Community Advocate Elaine Wilson Dies
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
December 6, 2004
ATLANTA, GEORGIA--Elaine Wilson, known as "E.W." in the important Supreme Court case Olmstead v L.C. & E.W., has died.
According to an email from Harriet Harris, director of Circle of Support, the agency which had been providing her community-based services, Wilson died early Sunday morning at Grady County Hospital in Atlanta from complications developed after falling a few weeks ago.
The 53-year-old advocate is survived by her mother, who lives in the Atlanta area.
Wilson and Lois Curtis, known as "L.C." to protect her privacy, were the lead plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which was filed in 1995 against the State of Georgia and Tommy Olmstead, the head of its Department of Human Resources. Both women, who had developmental disabilities and mental illnesses, were institutionalized at Atlanta's Georgia Regional Hospital. They continued to be housed in the institution even though their treatment teams agreed that the women could be served in the community.
The lawsuit was filed in federal district court on their behalf. It claimed that the state had discriminated against the women in violation of Title II of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. That provision requires services be provided in the least restrictive environment.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on June 22, 1999 that the women's rights and those of thousands of other people in institutions were violated because they were institutionalized "unnecessarily".
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."
The decision was the most comprehensive victory for people with disabilities and community advocates since the ADA became law. While it has prompted the closure of some large facilities, leading to thousands of people being moved to community settings, several states still have not fully complied with the ruling, or to subsequent requirements set by the Clinton and Bush administrations.
Before the 1999 decision, both Wilson and Curtis were placed in homes in the community.
According to an email distributed by Marty Omoto, director of California's Disability Community Action Network, Harris said that Wilson was doing well in her home, that she had been doing job readiness training, along with her own shopping.
"She enjoyed her life so much. She had her own her place, for three years, and she was so proud of that. She had moved so many places, but just wanted to have her own place, her own home and she had that," said Harris.
"People said so many years ago she couldn't live in the community, but they were wrong."
"If you knew Elaine, you knew a person who understood struggle, hope, and the willingness to try anything regardless of the odds," Harris said. "We were there when they issued the final [Olmstead] decision. And I remember Elaine saying after 'if I want to eat M&Ms, then I can eat M&Ms and nobody can tell me I can't' [in reference to the diet restrictions imposed at the Georgia State Hospital].
A 2:00 p.m. memorial service is scheduled for Saturday, December 12, at Medford-Peden Funeral Home in Marietta, Georgia.
Harris wrote that, in lieu of flowers, tax-deductible donations can be made in Wilson's name to: Circle of Support, Inc. P. O. Box 373499, Decatur, GA 30037, (770) 987-7355.