Halimah is a sophomore at Seton Hall studying International Relations with a minor in Middle Eastern Studies and French. Passionate about social justice and empowering Muslim women, she regularly blogs for MuslimGirl.net. Halimah is a Development & Communications intern for the Fall of 2015 at Pro Bono Net’s New York Headquarters.
In honor of this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities, I would like to highlight OlmsteadRights.org. It has been a little over a year since Pro Bono Net partnered with Atlanta Legal Aid, and the National Disability Rights Network to launch Olmsteadrights.org. The resourceful website features an array of helpful resources, including a self-help segment, a legal advocacy section for lawyers, personal stories of people with disabilities, and a brief history of Olmstead.
The stories featured on Olmsteadrights.org illustrate an intimate portrait of the lives of disabled people, who successfully overcame imposed difficulties that hindered their quality of life. A consistent theme of resilience and perseverance manifests in the various poignant and motivational stories of disabled people meeting their needs with the help of Olmstead, pro bono lawyers, and various legal aid societies.
One story tells of a well-educated banker, who suddenly started to fall more and more frequently, until he eventually fell into a month-long coma due to a nerve damage disease. After recovering from his coma and regaining some of his physical capability, the banker no longer wanted to stay in the nursing home. He remembers feeling depressed in the first couple of years during his stay in the nursing home. Fortunately, he was able to obtain a Medicaid Waiver, a federal program that provides domestic help for disabled people, and Money Follows the Person, also a federal program that permits people to return to their community.
The story of the Olmstead decision dates back to 1999, when the Supreme Court decided on a landmark case that still impacts millions of Americans with disabilities. Two Georgian women, Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson, both of whom had a mental condition, filed a lawsuit against the state for keeping them in mental institutions, after their doctors cleared them to live in the community. Lawyers at the Atlanta Legal Aid helped them advance their case that went to the highest court in the United States. Under the American Disabilities Act, the Supreme Court found that the state cannot discriminate against people with disabilities.
Personally, the success of Olmstead hits home. I grew up with an older deaf brother, who luckily was afforded the same opportunities as me, to be able to lead a normal, healthy, and successful life. Fortunately, he received quality education from his pre-school years up until college that helped him improve his speech and work on his interpersonal skills. Additionally, he was offered unparalleled health services to meet his physical needs.
My parents often contemplated what my brother’s life and our family’s fate would have been like if we didn’t live in the United States. When I learned of Olmsteadrights.org, I was grateful that my brother would have access to legal support if he ever required it to meet his legal needs.
The Disability Integration Project of Atlanta Legal Aid Society created OlmsteadRights.org in collaboration with our partners and funders to be a place for everyone to learn about the Olmstead decision. The website also provides resources and information for self-advocates, family and friends of people with disabilities, and legal advocates alike. The website was created by the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, Inc. in partnership with the National Disability Rights Network and funded by a Technology Initiative Grant (TIG Grant) from the Legal Services Corporation (LSC).