Hundreds rally to mark Olmstead Anniversary

On June 22, 2009, several hundred people rallied outside the Thompson Center in honor of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Olmstead. They rallied in support of choice, telling stories about how, because Illinois has failed to comply with the law, their choices have been denied.

In 1999, the Supreme Court held that Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits the unnecessary institutionalization of people with disabilities. Two residents in a Georgia psychiatric institution brought the Olmstead Case because the state refused to serve them in the community. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, finding that all states must provide services "in the most integrated setting appropriate to the needs of qualified individuals with disabilities." Under Olmstead, states are thus required to create community-based alternatives to care in facilities such as psychiatric institutions and nursing homes. The ruling meant that people with disabilities should have a choice of whether to receive services in institutions or in the community.

In the decade since the ruling in Olmstead, the state of Illinois has failed to comply with the decision. Today, Illinois allocates nearly 80% of long-term Medicaid funds into large settings. As a result, thousands of people with disabilities are forced into institutions because community services are not available. Hundreds, if not thousands, are people who want to live with their families and friends but can not because community services are not available. One such person was Rooney Bradford, a former nursing home resident who struggled to find a place of his own in the community. He spoke of his experience in an institution, where basic decisions, such as when to get up, and what to eat for breakfast, were taken from him; and his life now, in a place of his own in the community. “Today, I get to decide,” he said.

The disability community celebrated their right to choose under the Olmstead, but recognized how far Illinois still has to go in order to make independence and choice a reality for people with disabilities. Outside the Thompson Center, the crowd urged Illinois to comply with Olmstead, and to stop proposed cuts to Illinois Home Services, which would make compliance even more difficult.

Following the rally outside the Thompson Center, the group marched down Clark Street to Federal Plaza, where the crowd reminded the Federal Government of its own responsibility under Olmstead, urging the Obama Presidential Administration to include the Community Choice Act, Federal Legislation that directs Medicaid money to follow a person into the community or an institution, depending or his or her choice.