LETTER: Olmstead decision freed those with disabilities from segregation

Friday, June 19, 2009 | 2:55 p.m. CDT

June 22 marks the 10-year anniversary of a landmark Supreme Court decision that admonished segregation, sought to put an end to discrimination and opened the door to freedom for thousands of people in the United States. This decision was not about race or gender. This was about freedom for our fellow citizens who happen to have a disability. The court ruled “that the unnecessary segregation of individuals with disabilities in institutions may constitute discrimination based on disability.”

Years ago, it was common practice for people with disabilities to be segregated in institutions. Locked away. Forgotten about. Today, our brothers, sisters, classmates, co-workers, friends, aunts, uncles, moms and dads who happen to have a disability have an opportunity to live the life they want in the community because of two brave women in Georgia, living in an institution, who wanted to leave. However, for many of our brothers and sisters, the struggle continues.

Missouri has six institutions for people with developmental disabilities. Ten other states have none. Medicaid is required to pay for more expensive nursing home and institutional care. You need to wait to get services in your home. There is no demand for segregated, institutional caretaking. People with disabilities and their families demand home- and community-based services as evidenced by a wait list that this year rose to more than 5,ooo people in Missouri.  

Is this the year that Missouri’s citizens cry out against the injustice that is occurring for our brothers and sisters locked away in institutions?  

Is this the year the true policy is passed that reflects what every citizen has a right to — a real life in the community?

Shelly Shetley is a self-advocate and chairwoman of the Missouri Planning Council for Developmental Disabilities.


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