Olmstead: The Brown v. Board of Education for Disability Rights, Promises, Limits, and Issues

The article discusses the background to the Olmstead decision, the decision itself, how the decision has been implemented into federal and state programs, and other implications the decision has had on the lives of individuals with disabilities and their families. The article ends with a summary of the current “issues” or “questions” that are left by the decision.

Author(s): Cerreto, Mary C.
Publication Date: 2001
Publisher: Loyola Journal of Public Interest Law
Source: LexisNexis


On June 22, 1999 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Olmstead v. L.C. 4 that unnecessary institutionalization of people with disabilities constitutes discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Olmstead, as the case is known, marks the first U.S. Supreme Court case involving the “integration mandate” of the Americans with Disabilities Act. 5 Is this the promised end of “separate but equal” for people with disabilities who desire typical lives in their own neighborhoods and communities? Does Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s “qualified yes” to whether people have a right to live in their communities predict a continued dependence of people with disabilities on the goodwill of their state governments? What issues does this “yes. . . but” mandate present for people with disabilities, their families and their legal advocates? We explore these questions by looking at the Olmstead decision, its background and its implementation in federal and state policies and programs, the implications of the decision, and what the future portends for people with disabilities given the resulting issues.