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Providing information, education, and training to build knowledge, develop skills, and change attitudes that will lead to increased independence, productivity, self determination, integration and inclusion (IPSII) for people with developmental disabilities and their families.
The ADA Legacy Project

Moments in Disability History 19

From the Least Restrictive Environment(LRE) Through the ADA Title II  to the Most Integrated Setting

Litigation in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s questioned both the purpose of institutions and the confinement of people in institutions, and progressively led to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) language that the United States Supreme Court was later to use in the Olmstead decision – declaring that to needlessly confine a person in an institution is segregation, that segregation is discrimination, and the ADA forbids such discrimination.

It began in 1954 with Brown vs. the Board of Education, the civil rights case that established the principle that school segregation denied students an equal educational opportunity. The United States Supreme Court held that separate was not equal, and although the Brown decision referred to racial segregation, it began to influence thinking about people with disabilities. In the aftermath of Brown, a number of subsequent court challenges held that people cannot be confined to institutions if less restrictive measures could be taken to keep them safe in the community. The concept of "least restrictive environment (LRE)" then began to find its way into court decisions in the late 1960s and early 1970s. From there, the concept continued to evolve.

Brown vs. the Board of Education
Brown vs. the Board of Education

During the 1980s, advances in assistive technology and services, coupled with a values base, advanced the notion that people with disabilities be included in society.  The concept of inclusion was based on the premise that all individuals with disabilities had a right to participate and not just be present in the community, in activities with their neighborhood peers, siblings, and friends. Least restrictive was not enough; more was required. 

Following the passage of the ADA in 1990 and as directed by Congress, the United States Attorney General issued regulations implementing Title II that are based on the regulations issued under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The Title II regulations require public entities to "administer services, programs, and activities in the most integrated setting appropriate to the needs of qualified individuals with disabilities." The preamble discussion of the "integration regulation" explains that "the most integrated setting" is one that "enables individuals with disabilities to interact with nondisabled persons to the fullest extent possible..."

The language of full integration, the integration mandate, was then incorporated into the ADA by virtue of these regulations and reflected in the Olmstead decision.

In this video, David Ferleger, Esq., lawyer and long-standing champion of the rights of people with developmental disabilities, traces early institution litigation to the ADA and then the use of the ADA language in Olmstead.

Video:  David Ferleger, Esq.

David Ferleger
David Ferleger

Stephen F. Gold is the foremost attorney in the disability rights movement. As attorney for Idell S. and Helen L., he sued and won against the state of Pennsylvania on the basis of the ADA for unnecessarily segregating people in nursing homes rather than providing them with attendant services in their own homes. In this video, attorney Gold discusses the transition to the most integrated setting language in the ADA that was reflected in the Olmstead decision.

Video: Stephen F. Gold
A Discussion of Helen L., Presented by Ohio State Independent Living Council (SILC) on January 22, 1998

Stephen Gold
Stephen Gold

In 2014, in partnership with TPT, Minnesota Public Television, two products were developed. The documentary Independence to Inclusion, addresses the stigmas and stereotypes about people with developmental disabilities that still persist but also speaks to the inroads being made to counter those perceptions and attitudes. The documentary can be viewed at

Dr. Patrick Schwarz, a professor at National-Louis University, Chicago, is also an author, motivational speaker and leader in inclusive education. In this video, he describes the movement of a student from a least restrictive environment to an inclusive education classroom.


Melanie Davis
Melanie Davis

In commemoration of the 15th Anniversary of the Olmstead decision, I Am Olmstead tells the stories of individuals who are living independently in the community and have benefited from Olmstead. Their stories can be viewed at:

Lois Curtis in integrated setting - her own house
This is what "most integrated setting" is all about.
Here, Lois Curtis is welcoming friends at her house, when she wants!
Photo: Tom Olin

The Disability Justice Resource Center, an online collection of resources for the legal community, was created to help them better understand the justice related issues that face individuals with disabilities, particularly individuals with developmental disabilities. The Resource Center is available at

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The GCDD is funded under the provisions of P.L. 106-402. The federal law also provides funding to the Minnesota Disability Law Center,the state Protection and Advocacy System, and to the Institute on Community Integration, the state University Center for Excellence. The Minnesota network of programs works to increase the IPSII of people with developmental disabilities and families into community life.