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Home Of Olmstead Celebrates Five Year Mark Of Landmark Disability-Rights Case
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
June 17, 2004

MILLEDGEVILLE, GEORGIA--About 200 disability rights advocates in Georgia are expected to celebrate the five-year anniversary of the most important ADA victory for people with mental and other disabilities in the nation, by participating in a rally and march this weekend.

Dubbed the "Long Road Home March, Caravan & Freedom Celebration", the four-day event will also highlight the areas where the state needs to make changes required by what is known as the Olmstead decision.

"Right now, people are geared up for this," the event's chair, Kate Gainer, told Inclusion Daily Express.

On June 22, 1999, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in the case of Olmstead v L.C. & E.W., that states violate the Americans with Disabilities Act when they "unnecessarily" institutionalize people with mental disabilities. The case involved Lois Curtiss and Elaine Wilson, who had been confined to a Georgia institution even though state workers said they could be served well in the community. Tommy Olmstead was the Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Human Services.

In its 6-3 decision, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote that "states are required to place persons with mental disabilities in community settings rather than in institutions when the State's treatment professionals have determined that community placement is appropriate, the transfer from institutional care to a less restrictive setting is not opposed by the affected individual, and the placement can be reasonably accommodated, taking into account the resources available to the State and the needs of others with mental disabilities."

President Clinton followed the Olmstead decision with a directive to all state Medicaid programs to draw up plans to comply with the Olmstead ruling and the "integration mandate" of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.

How is Georgia doing on implementing its Olmstead plan?

"Well, they developed a plan, but it was set aside," Gainer said.

When asked why, Gainer replied, "That's one of the things we'll be asking the governor."

The advocates want to be more involved in implementing the plan and getting regular progress reports from the state. Gainer cited the 2004 State of the States in Developmental Disabilities, a report published by the University of Colorado, which listed Georgia in 45th place of the 50 states in providing community-based services. Two years ago, Georgia was in 50th place.

"People with disabilities were in on the process of developing the plan, but we don't know what happened since then," she explained.

The advocates want the event to raise awareness of the need for the state to support Money Follows the Person legislation that would require supports to move with people who move from institutional settings into community-based settings. They are also demanding that the state to pick up funding for a nursing home transition program, that will lose federal money in September.

Gainer said they expect about 50 people to participate in the 160-mile march, which begins Saturday at the Old Capitol building at Milledgeville and ends at the current state capitol in Atlanta on Tuesday. Along the way they will visit the Central State Hospital Cemetery and hold a vigil at the Brook Run, a state-run institution that was closed in 1997.

Sponsored by People First of Atlanta, a self-advocacy group made up of people with developmental disabilities, the event will end with a Freedom Celebration at Atlanta's City Hall. There, Lois Curtiss and Elaine Wilson will present the 1st Annual Olmstead Awards to lawmakers who have supported the movement toward community supports.

Gainer said she was inspired to organize the campaign after attending the Free Our People rally in Washington, DC last September. An estimated 500 disability rights advocates marched from Philadelphia to the nation's capital to draw attention to the need to remove the institutional bias that exists in the current long-term care system.

Gainer added that the action is also designed to let people with disabilities know that their voices count and to let lawmakers know that the votes of this group do make a difference.

"Our slogan is, 'Stop balancing the state budget on our backs'," she said.

Long Road Home
People First of Atlanta
Olmstead v. LC & EW (U.S. Supreme Court)


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