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Rising to the Occasion: ADA, Olmstead and State Efforts

September 30, 2014

In recognition of the landmark Olmstead v. L.C. decision affecting the civil rights of people with disabilities, which celebrated its 15th anniversary on June 22, 2014, the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy, in coordination with the LEAD Center, presented an exciting webinar, "Rising to the Occasion: ADA, Olmstead and State Efforts to Promote Integrated Employment of Individuals with Significant Disabilities," to reflect on the past, present and future of integrated employment for youth and adults with the most significant disabilities under the Olmstead decision. In 1999, the U.S. Supreme Court rendered this landmark decision, requiring states to eliminate the segregation of people with disabilities and ensure that they receive services in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs. This groundbreaking decision not only helped the original plaintiffs in Georgia, but paved the way for thousands of people with disabilities to leave institutions and live in the community. The application of the Olmstead integration mandate goes far beyond residential services emphasizing community-based and independent living, extending to employment and other non-residential long-term supports and services as well. The recent settlement between the U.S. Department of Justice and the state of Rhode Island established a ten-year remedy plan for addressing a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Olmstead with regards to the systematic segregation of people with disabilities through the state’s overreliance on sheltered workshops and facility-based day programs.

An exciting mix of panelists reflected upon the impact of the Olmstead decision in terms of employment for youth and adults with disabilities, as well as the ways the recent Rhode Island settlement continues to shape services. Panelists for the webinar included Eve Hill, Senior Counselor to the Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice (USDOJ); Andrew McQuaide, Acting State Coordinator for the State of Rhode Island’s implementation of the USDOJ Interim Settlement Agreement; Michelle Brophy, Director of Policy Implementation, State of Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Development Disabilities and Hospitals; Jennifer Mathis, Deputy Legal Director/Director of Programs, Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law; and Lisa Mills, Subject Matter Expert, LEAD Center.

In the weeks following the Olmstead anniversary, the LEAD Center also featured a 3-part blog series “Olmstead 15 Years Later: A Behind-the-Scenes Account from Olmstead Pioneer Jonathan Zimring,” in which Michael Morris, LEAD Center Public Policy Co-Chair, interviewed Zimring, an Atlanta, Ga.-based civil rights and education attorney for people with disabilities and their families. Zimring served as the court-appointed guardian (guardian ad litem) to represent the interests of the two women in the case.  He was one of the pioneers in bringing to court this landmark case that became a major milestone in the disability civil rights movement.

·         Part One of the blog series shares an insider’s view on the history of the case, the people involved and how and why it was brought to trial.

·         Part Two of the blog series explores the impact of the Olmstead decision on the two women who brought the case and on people with disabilities nationwide. 

Part three of the blog series highlights the legacy of Olmstead and what still needs to be done to fulfill its promise.