The Center for Law, Health & Society at Georgia State University College of Law and Atlanta Legal Aid Society hosted the “Olmstead at Twenty: The Past and Future of Community Integration” symposium on August 8 and 9. Attorneys, advocates, academics, service providers and members of the disability community from across the country gathered at the College of Law to reflect on the Olmstead v. L.C and E.W. decision, which found that unjustified institutional isolation of people with disabilities is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Atlanta is the “home of Olmstead.” Two decades after the ruling, faculty members at Georgia State Law and attorneys at Legal Aid agreed this was the right time to assess the impact of the decision on the lives of people with disabilities.
“Often, the disability community is forgotten in discussions about human rights, and the Olmstead decision represented a turn in the tide,” said Susan Goico, director of Legal Aid’s Disability Integration Project and adjunct professor with Georgia State Law’s Olmstead Clinic. “We felt it was important to revisit community integration and take some time to think about the future.”
Samuel Bagenstos, the Frank G. Millard Professor of Law at the University of Michigan, opened the event with a keynote speech about expanding meaningful choice and social interactions for people with disabilities. Bagenstos is a former law clerk for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who wrote the opinion in Olmstead. He is also the author of “Disability Rights Law: Cases and Materials.”
“What Olmstead means to me is that disabled people are full and equal citizens in their communities who can engage with folks with and without disabilities, not as clients, but as peers and fellow citizens,” said Bagenstos.
Beyond reflection, the symposium served to educate and empower attorneys, providers, advocates and policymakers. Breakout sessions on implementation of Olmstead as it relates to nursing homes or prisons, access to supportive housing, employment, education and Medicaid were just a spattering of topics covered at the two-day symposium.
Paul Lombardo, Regents’ Professor and Bobby Lee Cook Professor of Law at Georgia State Law, moderated a panel discussion with the attorneys involved in the Olmstead case. Some of them worked directly with plantiffs, Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson, and shared with attendees the journey of bringing such an important case to the Supreme Court.
“The participants in the Olmstead case said it repeatedly: just as Brown v. Board of Education marked a watershed in civil rights decisions,” said Lombardo. “We now think of Olmstead as an analogue of Brown— a case that signaled a foundational moment in articulating the rights of people with disabilities.”
Featured image: Shelly Simmons, executive director of the Statewide Independent Living Council of Georgia (right) presented Mark Johnson, former director of Advocacy at the Shepherd Center, with the Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson Olmstead Advocate Award. Photo courtesy of the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities.