This letter-to-the-editor was originally published on June 12, 2020.
There has long been an institutional bias in service systems for people with disabilities, many of whom live in congregate residential facilities. In these settings, their lives are often regimented and controlled, their independence and autonomy is frequently limited, and they are largely segregated from the broader community.
Integration is one of most important and hardest-fought principles of the disability rights movement. The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Supreme Court’s landmark 1999 decision in L.C. v. Olmstead affirmed that people with disabilities have federal civil rights to live and receive needed services and support in their own homes in our communities — instead of institutions. Enforcement of these rights has led to significant progress across the country and is a top priority for advocacy by Disability Rights Ohio, a civil rights non-profit organization and the state’s protection and advocacy system for people with disabilities.
Many people with disabilities can live more independently. They may need a personal care aide to assist them in activities of daily living, like preparing meals, eating, getting dressed, bathing or taking medication. Some people have medical conditions and may need a nurse. Others may need assistive technology, like communication devices that enable them to communicate effectively, or wheelchairs or mobility devices for ambulation. Many want to work and be economically self-sufficient, or want to be active in their community or do leisure or recreational activities, and need different supports to help them achieve their goals.
For a lot of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities as well as their families, the state of Ohio’s progress in ensuring they could live and receive services in their homes and communities — instead of institutions — had been too slow.
This was the basis of a federal class action lawsuit — Ball v. DeWine — brought in March 2016 by Disability Rights Ohio and its partners against Ohio’s governor, as well as three other state agencies which administer the service system. The plaintiffs included four people who were in facilities but wanted to live in their own homes and two others who were living in the community — but without adequate services — who were at risk of entering a facility unwillingly.
At the time the lawsuit was filed, the median wait time to move out of a facility was nearly 14 years. The community service system did not have the capacity to serve people in their own homes, so many people became stuck in facilities. And a lot of people in facilities did not even have access to information about community service options. Those not yet in facilities lived with exhausted and overwhelmed parents or family caregivers who struggled to meet their loved one’s needs and to give them the lives they deserve.
After years of litigation, the parties reached a settlement agreement last year, and on April 24, 2020, the federal district court gave final approval to this agreement.
Under the agreement, the benefits to people in facilities or entering facilities who want to live in the community are considerable. The state agreed to significant investments to increase funding for community services and affordable housing. The state also committed to expanding and enhancing programs that inform people about community services.
The case and its successful conclusion is a testament to people with disabilities and their families who for years have stood up for their rights. It is a testament to those who have demanded integration and a service system that empowers them and allows them to be equal members of our communities.
Attorney, Disability Rights Ohio
Kevin Truitt is a board member for Grey Matter Media, the nonprofit parent company of Matter News.
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