Disability advocates seek equal access, opportunity, consideration and basic human respect and dignity for those with physical or mental disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and The Olmstead Decision were both the result of their work. Despite these advances, advocates continue to push for access and inclusion in all areas of housing, education, transportation and recreation.
Disability Rights Movement
The disability movement in America had its start in 1817 when The American School of the Deaf opened as the first school to use sign language. In 1829, The New England Asylum for the Blind was formed, followed by the introduction of Braille in 1832, the
first wheelchair in 1869 and government compensation for disabled workers in 1911.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
Enacted in 1990, The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a powerful civil rights law that gives children and adults with disabilities the right to work, live, and play in the community with the same opportunities as people without disabilities. According to the ADA, reasonable modifications must be made to policies, practices, and procedures when necessary to ensure equal opportunity and equal access to people with disabilities. (The ADA does not require changes that would fundamentally alter the nature or purpose of a program or the goods or services that an organization provides.)
The ADA protects people with disabilities in employment, public accommodations, transportation, state and federal government services, and telecommunications. Any policies that would tend to screen out people with disabilities from participation, membership, or inclusion is unlawful under the ADA (unless necessary for the provision the fundamental nature of activities, goods, or services). Additional requirements may not be imposed upon people with disabilities that are not imposed on others.
The Olmstead case involved two women with disabilities, Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson, who were confined to a state-run institution despite their desire to live in a community setting. Atlanta Legal Aid attorney, Susan Jamieson filed a lawsuit on their behalf and was eventually heard by the U. S. Supreme Court which issued the Olmstead v. L.C. decision in July 1999.
In Olmstead, the Court ruled that Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits the unnecessary institutionalization of persons with disabilities. In the words of the Supreme Court, services to persons with disabilities must be provided “in the most integrated setting possible.” The Court ruled that there should be community options for Curtis and Wilson.
Disability activists have hailed Olmstead as a landmark decision with implications similar to that of Brown v. Board of Education. However, many individuals with disabilities and their families are unaware of the Olmstead decision and the full range of community services that are available as alternatives to services provided in an institutionalized setting.
The DD Act requires the Administration on Developmental Disabilities (ADD) to ensure that people with developmental disabilities and their families receive the services and supports they need and participate in the planning and designing of those services.
ADD meets the requirements of the DD Act through the work of its four programs:
State Councils on Developmental Disabilities (SCDD)
Every state has a Developmental Disabilities Council that functions to increase the independence, productivity, inclusion, and community integration of people with developmental disabilities
Protection and Advocacy Agencies (P&A)
Each state has a Protection and Advocacy (P&A) System to empower, protect, and advocate on behalf of persons with developmental disabilities. P&As enhance the quality of life of people with develop-mental disabilities by investigating incidents of abuse and neglect and discrimination based on disability
University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities Education, Research and Services (UCEDD)
UCEDD is a grant program providing support to a national network of University Centers to support interdisciplinary training, exemplary services, technical assistance, and information/ dissemination activities.