Freedom Friday: The Supreme Court Integration Mandate And Olmstead Plans

In the 1999 Olmstead decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states must eliminate unnecessary segregation of persons with disabilities and ensure that persons with disabilities receive services in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs.

Olmstead state plans outline a series of key activities States must accomplish to ensure people with disabilities are living, learning, working, and enjoying life in the most integrated setting. The Plans provide individuals with disabilities the opportunity, both now and in the future to:

  • Live close to their family and friends;
  • Live more independently;
  • Engage in productive employment; and
  • Participate in community life.

Key elements to achieving these outcomes are integrated, accessible and affordable housing options, integrated competitive employment, and community integration. Each of these is described below.

Housing

People with disabilities should be able to choose where they live, with whom, and in what type of housing. The community integration mandate enables people with disabilities to choose to lease or own their own home and live in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs; with supports and services that will allow sufficient flexibility to support individuals’ choices on where they live and how they engage in their communities.

Employment

People with disabilities will have choices for competitive, meaningful, and sustained employment in the most integrated setting. One approach to achieve this objective is to adopt an Employment First policy that supports competitive, integrated employment for people with disabilities.

The Employment First policy envisions a future where all people with disabilities can achieve competitive, integrated employment. Competitive, integrated employment means:

  • Full-time, part-time, or self-employment with and without supports;
  • In the competitive labor force;
  • On the payroll of a competitive business or industry; and
  • Pays at least minimum wage, but not less than the customary wage and level of benefits paid by the employer for the same or similar work performed by workers without a disability.

Three core values should encapsulate the Employment First policy. These core values reflect that people with disabilities, including people who have complex and significant disabilities:

  • Want to work;
  • Can be competitively employed or self-employed, earning at least the minimum wage and benefits; and
  • Should be fully integrated physically, functionally and socially within the workplace.

Community Integration

All Americans have a right to engage in activities of their choosing that help them connect with other people and give them greater control over their lives, such as building friendships and relationships with people they choose, joining a faith community, volunteering or taking on a leadership role with a neighborhood organization, attending cultural events, or participating in community decision-making (for example, voting).  A vision statement for achieving the community integration mandates would be: People with disabilities will have the opportunity to fully engage in their community and connect with others in ways that are meaningful and aligned with their personal choices and desires

The key to the integration mandate, is developing a plan that demonstrates success in actually moving individuals to integrated settings; not a “white paper” that says the right things, but doesn’t have any fact-specific outcomes that shows a real commitment to community integration for all individuals with disabilities. The integration mandate includes individuals who have intellectual and developmental disabilities; those who reside in psychiatric hospitals and nursing homes; as well as individuals who spend their days in sheltered workshops or segregated day programs.

The failure to develop an outcome based Olmstead Plan and the implementation of the community integration mandate, outlined by the US Supreme Court, is an admission that individuals with disabilities who are segregated from community integration are “incapable or unworthy of participating in community life.

(image description: a person with a disability is holding a sign that says, discrimination)