the Supreme Court, services to persons with disabilities must be provided "in the most integrated setting possible." The Court ruled that there should be community options for Curtis and Wilson.

Disability activists have hailed Olmstead as a landmark decision with implications similar to that of another historic ruling: Brown v. Board of Education. However, many individuals with disabilities and their families are unaware of the Olmstead decision and the full range of community services that are available as alternatives to services provided in an institutionalized setting.

The Olmstead v. L.C. decision challenges federal, state, and local governments to develop more opportunities for individuals with disabilities through accessible systems of cost-effective community-based services. Several federal and state initiatives are now underway to expand home and community options and make community living a reality for more people. Medicaid can be an important resource to assist States in meeting these goals.

The scope of the ADA and the Olmstead decision is not limited to Medicaid beneficiaries or to services financed by the Medicaid program, however. Olmstead is particularly relevant to transition-age youth with significant disabilities who are aging out of government healthcare programs that serve children with disabilities or preparing to exit special education settings and access adult services and participate more fully in the community. Youth, their families, and advocates can use the Olmstead decision to advocate that programs and services be provided "in the most integrated setting possible."